Jason Vega, a former out­side line­backer for the North­eastern Huskies, signed a three-​​year con­tract with the New Eng­land Patriots in Jan­uary and par­tic­i­pated in the team’s first prac­tice of the season last weekend.

I envi­sion myself playing this fall and remaining in the NFL,” said Vega in a phone con­ver­sa­tion from the team’s workout facility in Foxboro, Mass. “Right now, I have an oppor­tu­nity to get better and move for­ward in my career.”

Vega grad­u­ated from North­eastern in 2010 with a degree in crim­inal jus­tice. In 41 games for the Huskies, the 6-​​foot-​​4-​​inch, 255-​​pound star amassed 137 tackles, 14 sacks, and five fumble recov­eries and earned a spot on the Colo­nial Ath­letic Association’s Aca­d­emic All-​​Conference team.

In spite of his foot­ball skills and raw athleticism—Vega can run the 40-​​yard dash in 4.6 seconds—the tal­ented Husky did not get selected in the 2010 NFL Draft. Instead, he spent the summer on the prac­tice squad for the Cana­dian Foot­ball League’s Hamilton Tiger-​​Cats before a groin injury led to his release.

He returned to North­eastern, working in the ath­letics depart­ment as an aca­d­emic adviser and thinking his playing days were over. But, as he soon found out, “being around ath­letes made me realize that I had an urge to return to the game.”

Vega spent the next two years playing for the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL, racking up 66 tackles and 12 sacks. “I expe­ri­enced a sense of relief because I was back doing some­thing that I truly enjoyed,” Vega explained. “I still had that com­pet­i­tive fire.”

The 25-​​year-​​old Brockton, Mass., native is happy to be home, playing foot­ball where he learned the game’s X’s and O’s. He’s had the oppor­tu­nity to meet Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and many of the team’s top players, including defen­sive tackle Vince Wil­fork and quar­ter­back Tom Brady, whom he char­ac­ter­ized as one of the “leaders in the locker room.”

He’s very pro­fes­sional and always working hard to improve his craft,” said Vega, who counts former Patriots out­side line­backer Willie McGinest as one of his favorite players. “I look at this as an oppor­tu­nity to improve and com­pete against these guys.”