Mitch Petrus, rock star

Former Giants guard Mitch Petrus, now with the New England Patriots, plays guitar in a rock band and talks about his passion for both music and sports. Videojournalist: Joe Epstein (Sept. 28, 2012)

You never know where life is going to take you.

Just ask Mitch Petrus, who never imagined two weeks ago that he would be walking into MetLife Stadium on Thanksgiving as a visitor wearing a Patriots uniform getting ready to play the Jets.

Petrus, who was released by the Giants on Nov. 3 after playing two seasons with the team, signed a two-year contract with the Patriots on Nov. 13 to shore up their injury-depleted offensive line.

The game will give the 300-pounder a chance to check in on his townhouse in East Rutherford, and the mini recording studio in his basement.

Petrus is a giant of a man with two giant passions: Football and music. In the offseason, when he's not working on protecting Eli Manning or Tom Brady, Petrus is the bass player in an Arkansas-based hard rock band called Vikings of the North Atlantic, or VONA as they have referred to themselves since Petrus was drafted by the Giants and it became "awkward" to play in a band that shared a name with a rival NFC team.

The band plays exactly the style of music one would expect an offensive lineman to play: heavy, hard-hitting but with a coordinated, almost poetic edge to it. Formed three years ago with three friends when Petrus was a senior at the University of Arkansas, VONA has been enjoying some recent success. In February, it released a five-song demo on iTunes, featuring one track "Burn Your Life" that got some play on XM radio and was used in a Giants highlight film. Petrus, himself, was a finalist in 2012 for Revolver Magazine's Most Metal athlete award. (He was beaten out by WWE's CM Punk.)

"What I love about music is the way it contrasts with football," Petrus said in an interview before he was released by the Giants. "Football is so much about focus. Music takes concentration, but once you start getting into the flow, it's more of a liberating feeling. It's a great escape."

An escape that Petrus credits for helping him get his life back on track four years ago after he said he became addicted to playing video games while he was playing at the University of Arkansas.

Petrus said he was averaging five or six hours a day playing video games, specifically the science-fiction game Halo. Friendships went by the wayside. So did his schoolwork. Though already being recognized as an NFL prospect, he was declared academically ineligible to play his senior year and had to take a redshirt.

"All, I needed was a 2.1, and I got a 2.0," Petrus said.

It was at about that time, while lifting weights at a Little Rock gym, that Petrus met Drew Hudgens, a musician who would bring his guitar to workouts. Petrus grew up in a musical family -- his father once played in a Motown-style band called the Sabres -- and Petrus' interest was piqued.

"One day I was driving home from the gym and I said to myself, "In 30 years, who is going to care if I am the best Halo player of all time?" Petrus said. "But, if in 30 years, I could play the guitar and jam out in front of people, that would be really cool."

Whether it be video games, football or music, Petrus is not the sort of person who does things halfway. He bought a guitar, began watching instruction videos on YouTube and asked Hudgens for pointers. It wasn't easy at first. Petrus' hands are so large that the pads of his fingers easily can cover several strings. But he persisted and when Hudgens started looking to form a new band with his brother, Matt, and friend Jon Allen, they recruited Petrus to play the bass.

"Mitch is a very passionate and extremely driven person," said Drew Hudgens, who also works in the Arkansas County Sheriff's office. "I think everyone in the band works hard, but we're not over-the-top driven like Mitch. If a door isn't open, he's going to find the way to get it open."

Petrus said he would love to some day make music his career, but for now is concentrating on football. His life has been a whirlwind since signing with the Patriots. He and his fiancee, Anna, are living in a hotel near Gillette Stadium, and he has not had time to think much about his musical career.

"Football is my No. 1 priority," Petrus said in a phone interview this week. "I never imagined that I would be playing back here in a Patriots uniform, but it won't be all that strange. I've been in the visitor's locker room there before when we were playing a Jets home game. I'm looking forward to it."

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