Dont'a Hightower retires after winning 3 titles with Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Longtime New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who won three Super Bowl championships over his nine-year career, officially announced his retirement Tuesday.

"I can't think of a better story than the one I wrote in New England," Hightower said in an essay posted on The Players' Tribune website. "So this is a happy day for me ... Today, I'm totally at peace knowing that I gave this franchise every ounce of sweat I had left."

The 33-year-old, nicknamed "Mr. February" by coach Bill Belichick because of his knack for making clutch plays in Super Bowls, didn't play in 2020 as a COVID-19 opt-out, and he also sat out the 2022 season.

Hightower played in 117 regular-season games (114 starts) and totaled 569 tackles and 27 sacks. He appeared in 17 playoff games, starting all of them, amassing 81 tackles and three sacks.

He was one of the hardest-hitting linebackers in the NFL during his career, all spent in New England, and his versatility to play both off the line of scrimmage and then on the line as a pass-rusher made him a valuable chess piece in Belichick's always-morphing schemes.

Among his most clutch plays were a strip sack of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI to help spark the Patriots' comeback from a 28-3 second-half deficit, and a bruising tackle of Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch near the goal line on the play that preceded Malcolm Butler's game-saving interception in Super Bowl XLIX.

A native of Lewisburg, Tennessee, who played at the University of Alabama and won two national championships with the Crimson Tide, Hightower joined the Patriots as a first-round draft pick in 2012.

"I appreciate everyone who helped me make this dream come true," Hightower said. "But I especially want to thank my mom [L'Tanya]. None of this happens without her."