Sam I Am

Robert Gallery has created quite a buzz in NFL Draft circles, but another Iowa lineman hopes the big leagues have taken notice of him. Sam Aiello put together strong postseason workouts and appears to have a legitimate shot at receiving a camp invite. Read how Sam put his best foot forward and his feelings about teams looking at his past in this HN.com premium predraft feature.

While Iowa left tackle Robert Gallery gets wined and dined in New York City this weekend, right tackle Sam Aiello will be in his parents' suburban Chicago home kicking back in the La-Z-Boy.

Gallery is expected to be among the top picks in this year's NFL Draft and will see his bank account grow considerably. Aiello just hopes he at least is extended a free agent offer, and once there, people will notice him.

Such is the position of the offensive line bookends from 2003 that helped the Hawkeyes to a 10-3 record and an Outback Bowl Victory. But don't feel sorry for Sam. He's pretty happy just to have a shot at playing in the pros.

"My agent is telling me that I can be anywhere from a late-round pick to a premium free agent," the 6-foot-5, 305-pound lineman said. "It's nice to hear it, but I'm not really putting any stock into anything I hear or read. When the 24th comes around, we'll know. That's really all that you can do."

Some of you are thinking that Aiello is a longshot. Well, he may be. But before you dismiss is chances as being minimal, think about three Iowa offensive linemen - Eric Steinbach, Bruce Nelson and Ben Sobieski - being drafted a year ago and sticking with teams. A fourth Hawkeye frontman, David Porter signed with Buffalo after being in Green Bay's camp.

Hawkeye Head Coach Kirk Ferentz is regarded as one of the top offensive line minds in the country. Iowa's position coach Reese Morgan also receives a lot of praise for his work. The NFL is noticing.

"I feel as though Iowa has always had a pretty good reputation as far as offensive linemen are concerned," Aiello said. " I definitely think with how teams know we're coached and how we perform is definitely an edge compared to some other schools.

"But a reputation like that only goes so far. It's what you look like on film and how you test."

Aiello has accounted pretty well for himself in that area, too. At Iowa's pro day, he ran the 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds, the 20-yarad shuttle in 4.4, and posted a 29-inch vertical leap.

"Those were my best numbers ever," Aiello said. "The work that I put in helped me to get there. I feel like with the game tapes from this past season and prior in my career and with the pro days it's giving me a pretty good shot. I think that I can at least get invited to a camp. I just want to be able to take the next step and get my foot in the door."

NFL player personnel people have spoken to Aiello's agent. He has heard from Chicago, San Diego, Tampa Bay and Carolina.

"My agent has told me he has direct contact with those teams and gotten pretty good feedback from them," Aiello said. "But who knows? All those teams could say, "Ah, we don't need him" then some other team that we haven't even discussed could come out of nowhere. It's just the nature of the beast."

Aiello certainly is interested in the Chicago possibility.

"Yeah, I wouldn't mind it," he said. "I grew up a Bears fan. I'm a little disappointed to say that right now. But to just be able to play at the next level would just be amazing."

Aiello started 11 of Iowa's 13 games last season. He sat out the first two contests while under suspension. And the incident that caused the punishment, as well as an even more public off of the field incident earlier in his career, could be the biggest negative on Aiello's resume.

"Nobody has really come out and said much other than scouts that have been in during the season that I ran into the film room," he said. "It's about 50-50. Some of the old timers that are doing the scout work said that they don't mind seeing an aggressive guy. And I don't feel like I've got into trouble time after time after time. Then, some of the people really put a lot of stock in it. And that's fine and dandy. It's just like anything else, you've got to find who is going to like me and where I'm going to fit in."

Police charged Aiello last year after he was involved in altercation at a downtown bar. That came on the heals of a much-publicized fight with former Iowa quarterback Jon Beutjer, who shortly after that transferred to the University of Illinois.

"It would be nice if I didn't have anything like that ever happen," Aiello said. "But I don't think that it's a huge, huge determent. If (an NFL team) got down to two guys, I don't think that they'd be like "Well, there's two guys with the same athletic ability..." but I've gotten in trouble and this guy hasn't. I don't think it will. And if it does, so be it."

The NFL has shown interest in Aiello as a guard even though he played exclusively at tackle last season. He did play guard during his career at Iowa, however. In fact, Aiello started games as a freshman and sophomore before injuries set him back.

"I don't know if I can say that I've done enough," he said. "I would have definitely liked to have played a lot more. I don't think that anybody wouldn't want to. But I feel like I had a pretty good senior year. Now, it's out of my hands. I've done all of the work that I could do in offseason. I played as well as I could on film. Now it's just up to whoever is in charge wherever it may be."

Aiello looks forward to spending time with his family this weekend even if he didn't get invited to New York.

"My parents, especially my dad, are probably a little more excited about it than I am," he said. "He's more excited about football than I ever could be. I know they're going to be glad to have me home. I haven't been home since the bowl games."


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