Chasing the Dream

Erik Jensen and Grant Steen hooked up with some recent Super Bowl Champions, and Sam Aiello proves you can go home again. Hn.com spoke with the three Hawkeye seniors about pursuing jobs in the NFL. Find out how they ended up with their teams, which other organizations showed interest and more in this premium Q&A with the Iowa trio.

Grant Steen:

How did it go down in terms of you ending up with the Patriots?

New England was one of the the teams that my agent had identified throughout the whole process. They were pretty interested in my coming in there whether they could get me as a late-round pick or as a free agent, as it turned out.

I talked to Coach (Dean) Pees, their linebacker coach, who was the head coach at Kent State when we played them in 2001. So he had somewhat of a history of seeing me play. That worked out good. I talked to him last week.

He called me during the early part of the sixth round and said that they had one more pick in the seventh round. He wasn't up in the draft room, so he didn't really know what was going to happen but just to be ready to get drafted or that I was their first choice to sign as a free agent.

So, that's how it worked out. I'm just happy to go to the defending champs. It's time to get to work now on Thursday.

What other teams were involved?

The Bears and the Cowboys were right there in the mix. The Bills and the Eagles also showed a lot of interest. Every team had something that appealed to my agent and me. This was just the best fit overall for my type of game and what I can bring to the team.

In terms of style of defense and looking at their roster?

Yeah, I mean they've got a lot of real established players, which is great for any team. It's great for a young guy coming in. You know, everybody has got to be realistic about their playing time. So, once you get into your 10th or 11th year like some of the guys, they're looking to either sign a big check or retire. That's something that's going to work out good for me.

It's just like when I came to Iowa and I had a lot of good, older guys to learn from. It's an exciting time.

Was their any disappointment in not getting drafted or were you over it pretty quick?

I wasn't real disappointed. I knew that something was going to happen whether it be a late-round pick or a free agent. I'm just happy to go to New England and get started playing football again.

Sitting around watching the Hawks at spring ball and getting antsy, I'm ready to hit. It's going to be fun once I get out there on Thursday.

You had to walk on here at Iowa and prove yourself. Do you approach this free agency thing the same way?

Yup. It's going to play a big advantage going in there. I've got to prove myself again just like I did when I got here. It's a little deja vu, but it's a little different because it's the NFL.

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Sam Aiello:

How did you end up in Chicago?

They called me and said that they weren't going to draft me. This was like the mid-seventh round. They really wanted me as a free agent. I said that I was very interested. They said they were going to contact my agent and give me a call back. It just kind of ended up working out that way. They called me back and I basically signed on the dotted line.

Did it happen quick right after the draft?

Yeah. It was done and delivered before the last pick was even up. It worked out great. I didn't have to sit around and wait all night, which I kind of thought that I might have to do. It was nice to know that it was over with.

Were there other teams in there that were calling?

Yeah. There were a couple of teams. But the Bears were the only team that stuck through the whole time, which is kind of interesting. They didn't really show as much interest prior. My agent said to get ready for something like that. I didn't really believe him, and then sure enough it happened.

Looking at their roster, where do you see yourself fitting in?

I feel like I have a really good chance. It's a great opportunity. They didn't draft a single offensive lineman. I know that they signed a few guys in the offseason, but it's anybody's game. It's a good opportunity to prove that I can get in there and contribute and hopefully make the squad.

Is it nice knowing that it's a new staff? Everybody kind of gets a clean slate.

It's really nice. It's similar to the situation coming in here to Iowa. These are guys that wanted you. It's not like another team recruited you and then a new coach came in. It's nice to know that the coach there wants you there. It's going to be interesting.

What was it like for your dad, a life-long Bears fan?

I know that he's pretty proud. He just told me that he can't believe that I've got a shot with a team he's been a fan of his whole life. It really hasn't even sunk in yet for me, but he's pretty pumped about it. He'll tell anybody that I've got just as good of a shot as anybody else. It's exciting.

Did you hear from lot of friends and family?

Yeah. The phone has been going off non-stop. It's nice. It's really nice.

Is this kind of a surreal feeling for you?

Yeah. I've never been the kind of guy that's over confident. So, when a team calls you, it's just kind of crazy. I can't believe it. Who am I to play in the NFL? That's kind of how it was.

And it's the Bears.

Right. To be involved with any NFL organization is amazing. And for it to be the hometown team, I'm pretty excited about it.

Did you have Bears posters and T-shirts and things?

Oh yeah. I remember dancing to the Super Bowl Shuffle. It's like yesterday. It's amazing.

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Erik Jensen:

So, were you surprised to get picked by the Rams?

I was in contact with them and a couple of teams prior to the draft. If it was going to happen, I knew it was going to happen late. I was really hoping that the Rams were going to pick me up. I was surprised, but it was pretty exciting.

Are you going to stay at tight end? Are they going to move you to an H-back position?

I don't know. It said "tight end" on the screen, but we'll see what actually happens when I get to minicamp on Thursday.

Where do you fit best? Can you play fullback?

A lot of teams were looking at me for fullback. Probably most of the teams that were interested in me were interested in me as a fullback. An H-back is kind of a combo of tight end and fullback. It's a position that I think I'm suited for. I think it will be a good fit.

Were you happy to get your shot in the Midwest?

I'm glad. I didn't want to go to far away. I like the Midwest a lot. I'm excited that it's close enough to where friends and family can still shoot down for a game.

Did you grow up a Packers fan?

Yeah. I grew up a half hour away from Green Bay.

Did you talk to them at all?

No. They never contacted me. I figured that if they were going to call me, it would have been nice on draft day. It just didn't work out, but this was just as good.

What other teams showed you interest?

As far as on draft day, the only other team that called was the Jets. There were other teams before the draft talking to my agent. I really didn't talk to him much about it.

Do you feel like you've got kind of a leg up by being drafted as opposed to being a free agent?

Yeah. It feels good to be drafted, but it's the seventh round. I'm going to go in there just like I would if I was a free agent. I've got everything to prove. I can't sit back and expect them to put me on the team. I'm going to go in there like I would if I was a freshman on campus.

Have you and your agent looked at the roster and gotten an idea how you fit in?

Yeah. I think they've got one guy at tight end. I'm not sure what the H-back situation looks like. There's not a lot of depth. That's one of the reasons why they were a top team of mine going into the draft as far as free agency. They weren't real deep, and they ran a two tight end style of offense.

You haven't been the high-profile type tight end Like Dallas. Does this kind of show people out there how valuable you are as a blocker?

I got 15 passes last year and that was like triple what I got any other season. I'm just not a real pass receiving guy. That's not really my thing. Any pass I catch makes the game that much better. But I'm a blocking guy. As far as me being a huge part of the passing offense, it wasn't really ever in the cards. I can catch the ball. I just really haven't gotten a lot of chances.

I was really happy. I'm not a glory guy. I'm not a big media guy or stats guy. It was nice that someone saw passed the stats. F


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