Friday, January 5, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 5, 2001

Cornhuskers' Raiola will enter NFL draft

By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

While in high school, Dominic Raiola tagged along with his father, Tony, who worked in the NFL Pro Bowl locker rooms at Aloha Stadium.

Dominic Raiola is a two-time All-America center for Nebraska.

Advertiser library photo

"(Co-workers joked)
One day, we’re going to be doing your laundry,’" Dominic Raiola recalled. That just might happen someday as Nebraska’s two-time All-America junior center out of St. Louis School said yesterday he will forego his senior season to make himself eligible for the April NFL draft. He made his decision early yesterday morning before calling Cornhuskers’ coach Frank Solich.

"I’m ready for it and they (Nebraska coaches) know I’m ready for it," Raiola said yesterday at a press conference in the downtown business office of family friend Larry Goeas.

Underclassmen must petition for NFL draft by Jan. 12.

On Dec. 15, Raiola said he would return to Nebraska for his senior year. He said he made that announcement so his dilemma would not cause a distraction while the team prepared for the Dec. 30 Alamo Bowl, in which Nebraska routed Northwestern, 66-17. He returned to Hawaii after the game.

He is the third St. Louis School product to leave college after his junior year. In 1998, Washington center Olin Kreutz and Utah running back Chris Fuamatu-Maafala were drafted in the third and sixth rounds by the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively. Raiola, who turned 22 on the day of the Alamo Bowl, said he has accomplished more than he has expected in college. The consensus All-American was one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy and one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award.

Raiola, who worked out with Kreutz earlier yesterday, said he consulted with the Bears’ third-year center.

"He didn’t sway me either way," Raiola said. "(But) he felt I was ready."

Raiola said he was told he was projected to be drafted in the late first or early second round. The Raiola family, on advice from Solich, consulted with Kansas City Chiefs vice president of player personnel Terry Bradway for an analysis.

"He graded high," said Tony Raiola. "He’s ready to go." ranked Raiola, who is 6 feet 2 and 300 pounds, as the top center available for the draft.

NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper ranked Raiola as the fifth-best underclassmen offensive lineman. "Everything points toward Raiola having a very good pro career," Kiper’s midseason prospectus reported.

Although former Nebraska defensive linemen Grant Wistrom (St. Louis Rams) and Jason Peter (New York Giants) returned for their senior years, Raiola said his situation is different.

"I know they came back for the extra year and I didn’t get to talk to them, but I think my position, the center position, it’s real hard to (improve) my stats any more," Raiola said. "Already being the top center in the country, I don’t know how much better I can get."

Raiola said he will leave within a week for the Mainland to prepare for next month’s NFL combine, which he anticipates he will be invited to. He is deciding on an agent before finding a site to train.

Although he is enrolled at Nebraska for the spring semester, which starts Monday, Raiola said he will not attend classes, but will return to the Lincoln campus in March. "They have a little combine at the school, (and I’ll do) some personal workouts," he said. "Also (I’ll be there) to visit my friends."

Raiola’s mother, Wendy, was supportive of her son’s decision, even if it meant putting his education on hold.

"He is short a few credits and he has promised us that he will finish his education, so I’m going to hold him to that one," she said, laughing.

Then she got sentimental.

"It’s so funny to see your little boy grow up and to see this," she said.

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