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Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, January 5, 2001

N F L _ I S L A N D E R S

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Nebraska center Dominic Raiola, a first-team All-American,
is bypassing his senior season to turn pro. Raiola was
a standout lineman at St. Louis School.

Raiola opts
out of Nebraska,
into pros

All-American says the time
is right to go to the NFL

By Paul Arnett

Dominic Raiola stood in front of the cameras and said goodbye to one possible future and hello to another.

The consensus All-America center for the University of Nebraska changed his mind about a senior season with the Cornhuskers, opting for a freshman year in the National Football League, instead, figuring the time was right to make that leap of faith.

NFL Hawaii Not that a 6-foot-2, 300-pound center from St. Louis School can jump that far. But considering what National Football League insiders told him about where he will land in the upcoming draft, he won't have to. His name will be called on the opening day, possibly in the first round.

"It is in my best interest and my family's best interest that I move on," Raiola told local reporters yesterday, his mom and dad at his side. "It wasn't easy this morning talking to coach (Frank Solich). I got choked up on some words. Tears were going. They've done so much for me.

"But I think I'm ready for it. And I think they know I'm ready for it. But it's hard leaving a program that has done so much for me. This is why I went to college, to get to this point. Coming back was definitely another chance to make another run at the national championship. I thought about that last night while watching the game between No. 1 Oklahoma and Florida State.

"The other thing was my teammates. I've been with them for so long. They look up to me as a leader. They're losing a leader. I weighed everything out. The decision itself is not selfish. But selfish or not, I'm just looking out for what I want to do. I give up my senior season, but I start my pro career a year earlier. And that's a definite advantage."

Raiola didn't know for sure he was leaving until early yesterday morning. He met with former Crusader teammate and current NFL center Olin Kreutz over the weekend to discuss his options. Kreutz left the University of Washington after his third year in college and is enjoying success with the Chicago Bears.

Success has been at Raiola's side all season as well. He was a consensus All-American and a finalist for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award given to the nation's best lineman. He played guard his first year with Nebraska before shifting to center, where he has been a dominant force the past three seasons.

Redshirting in 1997 allowed him that extra time on the practice field and in the weight room to better prepare him for the rigors of Division I football. Raiola recently hired a personal trainer to help him find that extra step in the 40 and rep in the bench press at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 24.

College was fun. So much so, Raiola figures to go out on the crest of the wave, a better transition into the business end of football. His family looked into insurance policies to help protect Raiola should he be injured his final season at Nebraska, but felt coming out early was a better decision.

It's not as if the Raiolas need their son's future to help them make ends meet. They don't. But what they do want is to give him any edge he needs to make the transition.

"I've been blessed not to have any major injuries in college," Raiola said. "No major surgeries. People were telling me first or second round the entire time.

"So coming back to Nebraska would have been there and done that. I surrounded myself with good people and that was a major part of my decision. My dad called the director of scouting...and he told my dad the first two rounds. This is right for me."

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