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Bedard: Scituate’s Joe Gaziano keeps eye on NFL draft in uncertain times

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A 19-hour cross-country drive.

Having to self-quarantine for 14 days (as the son of a Massachusett Supreme Court justice, the law really isn't all that negotiable).

A makeshift home gym and a middle school field.

Plus, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound body that has the type of potential (and lacrosse background) that could endear himself to the hometown team.

Safe to say, this isn't exactly the run-up to the NFL draft that Northwestern defensive end Joe Gaziano, a Scituate and Xaverian Brothers product, envisioned.

"Yeah, no, not at all," Gaziano said this week from his home. "What’s funny too is that my agent (Kyle Dolan of Priority Sports), I talk with him regularly and he’s telling me, 'If you think of anything that you need let me know.' Throughout this process, I anticipated leaning on him because he’s gone through this process many times. Now it’s kind of like we’re both going through this process together step by step. It’s uncharted water for everybody."

Gaziano capped a stellar Northwestern career by being voted by the coaches to the Big Ten first team, his third-straight year of earning all-conference honors.

Gaziano matched his career-high with nine sacks as a senior while becoming Northwestern's all-time sacks leader with 30 in his career. He finished the regular season tied for fourth among Big Ten players in sacks and was third in the league with 17 tackles for loss. Gaziano finished his career as the program's leader in sacks and forced fumbles (10) and is second in program history with 48.5 career tackles for loss.

Gaziano participated in the East-West Shrine Game, was able to get his pro day in, was set to remain in Evanston, Ill. to prepare for the draft, and then everything changed with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last Wednesday, Gaziano made the 19-hour drive to Scituate. Due to Governor Charlie Baker's self-quarantine orders for out-of-state visitors, Gaziano is holed up in the family home, which he shares with his father, Frank, who has been a state Supreme Court justice since 2016.

"Right now, I’m self-quarantined and just kind of working out on my own and limiting human contact as much as possible," he said. "No going out to the grocery store or anything."

Gaziano took us through his typical day preparing for the draft.

"A normal day for me would be to wake up, make breakfast and because I have so much time on my hands, I can split up the lift and the run – I don’t have to do them back to back," he said. "So I’ll go to a local middle school field where no one’s at — it’s a grass field with no lines on it, nothing pretty but it gets the job done. So I’ll get my running done there, sprint work, agility, change of direction, all that good stuff and then come home, eat lunch. Little later I’ll get my lift in so I’ll go in my breezeway, my garage gym, where we’ve laid down some rubber mats that we bought at Home Depot. We’ve got some miscellaneous weights. There’s no squat rack but with some free weights and some heavy dumbells and some lighter dumbells, we’re able to get some stuff done. And then after that, it’s just take some calls from some teams if scouts are reaching out. Had a couple of video conference calls this week.

"Just trying to stay busy, breaking up the lifting aspect and run aspect in the workout so it takes up more time and I can kind of build my nutrition around both of those workouts as well."

Gaziano said the virtual meetings he's had with teams are similar to the interactions he had at the Shrine Game and his pro day — as much as they can be.

"I feel like it’s as similar as possible with being as different as possible as well," he said. "They try to ask the same questions, they try to show you some film, have you break down your own defense and kind of express your thought process throughout each play. They ask you about your general background in football, how you got into the game, different aspects of your college career too. But besides that, face to face interaction is a big part of any job interview and the NFL is no different, it’s kind of accentuated more so because it’s, ‘What kind of player are you? What kind of locker room presence can you be? Can you be coachable?’ And all that. It’s hard to get that over video conference. They’re trying to be as thorough as possible throughout the whole process, it’s just not the same."

Gaziano has had contact with the Patriots during the process and, yes, playing for the hometown would be something he'd welcome.

"For sure," he said. "Kind of how I fell in love with the game was watching them play and be successful throughout my childhood and high school. It definitely would be a dream come true to play for them, but at the same time, I realize this is a business and any team that is willing to take a chance on me, I feel like I’ll give my best to make that team better.

"Growing up watching Tom Brady play for the Patriots was surreal so it would be great. I also played on Gillette’s field twice as a high school player so it would be kind of cool to circle back to playing on the same field I did in high school for the state championships my junior and senior year."

I wouldn't rule out Gaziano being a pick of the Patriots either. He has the ideal size and strength to be a strong-side end in their scheme, and one of his most important jobs at Northwestern was to set the edge. He'd likely be an upgrade over a player like Deatrich Wise due to his ability to hold up against blockers.

Gaziano, who played lacrosse at Xaverian Brothers as well, seems to know he would fit in the Patriots' scheme.

"Part of what I played in was as an outside guy on the short side of the field — there are less defenders there so you have to set a hard edge," he said. "You would stand up if there was no TE in front of you, just you and the tackle. I did do a good amount of that.

"Watching Deatrich Wise do that the past few years and John Simon filled that role a majority of the year and he thrived in it, and even going back to (Mike) Vrabel. I feel like the Patriots scheme, the more you can do, the more of an asset you are, versatility’s a key. They did a lot of Cover Zero blitzes and giving teams different looks, the more you can do the more the defense can do and it confuses QBs and makes for a better defense as a whole.

Gaziano received a good Shrine Game scouting report from the respected OurLads' Scouting Service:

A relentless every-down competitor who never lets up. Finished plays. An edge pressure player who if he doesn't get a sack, he gets a pressure. Projects as a 5 technique 4-3 defensive end. Created separation consistently from a blocker. He controls and sets the edge of the defense. Always has a plan to rush the passer with set up and counter moves. Worked on tackling skilled players in space (at Shrine practices).

Sure sounds like a 10-year Patriots player to me.

Gaziano is projected as a Day 3 draft pick or, possibly, an undrafted free agent. Perhaps the uncertainty with this draft could make seniors, who are more known commodities to NFL teams than underclassmen, more popular.

Regardless of what happens with the draft, Gaziano just wants a chance in the NFL.

"As long as I have a helmet on during training camp I feel like I can prove my worth and show that I belong at the next level and can help a team win games," he said.