Looking at the New England Patriots, Joe Vellano saw a winner. He saw a blue-collar organization with a white-knuckle philosophy boasting an impeccable track record of turning the undersized and the under-appreciated into household NFL names, if not stars.
Chances are, the Patriots saw something similar in Vellano.
The decorated former Maryland defensive lineman, a 2011 all-American and one of just four father-son all-American pairs in Football Bowl Subdivision history, went undrafted last week, despite hearing from teams that he might be selected anywhere in rounds five, six or seven.
Watching beside family from his New York home, Vellano saw little difference anyhow between getting picked and signing as an undrafted free agent — other than the pride and distinction associated with being drafted.
“Just going down the line of accolades and making plays and being consistent year-round and starting on teams and being captain and all that weigh a little more, but teams have their own reasons and it was up to them,” Vellano said. “The way it plays out is the way it does, just go there and make plays. The late couple rounds, as I was looking at it anyway, it’s not much of a difference.
“Teams will call you just as easy as an undrafted free agent. The situation at the end point, it would have been nice to have been drafted, but you move on. The situation is still very similar.”
Saturday night, after the draft wrapped up and Mr. Irrelevant had been dubbed, a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers fell through. Sunday brought radio silence, before Vellano accepted an offer to join the Patriots.
“They’re winners,” Vellano said Tuesday by phone. “They know how to win year in and year out. They play multiple schemes and many different fronts, three-down, four-down. They’ll play multiple positions across the line. I’ve had many reps at each position, which helps me in that category. Just the way they play, grind out games, with guys who play hard every down in that situation.”
Few Terrapins could boast a stronger work ethic than Vellano, a three-year starter who finished 2012 ranked fifth in the ACC with 1.17 tackles for a loss per game, despite being hobbled by an ankle sprain for the final month. Relatively small by NFL defensive line standards at 6 feet 2 and 285 pounds, Vellano says he’s “100 percent” with “no issues” now, after spending the winter training in Miami at Bommarito Performance Systems and the past few months working out in College Park.
Around one month ago, Patriots defensive line coach Patrick Graham visited Gossett Field House for a film session and private workout, Vellano said. “Two to three weeks” after that, Coach Bill Belichick paid a visit for group meetings.
Now that Vellano signed, becoming the fifth Maryland player to latch onto an NFL team this spring, he will attend rookie minicamp this Thursday in Foxborough, Mass. Aside from the occasional Boston College road trip, Vellano has some sporadic New England ties. His brother, Paul, played football at Rhode Island and his family company, Vellano Bros., has several branches in the area.
Vellano might still be an NFL long shot, but at least he latched onto an organization with a proven track record of turning the unlikely into productive contributors.
“It’s a chance to really get moving in that direction,” Vellano said. “It’s been a long time coming since the season ended.”