(CNN) — A former pizza shop worker is now earning his dough in the NFL after being signed by the New England Patriots.
Last week, the Patriots announced that offensive lineman Sebastian Gutierrez had joined the team’s practice squad — quite the change of scene from his job at Uncle Maddio’s Pizza in Minot, North Dakota.
The six-foot-six, 295-pound Gutierrez was signed by the Denver Broncos as a rookie free agent in May but released on August 29, prompting him to take up part-time work at Uncle Maddio’s while continuing to train and look for a team.
“A lot of guys put all their energy into their training, but I found myself having time to sit around in the afternoon,” Gutierrez told CNN Sport. “I don’t really like to just sit around and do nothing.”
Having previously eaten at Uncle Maddio’s and enjoyed their pizza, Gutierrez started working there three days a week when he was told by his trainer in Minot that they needed extra hands in the afternoons and evenings.
That was before he got the call from the Patriots and joined up with the team last week.
“Obviously, you work to get an opportunity to get signed by a team and then go and show them what you can do,” said Gutierrez, adding that his long-term goal is to become a starter in the NFL.
“I was just excited and eager to tell my parents that the hard work’s paying off.”
During his college career at Minot State, Gutierrez made 42 appearances and 35 starts, transitioning from a tight end to an offensive lineman in 2018, according to the Patriots.
Losson Leonard, the owner of Uncle Maddio’s, wondered whether Gutierrez had been hired as security when he first saw the 24-year-old working in the restaurant.
He says he was soon won over by the work ethic and down-to-earth demeanor of the new recruit.
“We’re just so happy for him,” Leonard told CNN Sport. “He’s such a hard worker, he’s a great young man.
“I told him: ‘Once you get your feet in there [at the Patriots], once you get in the door, don’t let them kick you out. Stay in there, stay with it and practice hard.'”
Even as a Carolina Panthers fan, Leonard said he will be rooting for Gutierrez while enjoying the novelty of his former employee’s current work status.
“It’s kind of odd that someone quit working for me and went to work for [Patriots head coach] Bill Belichick,” he added. “I don’t think a lot of people can say that.”
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