If you’re a fan of both pro football and pro wrestling, there’s no better show to watch right now than “Breaking Ground” on the WWE Network. It is basically Vince McMahon’s version of the hit HBO show “Hard Knocks” — but instead of following NFL hopefuls during training camp, it follows WWE hopefuls who are learning the craft in the WWE’s own minor-league promotion called NXT.
In the first episode of “Breaking Ground,” the first wrestler we’re introduced to is Sabby Piscitelli, a.k.a. “Tino Sabbatelli” in the wrestling world, a 32-year-old who played defensive back for five seasons in the NFL with the Buccaneers, Browns and Chiefs.
Piscitelli was taken by Tampa Bay with the last pick in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft out of Oregon State. In college, he was the Beavers’ defensive captain as a senior and finished his career with 188 tackles and 15 interceptions. He was named to the All-Pac-10 First Team in 2007.
Although he played safety at OSU, during the pre-draft process many scouts considered Piscitelli a better fit at linebacker in the NFL. Taken with the 64th overall pick (listed as a linebacker), he was chosen ahead of eventual 4-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, 2-time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson and 2-time Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain, to name a few.
Despite what they said when he was drafted, Piscitelli settled in at strong safety with the Bucs. In 2009, his third pro season, he started all but one game in the secondary alongside star cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib. Piscitelli recorded 80 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery that he returned 72 yards.
That was the peak of Piscitelli’s NFL career. In 2010, he lost his starting job and was eventually released by the Bucs during the season. He signed with the Browns, who already had future Pro Bowler T.J. Ward starting at strong safety. The next season, Piscitelli joined the Chiefs, where he was again a backup. In what turned out to be his final NFL season, he had 34 tackles and a forced fumble.
In 2014, Piscitelli began training at the WWE Performance Center in Florida. After about six months, he made his NXT debut as Tino Sabbatelli.