California (PA) QB Peter Lalich: A "True" 2013 NFL Draft "Sleeper" Story
The College Football Metrics.com Full Interview with Peter Lalich
What if one of the best quarterback prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft is from Division-II (D2), and is a name you've never heard of?
If you have followed the NFL Draft process for a while, then you have no doubt seen blurbs and one-liner notes from draft analysts over the years with claims of various "sleeper" quarterback prospects that had big output in the lower ranks of college football. These "sleepers" are usually under-sized and generally ill equipped, to "make it" in the NFL.
Occasionally, there is the story of a Division-I prospect's fall from grace...a quarterback "forced" into a transfer downward for playing time. Joe Flacco is a great example -- originally recruited to the University of Pittsburgh, and for whatever the given reason (lack of playing time, etc.) he moved to Division-II (now called FCS) Delaware. At Delaware, Flacco racked up stupendous numbers (387.5 yards passing per game, throwing for 23 TD/5 INT and a 63.5% Comp. Pct. in his final college season) and put himself on the NFL Draft map early in the process. It was not until the individual workouts, however, that Flacco began to race up the NFL Draft rankings. Ultimately, Flacco would push his way into becoming a semi-surprising 1st-round draft pick in 2008. Hopefully, things will work out well for Flacco in the NFL...
Flacco goes from a Division-II unknown, to eventual Super Bowl champ/MVP, and subsequently will go on to become extraordinarily wealthy in 2013. Kurt Warner went from Northern Iowa, to undrafted, to sacking groceries, to Arena Football, to one of the best NFL quarterbacks of our generation. The rise from an unknown D2 college quarterback to a Super Bowl MVP has proven to be possible...shockingly possible.
Flacco and Warner are outliers. They are "not normal." Typically, the unheralded D2/FCS college quarterback prospect gets a little love from NFL Draft diehards or "draftniks" in March-April. After a flash of mini-hype among the serious draft analysts, almost all of these D2/FCS quarterbacks will go on to be undrafted and maybe given an NFL free agent tryout...and then on to a non-football playing career. Occasionally, these D2/FCS quarterback prospects, who do not have the arm strength or physical prowess to be considered as serious NFL options, will go on to non-American Football and/or the Arena Leagues and/or perpetually holding a clipboard as a 3rd-string QB in the NFL.
There have been 127 quarterbacks selected in the last ten years of NFL Drafts. Only ten of those 127 quarterbacks (8%) were from D2/FCS football schools, and only two of those ten quarterbacks drafted were selected within the first four rounds of the NFL Draft (Flacco 1st-round in 2008, Alabama State's Tavaris Jackson 2nd-round in 2006). Among the last decade of drafted D2/FCS quarterbacks, only Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick (7th-round 2005) are having an NFL impact (Tony Romo is an undrafted D2 impact NFL QB). The Joe Flacco story -- a highly drafted D2 quarterback that becomes an impact starter in the NFL is a 1-in-127 (0.8% probability) story over the last decade.
Since Joe Flacco's amazing journey from the 2008 NFL Draft, there has not been a great D2/FCS "story" in the NFL at the quarterback position. Fordham's John Skelton (5th-round, 2010) has been the most "productive" of the D2/FCS quarterbacks since Flacco. It is easy for the football public to be lulled to sleep by any discussions of a "sleeper" quarterback from the D2/FCS ranks...because it has been a fruitless exercise for years. Maybe it's due to the over-information age and/or advanced recruiting summer camps that cause any/every high school quarterback prospect with a modicum of talent to be "known" at an early age. Or maybe it's the rise of non-traditional football powers that have the opportunity to have their games on TV most every week, or maybe it's just sheer coincidence...the serious quarterback prospects for the NFL Draft from the D2/FCS level have been few and far between the last decade, and have almost vanished over the past four years.
Whatever the reason(s), the recent D2/FCS quarterback prospect dry spell could be about to change with California (PA) prospect Peter Lalich (Lah-lick).
Meet Peter Lalich...
Likely you just thought, "Who is Peter Lalich?" It's a fair response since nary an NFL Draft analyst, blogger, or "draftnik" is discussing Lalich at this time. You will not find Lalich ranked among the mainstream top-10 or top-20 quarterback prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft. For some scouting services, he is not among their top 40-50 ranked quarterbacks.
What if I told you that this "unknown" D2 quarterback was a former four-star high school recruit, and was the debated #1-2 ranked prospect in the state of Virginia in 2007...and ranked as high as a top-5 quarterback prospect nationally that same year? Would you be impressed to know that Lalich is a quarterback that measures in at 6'4"+ and 230+ pounds with a huge arm (can throw the ball 70+ yards in the air) and has an effortless/quick release? For those more in the draft prospect "know" -- does a 37 on the Wonderlic (unconfirmed practice test) and a 10"+ hand size get your attention?
Peter Lalich has an impressive athletic family pedigree. His father (Todd) was a Florida and Ohio U. scholarship basketball player (ultimately played in Europe and the CBA), and his grandfather is in the Ohio University Hall of Fame as a basketball player (and was drafted/played in the National Basketball League in the 1940s).
Lalich forced his way into splitting time as a starting quarterback at Virginia as a true freshman in 2007. Later, he broke passing records at California University (PA) in 2011, and was on his way to breaking several more marks in 2012 before he lost a few games to a fluke injury (staph infection).
Lalich has the scouting measurables and lineage to be a top 5-10 quarterback prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft. So why have we not heard of him? What's the catch?
There is a catch...
A simple Google search of Lalich's college football career will quickly reveal stories about his dismissal from the Virginia football team in 2008. The same internet search is likely to land you on the story of his dismissal from the Oregon State football team in 2010 as well. When you find that both of his college dismissal stories are a result of problems related to alcohol, it will cause most people to turn the page quickly and simply write-off Lalich as a typical prima donna, a pampered athlete who is not ready to handle the next level. It sounds like just another tale of a failed D1 quarterback, who crash lands into the lower levels of D2 college football by last resort. It's a broken record of a story.
However, this story may be different...a lot different.
How I Found Peter Lalich...
I am a student of college football prospects...with a twist. Just as in the movie/book Moneyball, I had the crazy notion to study players' college game data and physical attributes with a computer algorithm to try to scout and identify future stars as well as high-probability busts. Over the past few years, I have been designing and fine-tuning this scouting approach and reporting on my findings. It is an attempt to take my often-lying "eyeballs" out of the equation and relying more on hard data.
This draft season, during our initial input of data, there was a quarterback (Lalich), who I had never heard of, and who popped of the page on our initial data reports.
When our computer scouting models flag an "unknown" prospect in such a positive manner it forces me to rush my studies of that particular quarterback to the top of the research list. Initially, all I saw was the performance data and physical attributes on paper for Lalich...and was excited. When I was able to watch some scouting tape of Lalich at Virginia and at Cal (PA), I was somewhat taken aback. I am typically jaded to supposed "diamonds in the rough" because they mostly turn out to be all rough and no diamond. However, watching Lalich, I was quite impressed with the physical size, arm-strength, and effortless throws...he has an tantalizing package of raw skills.
In Lalich, I saw the type of quarterback prospect that an NFL team can get their hands on and smooth out the rough edges. Lalich has God-given attributes that cannot be taught -- a well above-average physical size and arm strength...the kind of things that are in high demand in the NFL Draft.
I was so excited about the discovery that I quickly began to do the background check and research on Lalich. Exactly, how did Lalich start at Virginia and wind up at California (PA)? My enthusiasm bubble nearly burst as quickly as it had formed. I had come across the stories of not one, but two dismissals from D1 schools prior to his D2 career. I was disappointed, and like most, I quickly did my own mental math to dismiss him as an immature kid who threw away his "big chance."
I wanted to write-off Lalich as another soon-to-be forgotten prospect for the NFL Draft, but his situation nagged at me. I study reams of NFL Draft prospect data and I also watch a ton of quarterback tape, and I felt like something was a little different here with Lalich. He was such a talent on paper and so impressive while visually scouting...so what went wrong? What if he had now turned his life around while a part of the Cal (PA) program (a known home to many second/third chance prospects)? What if he has seen the error of his ways and did "a 180" on life...how would that affect his NFL Draft prospects? What if none of this trouble had ever befallen him...would he have been huge at Virginia, and gone on to become a top-5 NFL Draft prospect?
Most of the questions and assumptions around Lalich can never be truly answered. In our research scouting report on Lalich (released in early January), we essentially framed a case for any NFL franchise who would be willing to listen that Lalich is a quarterback who should absolutely be on preliminary 2013 NFL Draft lists, with the intent to further investigate his "mental state" today. I would advise any team that if Lalich has matured mentally...he could potentially be a top 5-10 quarterback prospect for the NFL Draft. In another world, perhaps starting and finishing at Virginia, Lalich breaks several school passing records and becomes a national name everyone knows. His raw skills and past recruiting accolades are worth the extra private investigation.
I had no idea that I would soon get the chance to do some of that investigation firsthand.
In this awesome cyber-world filled with Google alerts for anything you desire, our scouting reports on Peter Lalich had reached through to him and his family. Through the magic of twitter and email, I was able to ask Lalich for the opportunity to explore the questions that I, and my readers (and NFL teams), would love to know about in more detail. Not a softball publicity piece about his favorite foods or a "gotcha" backstab hit piece on past demons. I wanted to ask what anyone would want to know: "What happened? How did a former top recruit nationally wind up on such an odd journey...and had he turned his life around?" Peter granted me full access to ask any question I wanted, and was gracious enough to allow me to do an "up close and personal" of his football career and off-field trouble. The following paragraphs are a result of a weeklong Q & A. It is the Peter Lalich story heading into the 2013 NFL Draft.
The 6'3", 200-pound, 7th-grader and future savior of Virginia football...
Leading up to middle school, Peter Lalich grew up about as normal as any kid in America could. Lalich had a stable home life in Springfield, VA with a passion for athletics. Given his father and grandfather's prowess in college sports, it was only natural for Lalich to excel in athletics as well. He was a very good baseball pitcher and basketball player growing up, but it was football that attracted him the most. When I asked Lalich about his earliest recollections of football, he responded, "I loved sports and especially football because I like to hit people. I played Nose Guard, Center, and Linebacker in youth football."
It would not be long before Lalich's size and athletic abilities would move him from playing Center to being behind it. "I started playing quarterback when I was 10 years old. By the 7th-grade, I was like 6'3" and 200-pounds and could throw the ball 50 yards. A lot of private schools started recruiting me," Lalich commented on his first memories of playing quarterback.
Overly tall youth football players garner a lot of attention from parents and spectators alike, but 6'4"+, 220-pound high school players attract a national attention. Throughout high school, Lalich was invited/attended most of the top-level college training camps and 7-on-7 passing leagues. I asked Lalich about when he became aware of the recruiting/next-level attention. "I was really excited to be mentioned on message boards as being a potential prospect in my sophomore year. I knew Virginia would likely offer me a scholarship when Russell Wilson and I were outperforming the seniors at their summer camp when we were freshman," Lalich shared with me.
I was curious if perhaps that attention lavished upon a high school football "prodigy" would lead to an inflated ego, or an air of invincibility, or sense of entitlement...maybe all of that leading to the issues he would battle later in college. I never sensed that with Peter. When I asked him about the recruiting pressure he replied, "I was mostly shocked at the attention, but it was what I always wanted (to play big-time college football). I committed to Virginia after my junior season, so most of my recruitment happened in my sophomore and early junior years."
Lalich did not do a whirlwind national tour or make a grandiose public spectacle when making his college choice (as many players do today). Lalich recalled, "I committed to UVa early. I really wanted to go to Miami, but Larry Coker had just been dismissed. I was a huge fan of Matt Schaub and Ahmad Brooks (UVa stars at the time), who were both from my area. The other coaches in my top-five school choices had just been dismissed at UCLA, Michigan, N.C. State as well. I was probably dumb, in retrospect, for not taking an Oklahoma visit offered, but I liked and respected Al Groh (then UVa head coach) so Virginia was a pretty comfortable choice."
Getting to know Lalich a little bit, his answer to my question of whether his senior high school season of football was enjoyable or a bit of a burden (given his growing label as a future "savior" for Virginia football), is a running theme of how he looks at most of his life events -- through wins and losses in football. To my question about his senior season, Lalich's response was, "My senior year was enjoyable besides the fact that we kept losing. We lost a game 81-74 which was written about in Sports Illustrated. I had a game where I threw eight touchdowns right before Halloween that was pretty fun."
With his college decision made a couple years prior, Peter Lalich the four-star rated and top-5 national quarterback prospect for Rivals.com headed off to Virginia in 2007. He expected to redshirt and not play as a freshman initially, and then was to become the "messiah" for the Cavaliers' football program for years to follow. Neither of those plans would come to fruition.
Virginia Year-One (2007)...
Lalich's response to my question about his mindset heading from high school to the University of Virginia is interesting and candid -- "Everything was going well....actually, almost too well. I was at a great university and I was the freshman QB that was supposed to save the program and possibly start as a true freshman. My parents were happy because of the quality of education I was about to receive." Surely, there had to be massive pressure to live up to those standards. When I asked him about that, Lalich responded, "I really didn't think about it unless one of the frat boys would tell me about it. The football team made me earn respect and no one gave me special treatment or anything. I knew I had to work hard to play. It mostly affected me off the field with the preferential treatment rather than around the football team."
Lalich assumed that he would not start or play in his freshman year. There was the talk of a QB competition in camp, but the job was leaning toward Jameel Sewell as the incumbent starter (Sewell would go on to play QB in the Arena League). There was no indication of Lalich playing in 2007 throughout the preseason camps. As Lalich puts it, "I thought I would redshirt for sure because at the beginning of camp and before the first game I was always listed third on the depth chart."
However, Lalich would end up playing in the 2007 season opener at Wyoming. "Jameel struggled with a wrist injury and I was thrust into the game not really prepared to be there. I was incredibly excited and nervous playing in the first game of my freshman year," explained Lalich. In a depressing 23-3 loss to Wyoming, Lalich entered the game late and went 3 of 5 passing for 16 yards.
The Wyoming game would not just be a brief/one-time freshman appearance. Coach Al Groh decided to follow a developing trend of the time, a mini-trend many of us have probably forgotten about. Coach Groh decided to go with the very chic (at the time) "two quarterback system." The two-QB system was typically comprised of one quarterback who was a traditional pocket passer (a "thrower"), and another quarterback who was more of a "runner," who might throw on occasion. As the situation, or flow of the game, called for it, neither quarterback would be assured of who would be in the game at any given moment. It seems odd now, but it was a "thing" for a couple years in college football. Lalich explained, "After the Wyoming game I was expecting to start the rest of the season, but Coach Groh chose the two-quarterback situation similar to Chris Leak and Tim Tebow which had been successful the year before in college football. I was the "passing QB." Sometimes they would cold put me in the game on a third and long, and I wouldn't even be warmed up, but I would be asked to try to convert these longer play scenarios against a Cover-2 Defense."
Following the season opening loss to Wyoming, the two-QB system was in place against Duke. Sewell would start, but Lalich would have his career best game at Virginia going 13 of 18 passing for 131 yards and 1 TD/0 INT. His touchdown pass would come in the 4th-quarter, sealing Virginia's first victory of 2007. I was wondering what had to be going through the mind of a highly-touted quarterback recruit who had suddenly been thrust into playing time...and now had just outplayed his "rival" QB and led the team to their first victory of the young season. When I asked Lalich about his mindset after the Duke game, he responded, "I have a lot of respect for Jameel, and I looked up to him. I don't think the team cared who was playing quarterback. I think the team was just happy the two-QB system was working. Girls were leaving me notes on my dorm room door after the game and people in town were showing me a lot of love. The fans were the ones who really wanted me to start. Our team was just happy to win coming off the Wyoming loss."
The game following the Duke win was huge. The Cavaliers had an enormous win at North Carolina the following week. That 2007 Tar Heels team was loaded with future NFL talent -- a UNC team led by NFL QB T.J. Yates, NFL RB Johnny White, NFL WR/KR Brandon Tate, and NFL All-Pro WR Hakeem Nicks. Lalich went 7 of 10 passing for 57 yards. On the season (after three games), Lalich was completing 69.7% of his passes as a true freshman. Virginia Cavaliers fans were filled with hope, and many clamored for Lalich to take over the full reins at QB...and to begin the process of fulfilling his destiny as Virginia football "savior."
The Lalich-savior-destiny story would never see its hoped-for conclusion. Three weeks into the 2007 season, Lalich had hit his peak for the Virginia football program. The Lalich-Virginia story takes an unexpected turn from here, which launches Lalich onto a life journey that he was completely unfamiliar with -- the "un-perfect" life.
In Week Four of the 2007 season, Virginia defeated Georgia Tech (to move to 3-0 in the ACC). Lalich only went 4 of 10 passing, throwing for 56 yards, and threw his first college interception. From that game on, Lalich barely played the rest of the 2007 season, throwing only 18 passes over the next nine games...and barely even playing in most of those contests. Virginia would go on to shock football analysts by posting a 9-4 record on the season. I asked Lalich about what happened to his playing time starting with that Georgia Tech game. He told me, "In the Tech game, I had a problem with the hand signals, and I was calling my own plays essentially. I called back-to-back deep post routes and one of them was picked-off. After the game, Coach Groh called me the "Mad Bomber." My risk-taking style was not what Groh wanted for the team. We had such a great defense that year that I don't think coach wanted to play in a pass-first style of offense." The "Mad Bomber" was grounded for most of the remaining 2007 season.
After the 2007 season, the plan was for Lalich to redshirt in 2008. As Lalich put it, "I was very talented, but needed to mature and be less of a gunslinger and more of a game manager." The maturity-growth plan came to an abrupt end when incumbent starting quarterback Jameel Sewell was ruled academically ineligible for the upcoming 2008 season. The door was open for Lalich to become the Virginia Cavaliers full starting quarterback in 2008.
Virginia Year-Two (2008)...
Lalich's 2008 reign as the starting quarterback would last only two games before his dismissal from the team. His dismissal from Virginia would begin a very unusual series of twists and turns for Lalich over the next several years.
In the 2008 off-season, the Virginia offense was converted over to a pass-heavy Spread-offense attack; an offensive system tailored to fit Lalich's passing skills.
Lalich made headlines in July 2008, but not in a manner he had intended. He was arrested for being a minor in possession of alcohol (20 years-old at the time). He is not the first or last college kid to be caught drinking underage. However, within a couple of months of this event he would be kicked off the Virginia football team for alcohol-related issues (and later the same at Oregon State), so this initial incident bears examining...and you know the NFL evaluators will want to probe it as well.
I asked permission to grill Lalich on his issues with alcohol at Virginia, my angle was trying to determine his thought process -- how did it happen? Is it habitual? Here is the flow of our Q & A on it:
What happened to bring about the circumstances of your arrest in July 2008? It's a boring story actually. At the end of our training camp, before the season got going there was a party at the football house. Some of the basketball players started a fight in the street and the cops came. I was just standing there with a beer in my hand playing beer pong. It really didn't seem to be a big deal the time.
What were you thinking as the arrest went down? Honestly, I wasn't too worried about it. I just figured I would pay a fine and move on with my life. I had never been in trouble with the law before, so I really didn't comprehend what I was in for over the next few weeks.
Who was your first call to? How did you break it to your parents and coaches? How did they take the news? I didn't speak to anyone. Coach Groh called me into his office and addressed the situation. I think I was suspended from a practice or two. They ran me a lot, and I had to do "up-downs" with the strength coach for the first few days...it was terrible!
At that time (July 2008), would you call yourself a normal "party happy" college kid, or did you look back and think you had a serious problem? I was just young and excited to have fun in college. I was the life of the party. I was living life like the movies. I wasn't out of the norm for college football players, but I was the quarterback -- I shouldn't have been the life of the party. I didn't want to be normal. I had to do everything big. I used to live for the weekend back then, but now I live for Monday, because I realize how lucky I am to be able to do what I love and I won't jeopardize myself now like I did when I was younger.
Note: In 2008, UVa lost its home opener to top-ranked USC (52-7) and then muddled by D2 Richmond for a 16-0 win. In the two games, Lalich completed just 52.7% of his passes with zero TD passes and three picks. They were his final two games on the Virginia football team.
How heavily did that whole arrest situation weigh on you in those two games as the starter in 2008? You had two of the worst games (statistically) that you've probably ever had as a quarterback in your life. What would you point to for the poor start to the 2008 season? I felt no pressure against USC. I felt like they were supposed to beat us so we had nothing to lose. I thought that I played fairly well against USC considering that we were outmatched by a long shot. I started the Richmond game hot, but lost focus in the 2nd-half. I should have had a TD pass if Kevin (Ogletree) hadn't stepped out of bounds at the one-yard line (said jokingly)!
I think that season...I was trying to be someone I wasn't because of the pressure from the Athletic Director. I didn't feel like I could be myself anymore because of the scrutiny from my bosses. We were also trying to run a Spread-offense with a team of players mostly recruited for a pro-style power running game. I feel like if I had kept playing we would have been a bowl team again (instead the team went a disappointing 5-7, and 4-6 without Lalich).
It was after the Richmond game that Lalich was dismissed from Virginia in a bizarre sequence of events that you can be the judge of...
The media reports note that during your September 2008 probation hearing (from the first incident in July) you admitted to the judge that you had a beer during your probation (which is against the terms of the probation). Most people see that and think either -- "how could he not know?" or "why not lie and say you didn't have a beer"? Either way, the whole situation seems odd. What happened from your perspective? My probation officer asked if I had a beer since I was arrested and I said "yes." I didn't think it was a big deal, and if I had said "no" it would have been a lie that no one would believe. It was my first probation meeting. I was kind of in the mentality that I didn't do anything wrong because everyone else drinks and I was 20, not like it was a big deal or I was hurting anyone. I kind of just wanted people off of my back. I did not know the terms of my probation because I had not had a probation meeting yet. After I told him that I did have a beer the probation officer acted like everything was normal.
The report the probation officer sent to the judge worried the judge. The judge called me into court and basically said "you can't drink on probation." I did not violate my probation, because it was just a warning. Because I had a second court appearance in a month it seemed like I was still getting in trouble and soon after the Athletic Director kicked me off the team. I didn't get in any trouble legally for that court case. In fact, I have a clear record in the state of Virginia and there is no underage drinking on my record. Technically, my record is clean legally from all those incidents...I am just guilty in the court of public opinion. This did not seem like a big deal -- legally it was a "minor in possession." I just had to do AA classes to clear my record.
How shocked are you when the A.D. pulls you aside to give you a dismissal? I was pissed because I thought my court case was a success because the judge kept me on probation and did not punish me in any way. The whole goal was to stay on probation and not have the thing on my record. I would have been better off just keeping it on my record and paying the fine. I was pretty upset because I loved UVa and I felt like they didn't have to do what they did.
In hindsight, I understand where the A.D. was coming from now. I just wish they would have suspended me for the season and let me come back to compete again. However, everything worked out and the road that I have taken has made me a better person. I am OK with everything and I understand that my actions affect others, especially when I am supposed to be a role model and leader of men. I have to be the voice of reason.
That would mark the end of Lalich's career at Virginia, but he wasn't down for long. Within three days, he had signed to transfer to Oregon State and play for highly respected college Head Coach Mike Riley.
The Oregon State years (2008-2010)...
Post-dismissal, Virginia head coach Al Groh immediately hooked Lalich up with Mike Riley at Oregon State. Lalich quickly fell in love with the state of Oregon, and the possibilities of working with the legendary Coach Riley. Lalich would have to sit out a season, and was a redshirt in 2009 at Oregon State. His first real opportunity to play for the Beavers would not be until the 2010 season. Lalich would never find out if he would have started for Oregon State in 2010, because he would again be dismissed for an alcohol-related incident before getting the chance.
You might want to give Lalich a pass for the 2008 Virginia dismissal..."dumb kid being dumb" is easy to equivocate on that one. However, when he is later dismissed from Oregon State, you start to wonder how much of this is really just a bad coincidence...and how much is it that Lalich has a serious "problem"? Here is some of our back-and-forth on the Oregon State years:
How well did you integrate with the OSU program? Did they treat you like a great "steal" from Virginia or were you just another "dude"? How did you feel initially with Oregon State? Honestly, I was really depressed for some reason. I had a hard time adjusting to the quick move from Virginia to Oregon. My grades suffered, and I would even skip some practices. I didn't like going to the games because it made me remember what had happened to me at Virginia. I could tell Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach Danny Langsdorf worried about me. I would sleep in meetings and sometimes not show up for scout team. It wasn't like me.
What did you work on in 2009 while you waited to become "active" again? I started to turn things around in 2009-10. I really spent a lot of time watching film as I was not getting many reps because I was redshirted. I hurt myself that first spring because I was ineligible for spring practice because of my grades. I spent a lot of time working on the mental part of my game, but it was really hard not getting any reps in practice. It really hurt my skill level. I lost a lot of timing and accuracy. However, I took an online math course to become eligible before the spring game. I played really well in that spring game despite not practicing. Coach Riley respected that I was able to pick up the offense without really ever playing in it. I also had all "A's" that semester in school.
Did you work harder at Oregon State than you did at Virginia? I was working really hard in school. I never worked so hard at football in my life. I was one of the hardest workers on the team according to some chart they had for intensity and dedication. I worked too hard. I was trying to change my mechanics and I was throwing twice a day to whoever would catch for me. I killed my arm, and it had less pop in it over time. I was trying to make up for my first semester of not being myself. I was just thinking too much. Football almost meant too much to me. A lot of people can say things about me, but no one questions my football work ethic. I study all day.
I learned so much about football at Oregon State. I am light years ahead of where I would have been if I had not been there. That offense combined with how my memory works and how much I studied prepared me for everything. I wish my mentality was better when I initially arrived. I wish I had a better first impression on Coach Langsdorf and Coach Riley.
Peter Lalich would not get the chance to impress Mike Riley on the field in his first season of eligibility (2010), as he would be dismissed from the team in May 2010 for a boating DUI.
What happened with the boating DUI? I rented a house boat on Lake Shasta. I rented it in my name because I was 21 years-old. There were like 300 other students from OSU on the lake. It was a fun weekend, until we tried to park the three-story boat and bumped into another boat.
What are you thinking as this DUI is "going down"? I thought no one would find out because it was a boating DUI, not a "real" DUI. Honestly, at that point I did not really care. I just figured if I got in trouble it's not a big deal because I wasn't playing that well anyway. I was really ready for football to be done with. I was putting in too much effort and not getting as much in return...or at least that's what I thought.
Did Oregon State fight to keep you or did they "cut and run" pretty quickly? They "let me" transfer, because I would have been suspended for three games and it would have been near impossible for me to be the starter at that point.
What was the call to the parents like on this one? They were not happy.
You bounced back quickly from the Virginia dismissal to land at Oregon State, but now you've barely played for the last 3+ years, and have had a rocky road to say the least. What is your mindset upon the Oregon State dismissal once it really sunk in? Do you think you are a flop at that point, or are you defiant and ready for the next chance? I really didn't think of myself as a flop. I thought I had fun in college and was thinking about staying at Oregon State to finish school. Oregon State taught me not to let football be the overwhelmingly most important thing in my life.
The California (PA) Years (2011-12)...
Lalich had a friend that was playing football for Division-II program California (PA), and the friend put him in touch with the long-time head football coach at Cal (PA) John Luckhardt. Cal (PA) jumped at the chance to land the former prized national recruit.
Cal (PA) already had a future NFL quarterback on the roster in Josh Portis (Seattle Seahawks). Lalich redshirted in 2010, and ran the scout team to prepare for 2011.
I asked Lalich a series of questions about his time at Cal (PA):
What appealed the most about playing for California (PA)? They had a lot of former D1 talent and a history of people getting into NFL camps. Walt Harris was hired to be the Offensive Coordinator and he is a respected coach of the West-Coast Offense. Coach Luck is a legend as to me as well. He has won a lot of games.
How fast did you integrate into the football program? Was there any special treatment? I redshirted my first year because I was a second-time transfer. I played scout team and really got a chance to make up for my two years of inactivity at Oregon State. Josh Portis was the senior quarterback...and he has been on the Seattle Seahawks the past two seasons. I really took pride in beating our defense on scout team because we always have one of the best defenses in Division-II. I went against NFL cornerback Tommy Campbell every day along with Mike Brown who is one of the most talented players I've ever played with. Coach Harris was really tough on me because that is his nature. In his offense, the quarterback has to make a lot of calls and checks and being around him helped a lot as far as learning NFL verbiage for audibles and pass protections.
When you became the starter in 2011, did the team adapt the offense to you or make you fit to a system...or a little of both? Coach Kellar was my offensive coordinator in my junior year (2011) and our head coach my senior year (2012). He runs a pro-style spread offense similar to what you see the New England Patriots run. The offense was already built beautifully, but they let me run some things I thought would work for individual game planning. I called my protections and had a lot of responsibility in the play calling aspect. I could change whatever I wanted and I always called the pass protection and direction of the run game. If you talk to Coach Kellar he will tell you that I worked for hours every day on the chalkboard drawing up plays to beat different defenses. I really understand the game well and how defenses are built and how to try to manipulate their technique against them. I became very proficient in all the facets of the passing game -- quick, intermediate, deep, and play action.
Lalich would go on to throw for a school record 3,725 yards in 2011. He completed 63.3% of his passes with 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. After his first three games with Cal (PA) in 2011, Lalich went on a 25 TD/5 INT run in winning eight of his next nine games, before eventually falling in the playoffs to Winston Salem State (Winston Salem then went on to lose in the title game in 2011).
The following season, Lalich probably would have broken every meaningful passing record at Cal (PA). However, he ended up playing only seven games in 2012 due to a freak staph infection from a cut on his hand. The team was likely headed toward a championship run had Lalich not missed four games (team went 2-2 without him, 6-1 with him). Had Lalich been afforded 13 games played as he had the year before, he was on a pace to throw for an astonishing 4,500+ yards and 40+ touchdowns for a 13-game season.
I asked how he felt in his final college game in 2012, after all the twists and turns of the past six years. Lalich responded, "I had come back three weeks early from a staph infection. I had a PICC line (special catheter for prolonged intravenous access) in my arm for all three weeks and I could not exercise during that period. I lost 20 pounds and could not run due to my leg pain. I am most proud of this game because I worked so hard to come back from the infection. I played without really being able to run. I threw four first-half touchdowns and had 275 yards passing. After the game my coaches said I was the toughest player they had ever been around. It was hard being injured the second half because I wanted to throw for 10 touchdowns. I played angry at the world because I felt unlucky to get the staph infection. I was upset because of what we could have accomplished as a team and as an offense because we would have set all the records on a level where no one would touch them. I was glad for one of my best friends to get his first touchdown that game (Casey Teagarden). It was a good day for our seniors to go out on top and win the last game.
The unusual six-year Odyssey that took Peter Lalich from Virginia to California (PA) ends up with him being one of the most celebrated talents to play at Cal (PA). Lalich earned his bachelor's degree and is further studying exercise science and health promotion. The one time football "savior," turned media/fan punching bag, has been redeemed -- he put his life and career back on track. Lalich has rediscovered his first love -- playing football...and excelling at it.
Heading to the 2013 NFL Draft...
Over the past six years, Peter Lalich has gone from four-star football savior at a top Division-I program, to dismissed from two different D1 schools. He was on the verge of leading his Division-II team to a potential championship and breaking every individual and team passing record there is, only to lose that chance due to a freak staph infection that forced him to miss several games. Lalich has hit a lot of speed bumps in his football life. The one-time top-5 rated quarterback in the nation as a high-schooler, now isn't even listed in most early mainstream NFL Draft rankings within their top 30-40 prospects at quarterback.
I asked Lalich several questions surrounding his current climb toward the NFL
I was telling someone your story yesterday, starting from youth up and telling it like a campfire story...they were on the edge of their seat as I unfolded the timeline/story piece after piece. When I was finished, this person asked, "well, does he drink now or did he quit?" That is certainly one of the first questions you will get from scouts/NFL teams after they make you explain, "What happened at Virginia, then what happened OSU, etc." Because the alcohol is such a major part of your story (fair or unfair) -- where do you stand today on drinking/alcohol personally? Have you decided to cut it completely or every once in a while partaking or same guy as before, but better/smarter drinking venues? I don't really like drinking that much. I'll have some wine with dinner occasionally, but that's about it. There is no real moment I grew out of it. I really just don't have time to waste partying, I have stuff to do. I started playing guitar which gives me something to do because normally I have a lot of energy at night.
When (assuming here) you watch other top 2013 quarterbacks on TV or any you may have encountered along the way -- like Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson, etc.? Do you think "I'm better than them" or "I'm just as good as them?" I compare myself to people who are currently in the NFL. I believe I can fit in and I have the skill set to be very successful in the NFL. My strengths are reading coverage and throwing accurately. I believe I could compete with anyone in those aspects. It is hard for me to put that into words because I would never say I am better than someone is. I have respect for the other quarterbacks in this class because they all have had success at a high level.
I think I am as good as the other quarterback prospects. I am working hard not only to compete with them, but if I'm in the NFL, then I am competing with guys like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, etc. and that is what inspires me to put in these ten-hour work days every day. Regardless, I am pushed because I have so much respect for the NFL. I definitely think I am as good as or better than a majority of players ranked ahead of me. I just need to perform in front of an audience.
As Lalich looks back on it, he confided in me, "I wish I wasn't so short-sighted early in my college career and let everyone down. Even in my own turmoil, so many people at Virginia and Oregon State helped me behind-the-scenes. I learned so much at both schools, and gained so much from the great coaches at both schools. I only wish I could have delivered success and happiness to the fans and coaches at those schools. I will always regret letting everyone down. However, I believe God put me on this path so that I could have my character changed, and realize how to work hard and to learn what is truly important in life. I am so thankful to the coaches and fans at California (PA) for a chance, and for all they taught me. Many people will see my story and might think "what a pity," but if it were not for this strange journey, I do not think I would have been prepared to work hard and succeed at the next level. It has truly been a blessing in disguise."
Now, Lalich will face a few more obstacles. He will have to overcome the recent trend of fruitless D2/FCS quarterback prospects for the NFL...and thus the scouting bias against the recent D2/FCS quarterback prospects for the NFL Draft. Lalich will also battle a new foe -- for the first time since he first suited up as a Nose Guard/Center in youth football, Lalich is not the center of attention in football. Most NFL fans do not know who Lalich is, nor do most analysts know what to make of him at this early stage of evaluation. He will have to fight his way to becoming a respected prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Lalich has been working out daily at the Bommarito Performance Systems (BPS) NFL Combine/Pro-Day prep camp in Miami. He is also preparing for a March 11th Pro-Day at Cal (PA) and then off to a March 15th all-star/scouting game in Alabama (the inaugural ProGrass International Scout Bowl).
In the 2012 NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles shocked scouts and insiders by taking Bryce Brown in the 7th-round. It was shocking because Brown's college career consisted of only 13 games for the University of Tennessee and Kansas State, and he quit/was asked to leave both schools. Nonetheless, Brown was drafted. If you watched Brown play this year for the Eagles -- you could argue, as I do, that he (in hindsight) was the most physically talented RB in the 2012 NFL Draft (more physically gifted than Trent Richardson or Doug Martin). Whether you would rate Bryce Brown just below the top guys or agree with me that he is physically superior, the point is Brown was a top high school prospect who lost his way in college, but his talent was too hard to ignore, and thus he received a shot in the NFL...and flourished instantly when given the chance.
Is Peter Lalich headed down that same path?
In another world, had Bryce Brown stayed out of trouble in college and played 3-4 years with his original school (Tennessee)...would he have been a 1st-round draft pick in 2012? If you watched Brown run this past season in the NFL, you would probably lean toward a "yes" on that answer. What if Peter Lalich had stayed at Virginia for 3-4 years? In that theoretical world, would Lalich be a quarterback who we would all know about today, and thus be mentioned with the top-5 quarterback prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft? If you even sense the answer on that question could possibly be "yes," then you have to look deeper into Lalich if you're an NFL organization.
Many people will be turned off by the surface story of Lalich as an alcohol troubled college player (like many were put off by Bryce Brown's diva issues or Janoris Jenkins' maturity issues in 2012). That's not an irrational belief to hold. However, what if Lalich has turned the corner on his life/maturity?
If Lalich impresses scouts at his upcoming events, he's then going to be asked a ton of background questions. What if an NFL team interviews and investigates Lalich, and finds a kid who made mistakes, worked hard to overcome them, and discovers one of the hardest working/biggest film-room junkies of the 2013 QB class? His draft stock will rise quickly.
Peter Lalich is beyond your run-of-the-mill Division-II "sleeper" or "diamond in the rough" prospect. Had he taken a different path, maybe Lalich would be recognized as one of the best prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft today. Despite his unusual path, our data and research suggests that Lalich has the raw talent to be considered a top-10 quarterback prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft. If the maturity issues are no longer an obstacle, then the sky's the limit. His size, arm strength, and pedigree are too hard to ignore. With all the possibilities here, Lalich may be the single best true "sleeper" quarterback in the 2013 draft class.