A quarterback's journey from stardom, to failure, and back again.
As he stepped out of the white Toyota Sequoia he's driven since his days at West Springfield High School in Northern Virginia (the same Sequoia I took my first bong-rip in), I realized how impossible it would be for me to separate the Peter Lalich I know as a friend and the Peter Lalich I've watched as a football fan and writer.
While his remarkable 6-foot-5, 240 pound pro-style quarterback frame should certainly be noted, as well as his quiet, eccentric, and seemingly aloof demeanor, I couldn't help but notice his outfit. To a stranger, his style (described to me as "hipster swag") might come off as arrogant or ridiculous, but to me - his clothes tell a story all their own.
Starting at the feet - an old pair of Low top Chuck Taylors, no doubt the same pair from high school, complete with permanent-marker drawings all over the toe and sole from the countless girlfriends and sweethearts. The same shoes he'd be wearing when arrested in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a simple underage possession of alcohol citation that would spell the beginning of the end of his time as the quarterback at UVA.
A pair of Nudie jeans. Price tag: $200. "The raw denims". Way out of my league in terms of jeans, but Peter generally has always been ahead of the game in terms of fashion, music and culture - a byproduct of the eclectic characters he's called friends over the years and his own eccentric personality. To really give you a feel for Peter, when people use the word eccentric to describe him- imagine Johnny Depp or Christopher Walken. Seriously.
An obnoxious hoodie sweatshirt with a giant cat face on the front, a nod to some of his favorite musicians at Odd Future, a hip-hop collective including Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean. The sweatshirt is a gift from his younger sister Bonnie who moved out to Los Angeles to be famous. Trust me, she will be.
The vest his mom bought for him when he went to Oregon State matches the pointless balance bracelet on his wrist - the same his dad wears. A journalist looking for a good story could dig into Todd Lalich's basketball career at Florida or his intensity and competitiveness, and maybe draw some comparison to Marv Marinovich - but they would be far off. There was/is never a shortage of love in the Lalich residence - or Bibles or FCA pamphlets.
Finally, around his neck, dangling out of the cat-shirt - a Versace chain. It looks so absolutely ridiculous that I actually say to him "what the fuck is that?" Price tag: ~ $5,000-10,000.
Kevin Ogletree went undrafted out of UVA to the Cowboys and has since made a nice little niche for himself on their roster. The two became friends in the short time Peter was in Charlottesville and have stayed close ever since - apparently close enough to not only loan Pete his Versace chains, but also to bring Peter down to work out with Cowboy receivers during the lockout two years ago.
"I don't know man, the thing about Peter is he's just a pure play-maker," said Ogletree, packing his bags in the hotel room he and Peter shared in Miami while they worked out at Bommarito Performance Systems with other notables such as Frank Gore and Matthew Stafford. "There's something about him where he can get hit and keep going. He stays cool under the pressure".
That's an understatement.
Lalich was a contemporary of Russell Wilson and Tyrod Taylor in high school - all three graduating in 2007. At that time, Peter was the #5 quarterback in the nation and an Elite 11 quarterback - notables of that year being Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Mallett, Jarrett Lee and John Brantley (Russell Wilson was barely blip on anyone's radar outside of the Commonwealth and ACC teams).
Lalich elected to stay in-state and be the Quarterback at UVA after turning down offers from Miami (FL), Michigan, N.C. State and UCLA. He saw time as a freshman and performed well, finishing the year 35 of 61 for 321 yards and 2 touchdowns. He would begin his sophomore year at the starter for the Cavaliers.
The rest, as the cliché goes, is history. A story we too often see end in disappointment.
Pete was arrested for underage drinking and placed on probation before the start of the season. He ended up starting the first two games before a court appearance where he admitted to consuming alcohol while on probation. He was dismissed from the UVA Football team the same day.
"I probably sat in the athletic director's office for two hours screaming and yelling about what a mistake they had made. I couldn't believe they had done this TO ME," Pete's candor is something I've taken for granted on most subjects, but we've rarely delved into his mindset during that time. "My mindset was that I was the victim. It was all about me."
While the politics of the situation at UVA might have pointed to an over-zealous administration hell-bent on ousting an unpopular Al Groh - starting with his golden-boy quarterback - Peter's take on the situation says a lot on how far he's come:
"I wanted to be the 'big man on campus'. I was worried about what other people thought about me. I was trying to be the crazy, cool guy and the football player - and it all backfired on me - twice. I didn't learn my lesson the first time."
Peter's stock was still high enough that Mike Riley at Oregon State immediately offered Peter a scholarship. One year later he would be charged with operating a boat under the influence of alcohol (a charge later dropped). The ensuing 3-game suspension would put Peter out of contention for the starting job for the Beavers. Riley called Peter himself to let him know they had pulled his scholarship.
"I was so into that Oregon mindset by that point, with a girlfriend and everything - I was ready to just give up and be a regular student. It wasn't that I didn't love football I just felt so apathetic about the whole machine and process around it. Reporters in my face and blogs writing crazy things about me - it was getting to me I think."
It was in the midst of this obviously low point in Pete's life when the head football coach at California University of Pennsylvania called up Peter to come be their quarterback. A powerhouse Division II school known for taking the scraps off the Division I and Division IAA schools, Cal-U offered Peter an opportunity back into football and a chance to redeem himself - albeit with humbler surroundings. Peter would redshirt in 2010 and hold the clipboard for Josh Portis, who ended up at Cal-U after transferring from Maryland.
In 2011, his first full season as a starter, Peter would break every single-season Cal-U passing record. Pete would finish 16-4 as quarterback for the Vulcans.
"Peter is the most different, entertaining, fun, quarterback I've ever been around," says Cal-U head coach Mike Kellar.
"I've never seen a guy - if you've seen the movie "A Beautiful Mind" - sometimes I'll leave at night and come back in the morning and that's what my greaseboard looks like in my office: Peter will go in there and draw up 60 plays, and a lot of them would be great ideas if everyone could keep up with Pete - including myself. Man it's hard to tell how many plays we could have had in a gameplan. Extremely accurate - yeah, can make any throw - yeah, but the things I noticed is he can throw from different arm angles, his pocket presence and he's just cerebral as can be - Pete made me a better football coach because of the way he made me look at things in the office"
Through all his trials and tribulations, the one thing that gets lost in Peter's story is his unmatched football IQ and the respect he gained from his coaches as a true student of the game. Ask any of his prior coaches, from coach Riley at Oregon State to Al Groh and his former staff at UVA, they all use phrases (seriously, at least four former coaches have said this, including current Chicago Bears WR coach Mike Groh) such as: "football savant" and "a real life Will Hunting" when it comes to understanding defensive schemes and the quarterback position.
"If Peter spent four years as a starter at UVA, even if he had shitty seasons, he would be a top 15 quarterback in this draft right now," said a pro scout I spoke with on the condition of anonymity. "He's definitely on some teams' radar, especially in this class."
Depending on what you read - Peter is currently somewhere between the 24th and 30th ranked quarterback in this year's crop of prospects. For the last two months, Peter has been training at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami, Florida - a veritable who's who of the NFL works out there as well as draft prospects preparing for the combine and their pro-days.
"I've been working with Drew Stanton almost every day just getting my footwork right. Got my pro-day on March 11th and then a regional combine later in March and then an all-star game too. Just a few more chances to show the scouts what I got."
The reality of the situation is that no raw food diet, throwing drills, or 40-yard dash time is going to improve Peter's draft stock. The scouts have seen his tape. They know he can make every pass and is a leader in every locker room he walks into. They know he's a great quarterback, and much higher on everyone's boards than they would like admit. His NFL stock, by his own admission, has less to do with the lack of playing time and being at a Division II school, than it does the bad decisions he made over the course of his college career.
"It's tough, man, but I don't dwell on all that anymore," said Peter, sitting in my living room, critiquing my Madden play and drinking his vita-coca - making a stop for an old on his way up from Miami to his pro-day in Pittsburgh. "I have to focus on the things I'm doing now to just get prepared. I can't let the past haunt me like that."
It was high school when we used to talk about the day when Pete would get drafted. When the whole Oregon State thing went down, I never really brought it up again. All the miserable people who took Peter at face value - a big, dumb jock, who didn't deserve a free education or second chance - "what's Lalich doing these days? Man...that's a shame...what a fuck up."
Peter's story had become either disappointing anecdote or a punch line to all the people we grew up with. All of that could change in a matter of months.
"The thing about Peter is that he's so confident in his abilities," said Mike Brown, former roommate and teammate of Lalich's at both UVA and Cal-U. "He's a guy who's faced numerous setbacks and remains persistent on his goals, he's the type of guy who would draw up plays and concepts when he was ineligible, because he never lost sight."
"After all, the underdog is the only one who believes he can win before and after he has gained victory."
Never once did Peter let things fall apart the way he could have - the way we see so many others throw away their gifts and abilities. To scratch and crawl his way back into the mind of NFL scouts, Peter has had to work harder and swallow his pride more than most could, given the circumstances. As bad I'd like to go back to the summers we spent at the beach, drawing crowds of people to watch my fat ass chase down Peter's consistent 50 and 60 yard bombs, drinking our parents' booze and lying to girls about my football career - that Peter is long gone.
"Whatever you write, man, just make sure they know I have the most swag in the league and I'm just generally way better than any other quarterback out there," Peter said, laughing and holding his chain out. "You gotta make me look like Tim Tebow."
Well, mostly gone.
I'm probably not qualified to evaluate the true talent of an NFL quarterback (although I will never miss a chance to mention that I played against Peter and Russell Wilson in high school), but I am uniquely qualified to speak on the character and integrity of this specific prospect.
To any NFL decision-makers who might read this - No, Peter is not a Bible thumping Jesus-freak. He's a follower of Christ, no doubt, but also a student of science and philosophy who would rather have a discussion about spirituality with you than pray with you.
As a leader, Peter connects with people on their terms. The most ghetto/urban/hood/rachet guys on the roster will call Peter a "goon". The most country, rural, hillbilly-ass guys on the team will call Pete a "good ol' boy". The most straight-laced, hard-assed coach you can find - will call Peter "fun" and "talented as hell".
As a friend, his loyalty and clutchness is only matched by his ability as a wingman.
This is the story I thought needed to be told. About a kid from Northern Virginia who almost lost it all and his journey to earn it all back. Am I biased? Maybe - but I truly believe that Pistol Pete will be - not could be - will be the next Tom Brady. Yeah, I guess he's eccentric, quiet, poised and, of course, swagged-out, but most of all, he's comfortable in his own skin and a damn good quarterback. As with all special quarterbacks, there's just something about Peter that you can't quite put your finger on.
I'll let Pete speak for himself:
"Yeah I believe I ‘m the best quarterback in this draft, but every guy should think that way. I know I'm different because I've been to the bottom and I worked my way back. There's nothing you can throw at me that I can't handle. I decided a while back that I wouldn't be defined by my circumstances. Now I'm just ready to show that I belong in this league and that I'm the best quarterback. Period."
This is my "told ya so".