Kyle Lauletta's MVP performance was years in the making

Feb 20, 2018 | by Josh Edwards,

All eyes were on Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield at the Reese's Senior Bowl but neither of the projected first round selections took home MVP honors. Instead, it was Richmond's Kyle Lauletta.

For most, especially the average fan, the Reese's Senior Bowl was their first exposure to the Pennsylvania native. It was a day that had been in the works since his childhood. The Laulettas are a football family. His grandfather played at Delaware. His father and uncle played at the Naval Academy. His older brother played at Bucknell. The younger brother also started at quarterback for the Downington East for the Cougars (there were seven seasons of Laulettas including five straight) but his path will lead him to Amherst to pursue business. Football was a religion in its own right within the household.

"My football influence came a lot from my dad's side. My dad's dad was actually a football player at Delaware and he was actually a long-time football coach. I've always just grown up being around football and always watching it on TV. Even my father, growing up he has been my biggest coach. In the side yard, we would throw the ball. I can remember countless times of my father getting out his video camera and taping us and just looking through like 'oh, what's the release supposed to look like?' Having DVR on the TV and watching Tom Brady in slow motion, we loved that," Lauletta said.

"My younger brother is also a quarterback at my high school. Having three boys all quarterbacks and the dad a quarterback, it's cool. Watching football is different in my house than in others. Other family members, like my aunt or my cousins, they get so frustrated because we pause or rewind the TV so much. It's hilarious because people get so pissed off. That's always how it's been. My dad went to the Naval Academy. He played and he accomplished a lot. He got in a few games. He got in the Army-Navy game, threw a touchdown pass against Notre Dame and had some moments but really the biggest help from him has been him passing his knowledge down. A lot of these young quarterbacks develop these bad throwing habits and bad throwing motions and sticks with them for a long time. For me, I didn't start playing quarterback until the seventh grade. I didn't get my opportunity to play until ninth grade. I was a third string quarterback when I started out. I think by then I had seen my older brother play it and then with my dad and also my older brother being able to coach me through it, I was really well prepared. We've always loved the game and it's brought us closer together. Football has been everything to us. It's always been great growing up and watching football for as long as I can remember."

Despite the legacy, the children were never forced to play football. Competitiveness led them to the gridiron just as it had their father.

"My dad and mom, they were really strict parents. My dad, being a Navy guy, expected a lot of us as kids in sports. My parents never forced us to play football. I think it is just what we gravitated to. Growing up, I was the most competitive kid ever. When I was eight years old, when I would lose, I would start crying and throw a fit. That was one of the first things that I remember, getting yelled at and learning lessons from my dad like 'you've got to be a man and grow up. You can't win all the time.' That was just who I was as a person. I just loved competing whether it was gym class or whatever. I'm going to be running around a million miles an hour trying to win every single thing that I do. I think harnessing those God-given abilities and just having a great support system around me has made my job easy. It prepared me well for going to Richmond."

 When the recruiting process began, he got a few offers but they never came the way he had hoped.

"I only started two years thanks to my brother. I probably would have started a third year but he was a really good quarterback. I had a ton of big schools that recruited me. I remember Ole Miss and Michigan State and Penn State and Virginia and Maryland and Rutgers and all of these schools that were really, really interested. Toledo was my first offer. They offered me straight off my film. Those other schools didn't pull the trigger on me. I was a little bit shorter, a little bit skinnier. Rutgers was the first camp that I went to. I think I was really close to getting an offer but, to be honest, I don't think I performed well enough to get a scholarship at that camp. I remember leaving there disappointed in myself. Maybe I was nervous but I knew it. I was like 'man, I don't think I did enough to get a scholarship,'" he recalled.

"Then I went to Duke and Maryland. Those were two other schools that I really wanted to go to. It was kind of the opposite story. I was like 'man, I killed those camps. I was by far the best one there. And it never came. I think if one of those big schools had offered me, then maybe some of the other ones [would have followed]. None of those big ones ever came. I had Toledo, Holy Cross and then Old Dominion. Richmond had recruited me heavily right off the jump. It was a top-20 business school in the country. They had a leadership studies program. It was the first leadership studies program in the country. It was a good location. I toured the school and loved it. The more I thought about it, I was like 'man, if I could get an offer from this school, this is where I would want to go. I went to the prospect camp and did really well. I got a call from the head coach and he was like 'Kyle, we loved you. You were the best quarterback at the camp by far but there is one other quarterback that we are looking at and it is between you and him for a scholarship.' I appreciated this because he was so upfront. I don't think a lot of head coaches would have done this. He said this guy is going to come to our last prospect camp, we would love for you to come down for another camp and see you guys throw side-by-side so we can evaluate you further. I went and I did well enough and I think I beat him out one-on-one. They offered me the scholarship and then I committed. You can't pass up a world class education like Richmond. It has opened so many doors for me. If I do make it into the NFL and have a long career, football comes to an end at some point. I had good parents that kept that in my head. It's true but I think when football is over I'll be set up really, really well after college with my Richmond education. I got a chance to play Maryland. It was my first start. We played [Virginia]. We played JMU on College Gameday. We played North Dakota State in the Fargo Dome. I would've wished to go to a Power 5 school. That's every kid's dream but you can still make it and that was kind of my mindset."

When his collegiate playing career ended, he signed with an agent and arrived at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida to hone his craft in January.

He has been working with quarterback coach Adam Behrends, strength coach Scott Gadeken and speed coach Dwight Phillips, who won a Gold Medal in the long jump at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

"[Behrends] did a fantastic job with [former Tennessee and now Steelers QB Josh] Dobbs so I have a lot of trust and a lot of faith in what he is doing with me. On the football side of it, a lot of what we are doing is predicated on balance and footwork. It sounds cliche but your feet are really everything as a quarterback. If your feet are right and they are in the right position, I think you are going to throw the ball more accurately and with more velocity and put the ball where it needs to be. We have watched a lot of tape. Even when I'm going out there and throwing routes, we usually have a guy there that can videotape me [just as his father had done for him as a kid] and then we can go back and watch.

It's really neat to see some of your misses, it's just something as simple as all your weight wasn't far back enough. It's all slight tweaks. Even if your mechanics are really good, there is always something that you can always do a little bit better. When you put it into slow motion and you see all the fine details of it, playing the quarterback position is really a science. I think the biggest thing that I have taken from coach Adam is really the weight distribution and really getting that back foot loaded at all times and keeping that space between your feet and always keeping that throwing platform. We have worked a lot with that and then also my follow through. One of my issues that we found was when I was coming through and transferring my weight from my back foot to my front foot, I want to be able to keep that front foot bent and not having it straighten out so then you kind of finish off balance a little bit. Having bent knees in the pocket and keeping all of that weight back in a loaded position no matter where you are moving, always having that back foot loaded. We have gone over a ton of things but that's kind of been my biggest takeaway from his coaching. I think I have gotten a lot better."

Those days on the field with Behrends helped prepare him for a rainy day in Mobile, Alabama. After a week of practices, he completed 8-of-12 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns. The great aspect of the Reese's Senior Bowl is that it creates an even playing field for players from the SEC and FCS alike.

Lauletta arrived with his Richmond Spider helmet and a chip on his shoulder.

"I think any time you come from a smaller school you kind of feel like you have to prove yourself. That's kind of the big question, it's like 'yeah, this kid is really good but can he do it under pressure when he is playing against the big boys?' The only difference is the speed. I've played against some really good and really fast teams. I think that's an environment that I excel in when stuff moves fast. I can process the information fast. I can make good decisions. I can throw the ball accurately. I've never really felt overwhelmed. I've never really felt nervous. I just said 'hey, this is my opportunity and I'm going to make the most of it.' I think that first series I had an incomplete pass and I got a sack fumble and I kind of got the jitters out of me and then I was like 'hey, you are not going to have too many more opportunities.' Guys got open, I got into a little bit of a rhythm and that's kind of how it happened," he said of the MVP award.

The biggest takeaway for Lauletta was the amount of professionalism that goes into every single day of preparation.

"Mastering your craft and really being on point in really every single point that you do [is what I learned]. At the Senior Bowl, there are eight quarterbacks total. There are four on each roster. There's maybe eight or ten plays in practice so you might get two or three plays that whole period. You have to take advantage of every single play you have. When you're the starting quarterback for three years, you take every rep. If you're off one or two, it's okay but in the NFL, you are not going to get that many chances. You have to make it happen. There is no time to waste. You can not have a bad day. There are so many guys that are fighting for the same things that you are fighting for. It is just a heightened awareness of making the most of every single rep you have," he explained.

"I really enjoyed playing under [Texans head] coach [Bill] O'Brien. I think coach O'Brien was really good about coaching all the details. We were sitting through meetings and he was quizzing one of the other quarterbacks. He said 'what is the protection on this play?' and he said 'well, it's this' and he said 'well, what does that mean? What is the left tackle doing? What is the left guard doing? As the quarterback, you have to know every single thing on the field. You have to know what the wide receiver splits are. At the Senior Bowl for instance, we don't have much time to prepare. He said 'what if you're receiver lines up too wide? It's not his fault. You have to take it upon yourself to know what his split is and move him to the appropriate spot that he is supposed to be in. That's the job of the quarterback, being the General, being the leader of the offense. You have to get everyone straight. There is no excuse. If there is an illegal formation, you should have looked out there to see if your receiver was on the ball. That's what the best quarterbacks in the league do and that's how you're successful at the next level. That was probably my biggest takeaway."

The senior estimated that he met with all 32 teams over the course of the week. He met with each for varying time intervals.

Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga has been recovering from a torn ACL at IMG Academy. The two had a conversation one day in which Bulaga shared his own pre-Draft experience. He met with one team for just five minutes before being drafted No. 23 overall. It was the Packers.

The next step begins Feb. 28 in Indianapolis, Indiana at the NFL Combine.

He is approaching the event as a business meeting; trying not to get too high or too low.

"I just think it is another step and one more event on the checklist that I want to go through. There is nothing that I'm looking to prove. I just want to play my game and do what I've always been doing: throw the ball on time, throw it accurately and be smooth and be rhythmic in my drops. My emphasis has been my feet and my balance. Testing-wise, I know it's not important for the quarterbacks. I'd like to think I've got some athleticism. One of my things is that I've always been quick footed and I'd like to think I have some quick twitch in me. As far as the field workouts and everything else goes, it is going to be more of the same. Stuff that I've done for a long, long time so do what I've always done and make the most of every rep. Same thing with the interviews, I did a lot of them at the Senior Bowl which is great because you get a little bit of practice but just continuing to tell my story and kind of communicate how I've went through college and why I think I can make it at the next level and kind of communicating to all of the coaches why I think I'm going to be successful. At the end of the day, you're your biggest salesman and you have to sell yourself and be confident and prove to guys that I'm a guy they want to draft. Just being yourself and doing what you've always done so that's what I'm going to do."

 Interview requests will come early and often for the Richmond product and one thing that evaluators will want to hear is a time that he has overcome adversity in his life.

"The big one to me is tearing my ACL. I tore my ACL at the end of my 2016 season. I started three years and that was my redshirt junior year. It was a new experience for me. I've played football since I was six years old. I've had some injuries here and there but I've never had an injury that kept me out of a football game before. Going down in 2016, it was the last game of the regular season, we were on pace for a first round bye in the playoffs. Two days after I did that, my grandmother passed away so it all kind of hit me at once. That was good for me battling through that. It motivated me. It made me be the best that I can be. I think I attacked my rehab and pushed through that. Once that happened, I think a lot of guys wrote me off and said 'he's done. He's not going to make it.' That kind of motivated me and I said 'I've got to kick this into overdrive and work twice as hard. It made me want that NFL and it made me want that so much more. I think I'm better for it now. I'm really fortunate because my knee has not been an issue at all whatsoever and it has not caused me any problems. It kind of created a little bit of fire in him and a little bit of extra motivation to where I feel like I can get through anything whether it is an injury or changing teams, I think I've been through all you can as a college football player."

While he was coached by the Texans, the Denver Broncos led by head coach Vance Joseph were prowling the opposite sideline. The Broncos are expected to be in the hunt for a quarterback this off-season and they did have some interaction with Lauletta.

"We really didn't. I met with a few of their scouts during the week. The one interaction that I did have, we actually did what is called a player swap. The whole idea of the player swap was to give a one hour time block for the players on the South team to meet the North coaches and vice versa. Us four quarterbacks on the South got to meet with Mike Sullivan, the offensive coordinator, and a couple other of those guys that help with the offense. What we really did was kind of go through almost an interview with him. I got to talk with coach Sullivan that way. After the game, I had a conversation with him. I saw him in the hotel later that night which was good and we talked for a little bit. We didn't have much interaction but the Senior Bowl is one part of it and I'm sure they'll be able to catch us at the Combine. That's another five days of guys texting you and saying 'hey, when you get a chance, meet with us.' I don't know who all is going to be interviewing me but I'm sure if the Broncos want anything else or they have any unanswered questions that they'll get ahold of me, no doubt," he said.

The Broncos, although a watered down version, were also the first professional defense that he was exposed to.

"The defenses were pretty much the same for both sides. There were restrictions on what coverages you could run and I think I had a good understanding of what the rules were and that's part of it. Understanding that they could only run two or three coverages, so pre-snap when they lined up, you really know what they were in. Obviously on Sunday, it becomes a little bit more difficult. When they run Cover-3, the safety can not rotate inside of a linebacker. He can not play buzz coverage so it's like 'well, if the safety starts coming down, you know he has the flat.' It's simple stuff like that. Use the advantages that they are giving you. Obviously on Sundays it is going to be more difficult but I think that is one of biggest strengths as a player is understanding defensive structure and kind of being a student of the game. I have a big history of having coaching changes in college and it's forced me to kind of learn things quickly and how to adapt. I've always had a good understanding of how defenses work and I've had a lot of great coaches help me along the way. That's something that other quarterbacks might think it will be more difficult but, for me, I think I am going to excel in that environment and that is something that will come very, very easy to me."

Lauletta grew up watching football religiously and it stands to reason that he had a favorite team.

"Growing up outside of Philadelphia, we are all Eagles fans. It was pretty cool because I think this is the last year that I could be an Eagles fan. It was a shame. I was down at IMG [during the Super Bowl]. It was funny because all of my family was together and they had a bunch of food and people over and man I wish I could've been home for that. Unfortunately I wasn't. We enjoy just watching football in general at least me and my brother and my dad do. Generally we are Eagles fans but really whatever it is, college football or the NFL, whatever game is on, if we get a chance to, we are watching it. I think football is the greatest game in the world. Even the National Championship, what an unbelievable game. Growing up, Sundays were the best because it was a chill day and you sit on the couch all day and watch football."

It is not to say that he did not feel the same emotions that most Eagles fans felt.

"I Facetimed my family about five minutes after the game so that was cool. About a week after, I was talking to someone and he was like 'dude, there is a brewery like 15 minutes away and they are notorious for like Philly people being there. They were like 'it was absolutely crazy. There were a bunch of Philly fans.' I was like 'dang, if I had known that, I probably would have been there with a bunch of strangers that I just met. My reaction was just man, I couldn't believe they did it first of all. I was just happy for the city. Philly fans are just nuts. They are absolutely crazy. I think they deserve that. The last year before I go into the NFL, who knows what team I will be on, it was kind of cool to see the team I grew up rooting for win it. It was just a good feeling and just seeing how happy my family was and stuff was pretty cool."

Lauletta was a big fan of Brian Westbrook growing up but his all-time favorite Eagle was safety Brian Dawkins.

"Dawkins to me is so much passion, so much energy. Such an unbelievable leader and the city of Philadelphia absolutely loves him."

Backup quarterback Nick Foles led the team to the Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots after Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. Speculation has swirled around the league of the possibility that the Eagles could look to trade Foles while his value is high. In that event, perhaps Eagles Vice President of Football Operations Howie Roseman dials up Lauletta.

"That would mean a lot. It sounds cliche but I would be just excited to be on any team. Any team willing to invest in me and believes in me enough to pick me in the draft wherever it might be, I will pour my heart into that organization but yeah, that would be a dream come true to play for your hometown team but who knows. I'm just kind of waiting patiently but eagerly. I can't wait for all of this to get going. It's going to be an exciting time in about a month or so."

One team that has been mentioned more than others as a fit for Lauletta has been those same Patriots. A rival to his hometown team two weeks ago, New England would be a welcomed landing spot.

"It would mean a lot. I admire just everything about [Tom Brady], not only his game but the way he prepares, the way he takes care of his body. As a leadership studies major at the University of Richmond, to me, he is the best leader in football and just a competitive guy. I think as much on the field as you can take from him, you can take off the field. He's the best of the best. That would mean a whole lot. A lot of people are making the comparison because Bill Belichick has a history of taking quarterbacks maybe not so high and quarterbacks who are smart. I think I kind of fit that style or that prototype. That would be a dream come true. My first year at Richmond, I ran a system where we took a lot of the New England Patriots things and we had a lot of their calls and a lot of their same terminology. I am already familiar with a lot of that stuff so it would definitely make a lot of sense. That would be awesome. Who wouldn't want to sit behind and learn from the best quarterback that ever was?"

How would he approach a situation in which he is walking into an NFL locker room for the first time?

"I've not always been a starter. My first time ever playing quarterback, I was the third string quarterback. I have experience not being the guy but I think the most important thing preparation wise is that you have to prepare like you are the starter and that's how you become better. People say mental reps and I think it is so true. You have to put yourself out there. Even film, I can remember watching film of other guys and learning from other guys in the same offense and saying 'I would've thrown here or I would've done this.' I think the first thing you do as a young guy is work your ass off and show that you're a guy who is going to work hard. You have to do that to gain respect form teh guys and I will certainly do that. There is going to be nobody that is going to work harder than me and who wants it more than me. As far as studying and stuff, I think you just try to learn from the guys that have done it. The NFL is such a volatile sport. It's such a volatile league. People come and go. There are some great ones like Brady who have stayed with the same team. They have obviously done something right. Notes have been a huge part of my preparation. I think it is a huge part of every quarterback's routine is just kind of taking notes and learning as much as you can. Even though I think that is one of my strong suits is understanding the game and all of that I think there is a ton that I have yet to learn. Just kind of being a sponge and learning as much as possible, that will be my attitude going in."

Over the years, Lauletta has studied a few quarterbacks more than others.

A couple of guys come to mind. The guys that I study would be Tom Brady and [Falcons QB] Matt Ryan. Those are two guys that I've watched a lot on film. Tom Brady just because of how good he is. I think any time there is a quarterback that is not super athletic but still gets it done at a high level like that is just a good guy to admire. It's so important to take care of your body. A guy like Tom Brady would not be able to play as long as he has had he not taken care of his body so well. He's obviously doing something right. Brady has talked about his diet and stuff. Diet is huge. I think I've always eaten healthy. I understand all of the importance of all that and stretching and being flexible and even like injury prevention. When I tore my ACL, after that, I've learned so much that can prevent a lot of that bad stuff from happening. I've had good strength coaches and stuff but having an individual understanding of how your body moves and all of that stuff can really prevent bad stuff from happening to you. I think I'm in pretty good shape.

Matt Ryan is actually from my hometown. I think I have a lot similarities in my play as he does."

He would also compare himself to two players who have received contracts totaling $231.5 million recently.

"A couple of guys that I would compare myself to are [49ers QB] Jimmy Garoppolo and [Redskins QB] Alex Smith. I think two guys that have quick releases and are accurate and are good, vocal leaders. I think those are two good comparisons," he explained.

"I think [Garoppolo] deserves [his contract]. What is he 6-0 as a starter? It's not easy to do in your first five or six starts, win them all. He's great. You can just tell when you watch him, everything about him. As young as he is, to be as good of a communicator vocally, I think he just has a great understanding of the game and I think that is how it all starts. In a couple of those five games, two minute drills won the game and he executed them flawlessly. Any young quarterback who can perform under pressure like that, him being a small school guy, I think that is why it is a good comparison, him being from the FCS and all of those things. If I can carve out a career like either of those guys, that would be awesome."

Whether it is the No. 1 overall selection like Smith or a sixth round selection like Brady, Lauletta's journey will begin in April when he is likely to hear his name called in the 2018 NFL Draft. A journey that began with family on his couch in Exton, Pennsylvania has come to a head. As he notes, wherever he lands, he has been preparing for this his whole life.