PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Kyle Lauletta remembers the day quite well. The 2013 Downingtown East High graduate should. On Nov. 19, 2016, in the second quarter against William & Mary, Lauletta, the University of Richmond’s star quarterback was scrambling to buy time, then darted up field. He planted his right leg, made a cut, was tackled and felt heat throbbing through his right knee.
“I felt like something I never felt before in my life—but even when it happened, I never doubted I would come back,” Lauletta said. “Even when I was down on the field, what bothered me was not being able to play in the [FCS] playoffs. There was never any doubt I would come back from this.”
Lauletta knew almost immediately he tore the ACL in his right knee. He also knew it would be a test of his character and perseverance—a trial that Lauletta would pass with glowing verdicts.
Within five months, 6-foot-3, 200-pound Lauletta was 100-percent physically. By September, he was tearing up secondaries to the tune of a single-season school record for total offense with 3,827 yards, including 3,737 through the air, the second-highest single-season total in Richmond history. He concluded his Richmond career with a school-record 10,465 career passing yards and 73 touchdowns, and a single-game record six touchdowns in Richmond’s 68-21 win over Howard last season.
And Lauletta became just the fourth player in CAA history to reach 10,000 career passing yards.
As far as any doubts an FCS-level quarterback can’t succeed at the NFL level, all anyone has to do is look at Carson Wentz, who attended an FCS school. If anyone wanted to doubt Lauletta’s ability against FBS-level talent, he shredded the North defense in the Senior Bowl for 198 yards and three touchdowns in leading the South to a 45-16 victory in late January—and was selected MVP of the game.
A few months from now, Lauletta will be selected in the NFL Draft, where he’s being projected to go as high as a late second-round or third round choice.
Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage compares Lauletta to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
“The similarities are that they’re both from the FCS level,” Savage told Sports Illustrated. “Jimmy was in an offense [at Eastern Illinois] where they threw it all over the lot. Kyle’s offense was more balanced. Now of course, he had four different coordinators in four seasons at Richmond.
“I went down to watch him, and … I was impressed with his size and his presence. Good leader. Varied offense, so you saw him throw it short, intermediate, deep—on the run, in the pocket. You know, they were 5-6 this year. They didn’t make the playoffs. He was coming off an ACL [injury], and he didn’t miss any time, responded to his rehab and made it back.
“I think he had a really solid week of practice, not spectacular. But then he got in the game, and he really played well. He threw for 198 yards in essentially a quarter, three touchdowns. Garoppolo, I would say, Jimmy has a little bit quicker release, a little quicker feet maybe. But Kyle, to me, he seems bigger. He’s overcome a knee injury. I think there are a lot of things to like about Kyle.”
Prior to his junior year at Richmond, Lauletta, who graduated with degrees in business and marketing and leadership studies, was never seriously injured before. He never missed a game due to injury. He still has a vertical scar that runs down his right knee and it serves as a reminder where he came from and where he is.
Above everything else, Lauletta faced adversity and didn’t shrink. In fact, he beat it. There were times Lauletta would sneak in extra workout late at night at Richmond. He’s the type who always thinks that there is something more he could do. Working out at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, Lauletta even had to be thrown out of the weight room a few times when they found him trying to sneak back in.
“The scar on my knee symbolizes a lot for me, and I took that injury as a turning point in my career that I have to work my butt off that much harder to get back on the field,” said Lauletta, whose return didn’t really surprise anyone that knows his character. “A lot of the rehab stuff was mental and it tests you. They gave me dates to reach certain points of recovery, and I made a point to crush them.
“I saw my team working out without me in the weight room and that killed me. There were a lot of things I learned from the experience.”
Before the Senior Bowl, Lauletta was hearing fourth or fifth round. Lauletta has the size, at 6-3, 220 pounds, exhibits good leadership and uses his eyes in opening passing lanes. He’s also shown patience in route trees develop and his footwork is considering smooth. He throws a tight spiral and throws well moving.
Lauletta has heard some of the knocks, too, which all players receive—even Tom Brady.
“I hear them, but I know I can make all of the NFL throws, and I’m just looking for an opportunity to prove it,” Lauletta said. “I’ll be watching the draft from home in [Exton, Chester County] with my family and friends around, hoping and waiting that my name gets called.”
There is a strong possibility it will.