Dan Di Lella (Photo by UAlbany Athletics)
A few months ago, Dan Di Lella was staring at the probability of his football career being over, and having to find a way to turn his Business Adminstration major into a career. Now, the former UAlbany quarterback has generated so much interest from NFL teams that he could hear his name called on the third day of the 2012 NFL Draft later this month.
Heady stuff for a guy who quarterbacked an FBS school and who said during a recent interview that the realistic possibility of making an NFL roster "never really occurred to me" until earlier this year.
"In January people had no clue who I even was. All of a sudden I go to the Fordham Pro Day and I threw really well, and all these scouts are coming up and really talking to me. I was taken out to dinner with the Miami Dolphins and stuff like that," Di Lella said. "It really sends home these guys are really interested in you.
"Sometimes it's hard to really wrap your head around it."
You really can't blame Di Lella, 23, for feeling that way. A New Jersey native, Di Lella was recruited by several Division I schools -- including Syracuse, Rutgers, UConn and North Carolina, but he ended up getting shut out when those schools signed higher-rated quarterback recruits.
When that happened, Di Lella said he was "kinda stuck," and wound up at UAlbany. It turned out to be a great place for Di Lella to land.
"It's been smooth sailing ever since," Di Lella said. "I never thought I'd be in Albany, but it's really defined who I am as a person. We always say ‘Purple Family' in Albany, and that's what's really changed me and helped me become the person I am today."
Still, the Great Danes have had only one player ever appear in an NFL game. Rashad Barksdale played in six games for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007. So, UAlbany hardly appeared to place Di Lella on a path to becoming an NFL quarterback.
That, however, appears to be exactly where Di Lella is going. There is, not so incidentally, a possibility that Di Lella's opportunity could come with the New York Giants.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Di Lella recently worked out for the Giants. A cursory workout? Not quite. Not when quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and head coach Tom Coughlin are all in attendance.
"Coach Coughlin said he thought I threw pretty well. Coach Gilbride said we can't necessarily say you're going to be with us, but I think that you will end up on some team, which I took as a good compliment," Di Lella said.
Don't put it past general manager Jerry Reese to take a late-round flier on Di Lella, or make a concerted efforto to bring him in an undrafted free agent. We know that Reese has been trying for years to find and develop a young backup quarterback for Eli Manning. Ryan Perrilloux is the latest in a group that also includes Rhett Bomar and Andre Woodson.
Di Lella's journey toward the NFL actually began a couple of weeks after his 2011 college season ended, when he received an e-mail from the Arizona Cardinals seeking information.
"After seeing the Arizona Cardinals logo on top of their letterhead I figured the only way I'd be able to sleep at night is if I actually gave this a shot," Di Lella said. "I didn't want to look back and regret not taking a shot and rolling the dice."
In conjunction with the TEST Football Academy in Martinsville, N.J. , Di Lella began a workout regimen to get ready for the various pro days and other workouts that he hoped would put him on the NFL radar. He also found a coach with a Giants' connection in former Giant Scott Brunner, who has helped Di Lella refine his mechanics to make him more NFL-ready.
"Not only his name and profile, but what he knows and what he teaches. He was able to help Joe Flacco [Ravens] with his mechanics and throwing to go from like a third-round guy to a first-round guy. Brian Hoyer is No. 2 with the Patriots and one of the best backups in the league, so obviously his methods have been proven.
"He's a very smart guy who really helped me. Scott has really helped me become more of a passer instead of just a thrower."
Here is what Brunner told the Albany Times Union about Di Lella:
"First of all, he's got a great frame that just jumps right off the board at you," Brunner said. "He's got the prototypical sort of NFL body right now. And once you see him throw the football, he can make all the throws you need to make at the next level. Those are the things that catch everybody's eye."
Di Lella has also had the opportunity to work with former NFL quarterback Chad Pennington.
"Scott and Chad really helped me change my throwing motion and make it as efficient and as accurate as possible," Di Lella said. "You have to be as efficient as possible with your motion, especially since you're going to be in more condensed areas in the pocket."
At this point, Di Lella believes that he can make an NFL roster this fall.
"I think at this point I've proven myself to not just be brought in as another arm in camp., but somebody that they really think can be a contender. Whether it's a late-round pick or undrafted free agent ... once I'm in there with the pads on then it's up to me to earn the spot, which I'm fully confident I can do."