California quarterback Peter Lalich back in control
In 2008, Peter Lalich led the Virginia football team against then-No. 3 Southern Cal with a record 64,947 fans packing Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., and current New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on the opposing sideline.
This past Saturday, Lalich packed his own equipment bag and sat through a four-hour bus ride to Lock Haven University, starting at quarterback for California (Pa.) before fewer than 600 fans.
It was a swift descent for Lalich, who has departed from two Division I programs for alcohol-related issues. Yet because of the Vulcans' history of welcoming players such as him, the 6-foot-5, 235-pounder was given another chance.
Lalich, who transferred from Virginia to Oregon State before landing at Cal, has done his part, too, improving his off-the-field behavior and earning conference acclaim.
"The kid screwed up, and we have given him a chance to prove that he's not a total screw-up," Vulcans coach John Luckhardt said. "So far, he's been spot-on as far as doing the right things with us."
How has Lalich changed• No longer does the redshirt junior attend house parties like the one he was busted at in Charlottesville. Instead, he stays home and watches TV on Saturday nights, eager to wake up early Sunday and dissect film.
After switching majors from philosophy to liberal arts -- many classes were not transferable -- he is on schedule to earn his degree a semester early and plans to enroll in graduate school.
"I don't think about this as my last chance," said Lalich, who admits to drinking occasionally, though he said he is considerably more in control with it. "I just think about it as doing the right thing every day."
'He stuck his foot in it'
Lalich was a four-star recruit at West Springfield High School in Springfield, Va., passing for 3,134 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior. Oklahoma and Michigan, among others, dangled scholarships, but Lalich chose Virginia and was anointed the program's savior.
Lalich played eight games as a freshman and became the starter the next year. The summer before his sophomore season, he was charged with unlawful purchase and possession of alcohol.
Former Cavaliers coach Al Groh supported Lalich, but that grew difficult when news broke weeks later that Lalich violated his probation -- he admitted to a judge that he consumed alcohol during that time -- and he was suspended for Virginia's Week 3 game at Connecticut.
Lalich was dismissed from the team five days later and transferred to Oregon State.
After redshirting in 2009, Lalich was expected to compete for the starting job -- until authorities busted him for a boating DUI in May 2010. Beavers coach Mike Riley told Lalich, who was to be suspended for at least three games, that he would have a tough time competing for the starting spot and encouraged him to explore other opportunities.
Lalich enrolled at Cal last year and redshirted again, knowing he likely would be the starter in 2010.
"He stuck his foot in it, then he went and basically did the same thing at Oregon State," Luckhardt said. "I don't want to minimize anything he's done, but he also didn't go rob a bank. He didn't get drunk and drive a car into a crowd of people."
Following the script
Since Luckhardt took over before the 2002 season, Cal routinely has welcomed players like Lalich: talented but saddled with baggage. Former Vulcans defensive back Mike Brown faced theft charges at Virginia. Former quarterback Josh Portis, now with the Seattle Seahawks, was suspended for Maryland's 2007 season after cheating on an exam.
Nowhere has that trend been more evident than at quarterback, where Lalich succeeds Portis (2009-10) and another Virginia transfer, Pine-Richland graduate Kevin McCabe (2008).
Through five games with the Vulcans, Lalich has completed 108 of 164 passes for 1,448 yards and 10 touchdowns, twice earning Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Player of the Week honors.
"Peter has always had a good mind," said Bill Renner, Lalich's coach at West Springfield. "He understands where to throw the football, and I think that's one of the attributes that has enabled him to do what he's done. He understands how to attack a defense."
Before Luckhardt agreed to take Lalich, he sent him to Greenbriar Treatment Center to be evaluated.
"He left two programs because of drinking issues," Luckhardt said. "I've been doing this for 45 years and was a college student before that. It's not a revelation to anyone that college students drink. What I wanted to determine is whether Peter had a drinking problem."
Luckhardt was encouraged by what he was told by Greenbriar staff, and Lalich so far has kept his nose clean.
"I put myself in bad situations before, and I don't want to do that anymore," Lalich said. "I don't feel like I need to party and be the main attraction."
Luckhardt knows Lalich is likely out of chances. He also knows the success and reputation of his program, at least for the next two years, depends on a quarterback who before this season hadn't taken a snap in three years.
Still, Luckhardt is confident his quarterback has turned around his life.
"Since he's gotten here, Pete has gone out of his way to do things right," he said. "Does that mean he's perfect• No. Does that mean there aren't potential circumstances where he can potentially screw up again• Of course, we're all human. But in a year and a half, he's made tremendous strides by showing us that he's serious about his own future."Additional Information:
A roundabout route
Peter Lalich isn't the only Division I transfer on Cal's roster. The Vulcans have made four consecutive Division II playoff appearances thanks in part by welcoming transfers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools. A list of other such players on the team this year, along with their original schools:
• OL Devin Cox, Army
• DL Kevin Crawford, Virginia
• DB Robby Green, Alabama
• OL Rishaw Johnson, Mississippi
• DL Jason Kates, Michigan
• DB Jeff Knox, Pitt
• DB James Nixon, Temple
• TE Jahan Olyaie, Ohio
• OL Levi Pardee, West Virginia
• QB Brian Sweeney, Ohio
• WR Mario Washington, Navy