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This story was clarified at 3:30 p.m. on June 28, 2013. An explanation follows.

To most NFL hopefuls, a snub on Draft Day inflicts a blow more crushing than any hit on the football field. Watching the clock tick and staring at a phone that won’t ring wreaks havoc on the psyche, throwing into doubt a future that seemed so bright just a few hours ago.

Peter Lalich, a fringe quarterback prospect in this year’s NFL Draft class, watched bits of the draft here and there while keeping his phone at the ready in case a team came calling. That call never came, not in the three days of this April’s draft nor in the weeks that followed.

Disappointment was palpable, but Lalich responded to the setback in trademark fashion.

“I just kept going on like nothing happened,” he said.

The former West Springfield High star has made a habit in recent years of running around stiff obstacles en route to his dream of playing in the NFL. When he was kicked off the team at the University of Virginia for an alcohol probation violation, he moved on to play at Oregon State. When he was booted from Oregon State’s football team for a similar violation, he went to pursue his craft at California University of Pennsylvania, a Division 2 football program. When he was sidelined with a staph infection in the middle of his final college season, he returned a few weeks later with a catheter in his arm and threw four touchdown passes in the first half.

Three weeks ago, Lalich responded to his latest letdown by shipping out to California, where a man who had overcome his own gridiron obstacles waited for him. A family friend had told Lalich about a quarterback training program run by Jeff Garcia, a former NFL quarterback who knows a thing or two about stiff-arming doubters on the path to a dream.

Lalich is finishing up his second week under Garcia’s tutelage in San Diego, where the four-time Pro Bowl selection trains high school, college and pro quarterbacks aspiring to reach the next level. With the intention of getting his pupil ready for a potential workout in front of a pro team, Garcia is working with Lalich on the field and in the classroom four days per week, in addition to putting him through weight and speed training four days a week with another trainer.

“I think he’s a great teacher. He’s one of those guys that’s actually been there, that’s actually played in the NFL and CFL,” said Lalich, who ranks fifth in Cal-U history in touchdowns and passing yards despite playing less than two full seasons with the Vulcans. “The stuff that he teaches, he’s lived it before. … Nothing was given to him. He had to earn everything. I just try to pick up how he did it.”

Indeed, Garcia can relate to Lalich’s feeling of being overlooked like few others can. Like Lalich, Garcia came out of a small college brimming with confidence, having put up record-breaking numbers as a quarterback at San Jose State. He was sure an NFL team would extend him an offer, but nothing came his way until the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders eventually made room for him. Even then, Garcia had to beat out another guy just to win the third-string quarterback job, sitting behind Doug Flutie and Steve Taylor.

Garcia soon took over the team’s backup role and eventually the starting spot when Flutie went down with an injury midway through the 1995 season. Three successful years in the CFL followed, which led to his signing by the San Francisco 49ers as a backup to Steve Young. Young suffered a career-ending injury in 1999, paving the way for Garcia’s four prolific seasons as the team’s starting signal caller. From there, Garcia bounced between the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans, improving his teams’ quarterback situations at almost every stop.

“I feel like that’s the type of impact that I was able to make being who I was as a player, and I think that is definitely something Peter can relate to,” Garcia said. “Nobody’s going to hand it to you; you have to earn it. You have to go out there, and you have to continue to prove every single day that you want to get after it and be the best that you can be. And when that door finally comes open, you have to just blow it open from the standpoint of proving that you’re going to bring greatness to that position.”

Garcia started his company, Jeff Garcia Football, last November with the hope of using his own experiences to show young football players how to take their game to the next level. Although he mostly trains high school and college players, Garcia worked with New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez earlier this year to help him master the West Coast offense employed by Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who Garcia played for in San Francisco and Philadelphia.

Garcia sees the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Lalich as a prototypical gunslinger with good accuracy and “strength that translates to the elite level.” While improving footwork in the pocket has been a point of emphasis, Garcia has placed the bulk of his focus on improving Lalich’s mentality on and off the field.

“It’s not so much how he grasps the game, but more so his confidence level,” Garcia said. “My main emphasis with him is that what’s happened in the past is in the past. There’s no reason to harp on it. You go out and be the best that you can be every single day and own it. You made the mistakes, you learned from it, you’re moving on. Let’s be a better football player, a better person, be smarter in our daily life. Let’s go out and be the best that we can be so that we can create a better opportunity for ourselves.”

Both Garcia and Lalich believe that if they continue to put the work in every day, that opportunity could be just around the corner.

“I hope somebody picks me up, hopefully an NFL team, but anyone that wants me to play,” Lalich said. “I just hope that I can stay sharp out here training with Jeff and that people will know that I’m still pushing towards that dream right now.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com



This story was updated to clarify that Peter Lalich was dismissed from the football programs at the University of Virginia and Oregon State University.