Every year, it seems at least one small-school prospect catches your eye during the all-star circuit, proving they can compete with some of the best players college football has to offer.
One of this year’s biggest winners in that category? Dartmouth’s defensive end Niko Lalos.
A punishing edge rusher who proved himself at the Hula Bowl, Lalos recently spoke exclusively with MCM about his experience at the all-star game, how he ended up at Dartmouth, and why an NFL team should give him a shot at the next level.
JM: You’re an All-Ivy league defensive end. Before that, you had some preferred walk-on offers at Ohio State and Notre Dame. How did you end up at Dartmouth?
NL: I had a few high school teammates that played at Ohio State and Notre Dame on full scholarships. When they found out that they didn’t offer me a scholarship, they were very honest with me and told me not to waste my time. If they weren’t willing to give me a scholarship, it wasn’t worth it. They all felt I was too good of a player to not receive a full ride. I wanted to go somewhere that really wanted me. My mom and I started to take that into consideration. That’s when the process really began for us. That’s when I started taking some visits. I fell in love with Dartmouth.
JM: So Dartmouth obviously did offer you a full ride?
NL: Dartmouth doesn’t actually offer full scholarships in theory but their financial aid program is the best in the world. I was raised by a single mother who’s a high school teacher. The financial aid package was so good at Dartmouth that it was basically the same as receiving a full scholarship. I would have pretty much had to pay full tuition at Ohio State or Notre Dame.
1Q 8:47 | TOUCHDOWN! Niko Lalos! The defensive end intercepts a pass and rumbles 21 yards for his first career touchdown and the first points of the game! #DartFB takes a 7-0 lead, watch on @ESPNU: https://t.co/puz9nPFfZJ pic.twitter.com/mxD30XO4OG— Dartmouth Football (@DartFootball) November 9, 2019
JM: That makes a massive difference. You were the MVP of the Hula Bowl where you posted six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. What was the experience like out there?
NL: That was a great experience. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I never thought I’d make it out to Hawaii in my lifetime. It was pretty awesome. From a football standpoint, I was excited going into it. It gave me a chance to compete with guys from bigger schools than Dartmouth. I was really excited to be out there. I’m really into competing. I wanted to prove that I could dominate against guys that come from bigger programs. You definitely question it a little bit. Once I hit the field, I realized it’s just football. This is nothing to me. All of the guys were really cool. The coaching was phenomenal. It was a terrific experience all-around.
JM: How would you describe your pass rush arsenal?
NL: It’s a little unconventional to be honest. I played basketball in high school. When I came to Dartmouth, my defensive line coach told me to pretend that I was trying to make a one-on-move to the basket. I started using all of these different steps that you would correlate more with basketball than you would with football. That’s how I first learned to rush the passer. The bull rush was really the first football move I started to use. The more time I spent here, the more I got away from basketball and began to develop a true pass rush arsenal. I eventually developed my speed-to-power. I definitely took a different approach. I try to keep things simple. The most important thing is having the ability to beat the man across from me as fast as possible. It doesn’t really matter how I do it. I have to turn the corner and get a sack.
The defense comes up with a TOUCHDOWN! Niko Lalos pops the ball loose, Dewayne Terry Jr. plucks the ball out of the air and returns it 62 yards for the score and a 14-0 #DartFB lead with 4:12 left in 1Q. Watch on ESPN+ https://t.co/dmDNG2AmoQ pic.twitter.com/FagSG8QwQE— Dartmouth Football (@DartFootball) October 27, 2018
JM: What did being raised by a single mother teach you about hard work?
NL: She’s a high school teacher. She didn’t have a lot of time or resources. She had to raise a child by herself. I know that she did everything she ever could for me. She was my example of hard work, she taught me that. I watched her make sacrifices every single day. She works so hard. She instilled those core values in me. It’s all about family, loyalty and hard work. Those are the things I picked up on the most. She always emphasized education. She was a big part of the reason I choose Dartmouth. At the end of the day, everything I do is for her. I’ve had to watch her struggle. That puts the fire in me. She’s the reason I wake up every day and do what I do.
JM: That’s a terrific answer. I’m gonna end things on that note. In closing, why should an NFL team give Niko Lalos a shot this fall?
NL: I’m a down to earth guy. I’m a humble guy, a team first player that’s willing to do anything to help the team. I’m not the type of guy that causes a distraction in the locker room. I know what it takes and I’m willing to put the work in. There’s always a small-school guy that catches the attention and recognition for being a hard worker. I’m hoping to be that guy. I’m used to flying under the radar. I’m gonna be a play-maker for whichever team gives me a chance.