NEW BRITAIN - For Jacob Dolegala, all of the difficult parts are out of the way. He’s gone through the measurables, the pro days, the endless testing - dissecting his every throw, decision making and play.
Now, all the Central Connecticut State quarterback can do is wait for the phone call he’s always wanted to receive and his name to appear on the bottom of the television screen.
“This is something I’ve always dreamed about and now that it’s coming into reality, it’s awesome,” Dolegala said. “I always thought I had enough drive to get to this point, but it took a long time to get here. But I never wavered from the fact that I thought I would get here.”
Where here is, is important, especially for the 6-foot-6½, 240-pound signal caller. Dolegala is hoping his name gets announced from Nashville, Tenn., the site of this year’s NFL draft, which begins tonight at 8 p.m.
“I had a dream and I worked and I worked and I worked,” said Dolegala, who played in 44 games with the Blue Devils, completing 57.6 percent of his passes for 8,129 yards and 48 touchdowns. “I think I have a top-three arm in the draft.”
Where Dolegala ends up, if he is drafted, remains to be seen. CCSU has only had two players taken in the history of the draft - wide receiver Tony Giaquinto in 1975 (7th round, Green Bay Packers) and running back Justise Hairston in 2007 (6th round, New England Patriots) - while the Northeast Conference has yet to produce an NFL quarterback. But that hasn’t stopped teams from showing plenty of interest, intrigued by his physical tools, which includes a 4.91 40-yard dash and 11-inch hands.
Scouts lined the sidelines at Dolegala’s first pro day at the University of Buffalo’s practice facility on March 13, which was a showcase for UB quarterback Tyree Jackson, to watch each of Dolegala’s 30 throws over the course of 15 minutes. He later returned to CCSU on March 21 for his own pro day with scouts from the New York Giants, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles in attendance. He visited the Bills after his first pro day and the Cincinnati Bengals on April 17.
“He looks like an NFL QB,” said Ryan McCarthy, Dolegala’s offensive coordinator the past three seasons with the Blue Devils, who is now the team’s interim head coach. “When I was at the University of Albany, I watched Eli Manning every day [when the Giants had training camp there], guys like Jessie Palmer. Those are quarterbacks. Jake has the physical attributes. I was fortunate enough to coach some good quarterbacks back at Albany, but he’s the best one I’ve coached. He’s a student of the game. He’s got all those things you’re looking for. I think the thing that might hurt him is the small school stature.”
It might. The biggest schools CCSU has played against were Syracuse in 2017 and Ball State in 2018. Most sites and mock drafts have Dolegala going somewhere in the third day of the draft, most in the seventh round, or signing with a team as a priority undrafted free agent.
Dane Brugler, the NFL draft analyst for The Athletic, has Dolegala listed as his 19th-best quarterback in this year’s draft, behind Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur, the son of Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, and ahead of Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald.
“A light-footed, flexible athlete, he has a quick release and a live arm to sling the football to every level. Aside from the obvious level of competition questions, his accuracy is the main concern. Overall, Dolegala can put the ball on targets when he has a clean pocket to set and throw, but too often he gets scatter-shot with his decisions/placement, making him a practice squad candidate,” is how Brugler describes the CCSU quarterback.
Gil Brandt, the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Famer and one of the architects of the Dallas Cowboys teams from 1960 to 1988 that won five NFC Championships and two Super Bowls, noted how quickly Dolegala was generating buzz around NFL circles after his Buffalo pro day.
“Jacob Dolegala impressed so much, some think he worked his way into an early Day 3 pick,” Brandt tweeted on March 18. “A labrum shoulder tear in HS threw off recruiters. Now he’s on NFL radars.”
That’s where Dolegala’s path to the draft really begins, back in his senior season, or lack thereof, in high school at St. Francis High School.
Growing up, Dolegala had every expectation he had the tools to make it to the league and had plenty of examples right at home outside of Buffalo, N.Y. His grandfather, Al Bemiller, played nine seasons for the Buffalo Bills in the 1960s, alongside the likes Jack Kemp, Daryle Lamonica and O.J. Simpson. Dolegala’s father, Greg, played at the University of Buffalo.
Already 6-foot-6, Dolegala had waited patiently to become the team’s starter entering his senior year, but in the third series of his third game, he tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder trying to make a tackle on an interception. It all but dashed his dreams of trying to reach the NFL.
“My injury was huge in high school,” Dolegala said. “From senior year, not being able to throw the ball 10 yards to not getting looks at Division I schools to getting overlooked by Division III schools, that was a real knock on my mental state. I went from having a very good outlook on my football career to thinking it could possibly be over.”
By the time the quarterback had recovered, he spent a year at Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y., to try to put some game film out for college coaches to evaluate. Still, the only school that offered some form of scholarship was CCSU, under then-head coach Pete Rossomando and McCarthy.
“I was really lucky,” Dolegala said. “I had a great opportunity and I’m really lucky to have had the coaches I had. They were the only ones to believe in me.”
It was a pairing that ended up working for both parties, including an NEC title in 2017, the program’s first since 2010, and first-ever trip to the FCS playoffs. Dolegala was suspended for the game after a house party to celebrate led to police being called. But he has also been upfront with evaluators about that incident.
“It was a learning experience,” Dolegala said. “That’s the one thing I regret about my time at Central.”
But another strong season where he completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,221 yards and 16 touchdowns, while rushing for six more, increased Dolegala’s stock even more and now all there is left to do is wait and see how the rest of the week plays out.
“He’s a top-notch kid and comes from a great family,” McCarthy said. “He’s worked for everything he has. He’s a legit football player. The sky is the limit for him. All he needs is a chance and whoever gets him is going to get a really good football player.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org