It was day three of the NFL Draft. A prospect out of Central Connecticut State University sat in his family’s living room outside of Buffalo, New York waiting for a phone call that would change his life forever. Six-foot-six, 235-pound quarterback Jake Dolegala was going to achieve a lifelong dream of becoming an NFL quarterback. It wasn’t an easy road to get to this point. Dolegala had a lot to overcome before becoming the draft’s Cinderella story.
Dolegala’s NFL dreams began on the athletic fields in Hamburg, New York. In high school he had many looks from Division I-AA schools. Scouts from northeastern schools noticed his talent including some from the Patriot League. However, his dream of playing big time college football fell apart following a devastating injury to his throwing shoulder early in his senior season in 2013. In the third series of the game, Dolegala threw an interception off a tipped pass, made the tackle and landed awkwardly on his shoulder. “It was supposed to be my year. The offense [was built] around me, and we had a decent team,” Dolegala reflects with a sense of what-if in his voice.
The recovery process was no better than the injury itself. Dolegala had to go through physical therapy for several months. During that time, Dolegala was filled with doubt. “It was hell, to begin with. Not knowing I was going to be able to throw a ball again was devastating.” Dolegala explains that it was four months before the shoulder loosened up and he was able to throw the ball again.
Dolegala had to choose a different route following his senior year of high school. He settled on a prep year at Milford Academy in New Berlin, New York. “By the time I was at Milford, I was throwing fine,” Dolegala explains. He was also playing well. In the 2014 season, Dolegala completed 143 of 286 passes, threw for 2,276 yards, twenty touchdowns, and just seven interceptions: an incredible bounce back year after an injury. Unfortunately for Dolegala, no school was offering him a scholarship. CCSU was the only program who called. “My dad [still] wanted me to go to school for free, as did I,” Dolegala says, giggling, “Once I got on campus, I fell in love with the coaching staff, [and] the players were great.”
It was hell, to begin with. Not knowing I was going to be able to throw a ball again was devastating.
In Dolegala’s first season with the Blue Devils, he played in ten games, went 87 for 161, threw for 1,021 yards, four touchdowns and seven interceptions. It wasn’t exactly a great year, but he bounced back in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, Dolegala went 145 of 274 passes, and threw for 1,953 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Dolegala also led the Blue Devils to a Northeastern Conference Championship. In 2018, he went 164 of 269 passes, 2,221 yards, sixteen touchdowns and six interceptions. These totals may not seem extraordinary, but CCSU runs the ball a lot. Dolegala’s size and arm strength drew attention, but not enough to be on a scouting report.
Dolegala was not invited to the scouting combine in Indianapolis. However, he still performed very well at his pro day at CCSU. A pro day is an event in which a school invites NFL scouts to campus to watch collegiate athletes perform football drills and workouts. The University of Buffalo invited Dolegala to participate at their pro day in New York so scouts could have a closer look at him.
Dolegala caught the eye of Gil Brandt, a future Hall of Fame scout. Brandt went to his Twitter account to write his praise for Jake. “Tyree Jackson wasn’t the only [quarterback] at Buffalo’s pro day last week who scouts paid attention to. [CCSU’s] Jacob Dolegala impressed so much; some think that he worked his way into an early day three pick. A [torn] labrum [in his throwing] shoulder in high school threw off recruiters. Now he’s on NFL radars,” Brandt tweeted.
Brandt wasn’t the only one giving Dolegala praise. The Buffalo News reporter Jay Skurski interviewed former NFL quarterback, Jim Kubiak who played on the same team as Super Bowl MVP, Peyton Manning. In Skurski’s article, “If you don’t know QB prospect, Jake Dolegala, you should,” Kubiak said, “I try to base my opinions off things that I’ve seen. I’ve been up close to those guys, and the velocity and accuracy Jake throws with is right in the ballpark. His discipline with his footwork, same thing. It’s tremendous. I can tell you this: He’s got all the requirements you would need to be great.”
Dolegala possesses a necessary intangible for any NFL quarterback: swagger. He believes he will end up on an NFL roster. “I have confidence that I will end up somewhere, and if not, so be it. [I’ll] let the chips fall where they may and we’ll go from there.” Worst case scenario, if Dolegala isn’t drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent, he does have a backup plan. “I have a degree in Biology. Eventually I’d like to go back to school. I’ve always liked physical therapy after what happened with my shoulder, so that’s a possibility.”
Jake Dolegala could possibly be the next great Cinderella story in the NFL. He isn’t the first quarterback to come out of a small school. Super Bowl champion quarterback Carson Wentz was drafted second overall in the first round out of North Dakota State in 2016. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco was drafted eighteenth overall in the first round out of the University of Delaware in 2008. Dolegala has a shot, but he wasn’t on ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper’s big board, though he did rank twenty-first on CBS Sports. Being drafted is not a total long shot.
The 2019 NFL Draft came and went and there was no phone call. But later that weekend, the phone did ring. Dolegala signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals. This allows him to attend training camp in late July without being drafted. Dolegala couldn’t be happier. “It feels great. This has always been a dream of mine,” Dolegala says. He did not disclose the terms of his contract, however it’s a good bet that Dolegala still went from a penny-pinching student to an NFL quarterback making roughly six figures in the matter of one phone call. But he’ll have to play his best ball to make the team considering Cincinnati has five quarterbacks on their roster including Dolegala. Most NFL teams keep three quarterbacks on their roster.
He still has his chance for the glass slipper to fit. In 2003, quarterback Tony Romo was an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois and was signed by the Dallas Cowboys and went on to have a great thirteen-year NFL career. Romo even wore the same jersey number as Dolegala: number nine.
Headline photo courtesy of Julia Jade Moran.
Zach Pluym is a staff writer for the Blue Muse Magazine.