MANKATO – The school that gave the NFL Sean Payton, Brad Childress, Mike Shanahan and Tony Romo recently produced a record-setting duo.
Jimmy Garoppolo broke Romo’s passing records at Eastern Illinois, and won the Walter Payton Award.
Erik Lora set the NCAA FCS record for most catches in a season, and finished fourth in the Payton voting.
Garoppolo was drafted in the second round by the New England Patriots, and could be groomed to be Tom Brady’s successor.
Lora went undrafted and is in Vikings camp trying to land a job at the bottom of the roster, or on the practice squad.
“I’m out here doing what I’ve been doing since I was 5 years old,” he said. “Trying to catch passes and impress people.”
He is the rare football player who has been on the same field as Garoppolo and Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings first-round pick and quarterback of the future.
Lora grew up in Miami, and attended Christopher Columbus High School. One of the school’s rivals was Northwestern. Lora noticed early in his high school career that the tall, skinny quarterback for Northwestern was bound for a bigger stage.
“You knew as a sophomore that Teddy Bridgewater was going to be something big,” Lora said.
Bridgewater signed with Louisville and became a spectacular player, winning MVP honors in bowl victories over Florida and Miami, two schools that should have signed him.
Lora also headed north, taking a full scholarship with Eastern Illinois. He played in a run-oriented offense in high school, catching only 50 passes total as a junior and senior.
“FIU [Florida International] and a few Sun Belt schools wanted me to walk on,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about the football so much as my education and my future, so I went with the free school. It worked out for the best.”
As a junior, he caught an FCS-record 136 passes. As a senior, he caught 123, including an Ohio Valley Conference-record 19 touchdown passes.
Garoppolo became known for his quick release. Lora, at 5-10 and 210 pounds, became known for his quickness and ability to run after the catch.
“I watch him a lot,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s nifty in a lot of the things he does. There are times he’s really good, and times he slips back into rookie mode. It’s still hard to say with him — and with all of the young guys.”
Zimmer smiled, thinking of the way his offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, reacts when a play goes bad.
“I know Norv knows him well, because he’s yelled at him a few times,” Zimmer said. “But then Norv has yelled at a lot of guys. Maybe more than me.”
Lora is the kind of guy you should watch early in camp and in the preseason games — a highly productive skill-position player trying to prove he can beat NFL defensive backs. He is about the same size as Danny Woodhead and Danny Amendola, two NFL veterans with similar body types. He has a few weeks to remind Turner and Zimmer of players like that.
If it doesn’t work out, Lora hopes to work in sports, as anything from “a high school coach to a representative of the Vikings. I want to spend my life around sports.”
He’s spent a lot of time watching Bridgewater and Garoppolo complete passes. Who will be the better pro?
“I’m not the right person to ask that,” he said. “They’re both great players. I just know that I caught passes from Jimmy in college and I’m catching passes from Teddy now. So I’m the lucky one.”