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Lineman in the limelight

  • Dartmouth College's Niko Lalos stands in disbelief on Nov. 2, 2019, in Harvard Stadium after his team used a last-second touchdown pass to beat the Crimson. Lalos is one of the Big Green's standouts as it tries to complete an undefeated season. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College's Niko Lalos (90) practices his pass-rush technique on fellow defensive lineman Seth Simmer during a Sept. 1, 2019, practice on Memorial Field,. The Akron, Ohio, native has 26 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks this season for the 8-0 Big Green. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College defensive end Niko Lalos, right, and offensive tackle John Paul Flores perform a gridiron pas de deux during a Sept. 24, 2019, practice on Memorial Field. Lalos and the No. 11 Big Green will attempt to move to 9-0 on Saturday when they host Ivy League foe Cornell. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College defensive end Niko Lalos watches Oct. 9, 2019, practice action on Memorial Field. The senior is a pass-rushing force for the No. 11 Big Green, which hosts Ivy League rival Cornell on Saturday. Lalos is wearing his mouth guard in the left ear hole of his helmet. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College defensive end Niko Lalos watches spring practice unfold during an April 24, 2019, practice on Memorial Field. Lalos' headband pays tribute to his Greek heritage. The No. 11 Big Green hosts Ivy League rival Cornell on Saturday. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/16/2019 10:37:01 AM
Modified: 11/16/2019 10:40:01 AM

HANOVER — The Dartmouth College football team features a figurative galaxy of stars as it powers toward what it hopes will be its first unbeaten campaign since 1996.

Quarterbacks Jared Gerbino and Derek Kyler are household names to Ivy League aficionados, and even defensive players such as lineman Jackson Perry, linebacker Jack Traynor and cornerback Isiah Swann are well-known.

So when a hulking No. 90 snagged a Princeton flare pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown last weekend at Yankee Stadium, more than a handful of fans ran a finger down their program rosters. Who was Niko Lalos?

Consistent Big Green observers certainly know. As so do NFL scouts, whose interest is piqued by the Akron, Ohio, native’s 6-foot-5, 270-pound frame. Lalos has 26 tackles, seven of them for losses. Throw in 3½ sacks and five passes batted down and it makes for a standout senior season.

“He’s big and physical and explosive, and he can run,” said Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, whose 8-0 team hosts Cornell (2-6, 1-4) on Saturday in its home finale. “That’s a hard combination to deal with. He gets in people’s heads and causes them problems.”

Lalos benefits from the talents of fellow linemen Jackson Perry, David Chalmers and T.J. Simpson. Opponents can’t double-team him consistently, freeing him up to make plays. Actually making them, however, takes skill and will; Lalos has both in spades.

Lalos was a wide receiver and tight end on offense and a linebacker on defense for St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, better known as the alma mater of NBA star LeBron James. Ohio State and Notre Dame came calling with walk-on slots, but Lalos and his mother, Leslie, picked Dartmouth based on its academics and the likelihood that Niko would see more game action.

“I was warned that Ohio State was a pretty cutthroat environment, and Notre Dame’s cost was astronomical and there was no way to pay for it,” Lalos said. “I questioned whether I’d like being sequestered in the wilderness up here, but after I’d visited twice, I started to enjoy it.”

Keith Clark, Dartmouth’s offensive line coach, recruits Ohio and was struck by the bond between Lalos and his mother, a high school teacher who raised her only child alone. Clark came away impressed with the teenager’s character.

“You watch how a kid treats his mother,” the coach said. “Is there mutual respect? Because if he doesn’t respect his mother, we don’t want him hanging around us. I think Niko saw his mom struggle at times, and it impacted him.”

Lalos admits he thought he’d play as a freshman before realizing that the learning curve can be almost vertical for rookies.

Complex reads, myriad hand-fighting moves and the need to bulk up combine to humble virtually all newcomers. Lalos made six tackles in five games as a sophomore, but his season ended abruptly when he began suffering sharp headaches riding home from the Harvard game.

“I thought I just needed to catch up on sleep,” he said, recalling sensitivity to light and dramatically reduced motor functions. “But then my neck totally locked up, and I had someone take me to (Dartmouth’s infirmary).”

Lalos was swiftly transferred to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where he landed in intensive care for three days and stayed a week overall. The diagnosis was bacterial meningitis, which attacks the membranes around the brain and spinal cord that protect the central nervous system.

Lalos didn’t want to alarm his mother, but a friend found his phone and called her anyway.

Leslie was at his bedside the next day, thanks to an NCAA fund that pays for family transport and hotel stays during medical emergencies.

Clearance to lift weights wasn’t granted until late December, and Lalos had initial issues with his balance, but he returned for the winter term of his sophomore year in good shape. He earned honorable mention All-Ivy status last fall.

“He’s a consistent worker and very unselfish and skilled,” Teevens said. “He moves very well, as you saw with last week’s pick-six. He’s a fun teammate to have around, always upbeat.”

Last week’s heroics were a culmination of Lalos’s football education. He said the cut block he shed at the play’s start would likely had upended him as a sophomore, but he was instead able to make a play that harked back to his offensive days in high school.

“The quarterback just hung the ball out there,” Lalos said of Kevin Davidson’s toss towards the right flat. “Once I had it in my hands, I knew everybody would be coming after me, so I had to get moving.

“I only had to take four hard steps to get where home plate would normally be. I turned around to see all my teammates and the Yankee Stadium sign, and I just tried to take it all in.”

Notes: Should No. 11 Dartmouth defeat Cornell for the 11th consecutive time today, it would clinch at least a tie for its first Ivy League title since 2015 and its 19th overall, best in the Ivies. Such a result would also boost Teevens atop the career victory list at his alma mater with 105. He’s currently tied with Bob Blackman. … Only 13 Ivy League football teams have completed unbeaten seasons. … Dartmouth has 29 seniors, five of whom gained a fifth year of eligibility after missing a prior season because of injury. Chalmers is one such player, and because he missed two campaigns with knee issues, said he may seek a sixth season, to be played elsewhere after his upcoming Dartmouth graduation. … None of Cornell’s losses have been by more than 14 points, and two have been by one point. … Seventh-year Big Red coach David Archer is 17-51. … Lalos earned a youth black belt in taekwando as an elementary school student. … He also had football offers from Army, Air Force and a number of the Mid-American Conference teams. … Lalos said last week’s touchdown was his first on defensive since peewee football, and it came before roughly two dozen family and friends who traveled to the Bronx for the game. “One of my uncles hadn’t left Florida since the 1990s,” he said with a laugh.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.




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