Eastern Illinois University Panthers
Christopher Columbus High School
While quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo garnered most of the national media attention the last two years, even the quarterback would often refer to his favorite pass-catching target – Erik Lora – as the "Dynamic Duo." But, they were an unlikely duo, indeed, two players that banded together during the "worst of times" for the school's football program, only to go on and make a remarkable turnaround the last two seasons.
Garappolo was already entrenched as the Panthers' quarterback in 2011, but after back-to-back 2-9 seasons, head coach Bob Spoo was replaced in 2012 by Dino Babers, rthe architect for the offense that saw Robert Griffin III emerge on the way to capturing Heisman Trophy honors. A San Diego native and Hawaii graduate, Babers was the receivers coach and special teams coordinator at Baylor, which meant he had a hand in the magical RGIII Heisman season.
The new coach installed Baylor's fast-paced, no-huddle attack and after finishing 89th in the nation in total offense in 2011 (325.91 ypc), the Panthers placed seventh in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in 2012 (470.92 ypg) and led the FCS ranks in 2013 (589.5 ypg). The way the team played the last two years, EIU fans had their own "Field of Dreams," as Garoppolo and Lora might as well have emerged from the cornstalks surrounding the campus - no one saw this coming.
The final piece to this perfect storm arrived when Lora made a triumphant and explosive return to the gridiron as a junior, having sat out the 2011 campaign because of torn labrum in his hip. Over the next two seasons, he would first set the NCAA FCS season-record with 136 receptions in 2012 and close out his career with 123 grabs in 2013, tying Terrell Hudgins of Elon (2009) for the second-highest annual total in the FCS ranks.
A casual football fan will quickly notice what makes Garoppolo special. He's developed a rapid-fire release and can put the ball anywhere it needs to be. Lora is just 5-foot-10½, 203 pounds, so he doesn't have a height advantage on many defenders. But he grabs everything within reach and is extremely slippery once he catches the ball. Terrified defenders who give Lora a 10-yard cushion usually have no luck bringing him down for a short gain.
EIU offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert calls Lora "The Astronaut" because he works so well in space.
Only Terrell Hudgins (395 catches, 2006-09) has more receptions than Lora's 332 in NCAA FCS history, as the Eastern Illinois product set the school and league records. His 4,006 receiving yards are both EIU and OVC marks, ranking 11th all-time in the NCAA. His 35 touchdown grabs set the conference record and is surpassed by only Roy Banks (38; 1983-86) on the school record chart.
The history of great Cuban football players is either very small or nonexistent, but Lora belongs on the list. Both of his parents were born in Cuba, though they immigrated to the United States at a young age.
He played football every year, starting at age six. Lora attended prestigious Christopher Columbus High School, which was previously home to Miami Dolphins greats Mike Shula and Brian Griese. The wide receiver earned first-team All-Dade County Class 6A-4A honors, helping lead the team to a 10-1 record after he caught 29 passes for 649 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior, ranking second in Dade County in receiving yards.
That season, Lora also served as a punt returner with 11 returns for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He was selected to play in the NIKE South Florida All-Star game and also chosen to play for Team USA in Junior World Championships in summer of 2009 winning a gold medal. He would join Eastern Illinois in 2009, starting one game at flanker, finishing with 320 yards and two touchdowns on 23 receptions.
Lora played in 10 games, starting nine times in 2010, but the flanker did experience some hip issues. He still managed to lead the team with 50 receptions for 478 yards and two scores. Proving to be a dangerous threat when lining up in the backfield, he totaled 107 yards on 15 carries (7.13 ypc), averaging 18.0 yards on eight kickoff returns while contributing six tackles (5 solos).
His third year at Eastern Illinois was a turning point in his football career. Lora struggled through spring practice and when an MRI showed bone spurs created labral tears in his hip, Lora decided sitting out a year and having surgery was the best option.
A herniated disk in Lora's back preceded a torn labrum in his right hip. The two injuries occurred within two months of each other. he rehabbed relentlessly, working on his core daily, trying to strengthen his muscles. He recuperated quickly, returning to the practice field, but that was a detriment to his health as the next injury surely followed.
Feeling rejuvenated, Lora returned to the gridiron and set an FBS record for receptions in a season with 136 in 2012. His 1,664 receiving yards ranked fourth all-time. Both Lora and Garoppolo felt playing unsupervised 7-on-7 in the summer, when coaches are not allowed to watch, helped build chemistry.
Lora would finish seventh in the voting for Walter Payton Trophy honors in 2013, an honor given annually to the best player in the FCS ranks. The consensus All-American and All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team selection started all year at the left slot position, as he pulled in 123 balls for 1,544 yards (12.55 ypc), both figures placing behind his 2012 figures on the school and league record chart. He also broke the OVC and EIU annual record with 19 touchdown grabs.
Lora has been a highly productive athlete who can also handle return duties in addition to performing on the coverage units. He has above-average power and drive-through after the catch for a player his size at his position. He consistently competes for the ball and is very aware of the play action. After the catch, he is a smooth, easy route runner who consistently comes out of his breaks cleanly.
Lora is very elusive and fluid going up field after the catch and while he is not really a big target, he has generated very good production operating in traffic, evident by his 123 grabs as a slot receiver in 2013. He has enough speed and hip shake that will make defenders miss at the second level, but he also has enough strength to break arm tackles.
Lora is a legitimate deep threat, due to his ability to turn on his acceleration to separate from the defense. He runs with an outstanding stride to cover ground fast. He is also fearless, as he will extend, pluck and snatch the ball with hands extended. He adjusts smoothly to make the catch and has the big hands needed to get the ball quickly in the air. He is also an excellent leaper who shows proper open-air flexibility.
The slot receiver/flanker is not only versatile, but he consistently maintains eye contact on the ball in flight. He is quite savvy and knows how to avoid tacklers after the catch, along with doing a fine job of finding the sidelines and adjusting to stay inbounds. For a player his size, he powers through with good arm extension and will face up with aggression vs. defenders. He flashes good open field nastiness, as he consistently will lay a pad on a defensive back when asked to cut block for the ground game.
Lora really does not have blazing speed but can accelerate and elude at the second level. He makes all adjustments needed to get his hands on the ball and snatches the sphere in the air with ease. The thing you will see is that he always competes for the ball, especially in traffic. He knows how to use his body to secure the underneath pass and has the vision, presence and ability to come back for the ball in a hurry when he sees the quarterback pressured.
Lora shows no ill effects from his 2011 hip injury, as he is very fluid in and out of his breaks (4.18 20-yard shuttle and 6.72 in the three-cone drill). One of his better assets is the way the former Panthers receiver gets off the line quickly, using his active hands to extend and escape the press, doing a nice job of staying low and fluid in his release. He might take long, strong strides rather than short, quick patterns, but he still manages to move up field fast.
Lora uses good stutter-step moves and hip-shake when turning the corner and can pick up speed needed to get to the second level. He is surprisingly quick in his breaks and never rounds his cuts. He is extremely difficult to bring down in isolated coverage, especially when a cornerback fails to mirror the receiver throughout the route's progression.
Lora is also alert enough to come back fast for the ball and shows very good aggression when facing up as a blocker. An efficient ball carrier out of the backfield, he has excelled when used at times as a gunner on special teams, registering 15 tackles as a member of the coverage units.
Lora started 35 of 47 games at Eastern Illinois – his first 10 contests at flanker and the final 25 as a left slot receiver…Holds the school and Ohio Valley Conference career-records with 332 receptions, which rank second in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision annals (Terrell Hudgins of Elon caught 395 passes; 2006-09)…His 4,006 receiving yards also established OVC and EIU all-time records, placing 11th in FCS annals…His 35 touchdown catches topped the old league mark of 32 that was shared by C.J Johnson of Tennessee State (2000-03) and Chris Wright of Eastern Illinois (2009-12), and the only Panther with more scoring grabs is Roy Banks (38; 1983-86)…His average of 7.06 receptions per game is 15th-best in FCS history…Holds the top two spots on the NCAA annual record chart with 136 receptions in 2012 and 123 in 2013, as his senior total is tied with Terrell Hudgins of Elon (2009)…His receiving yards totals of 1,664 yards in 2012 and 1,544 in 2013 are the top two season figures in NCAA, school and conference history…Added 180 yards on 21 carries (8.57 ypc), 224 yards with a score on 24 punt returns (9.33 avg), 144 yards on eight kickoff returns (18.0 avg) and became the fourth player in school annals to generate 5,000 all-purpose yards (5,022)…Also recorded 15 tackles (12 solos).
4.48 in the 40-yard dash…1.56 10-yard dash…2.64 20-yard dash…4.18 20-yard shuttle…6.72 three-cone drill…36-inch vertical jump…9'11" broad jump…Bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times…29 7/8-inch arm length…9½-inch hands.
Lora attended Christopher Columbus (Miami, Fla.) High School, playing football for head coach Chris Merritt…Earned first-team All-Dade County Class 6A-4A honors, helping lead the team to a 10-1 record after he caught 29 passes for 649 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior, ranking second in Dade County in receiving yards…That season, Lora also served as a punt returner with 11 returns for 160 yards and two touchdowns…Selected to play in NIKE South Florida All-Star game and also chosen to play for Team USA in Junior World Championships in summer of 2009 winning gold medal.
Lora is majoring in kinesiology...Son of Elia and Raul Lora.
R/PG indicates receptions per game...
GM/AVG indicates average yards gained per game.
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