For most aspiring athletes, receiving a college scholarship can be the pinnacle of a career. For A.J. Dalton, college has become a stepping-stone to a larger goal — a career in the NFL.
“It was pretty cool,” Dalton said of the offer he received from the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent.
“After spending the last four years at Robert Morris, it was a dream to have it come true.”
Dalton, an offensive tackle, signed May 10 with the Lions. He was a mainstay on the Colonials starting line while playing 40 games.
In that time, this Carrollton, Ohio, native not only helped boost the Robert Morris offense to new heights but also put himself in the top tier of offensive linemen. He has various awards to verify that status, too.
After allowing just one sack in the 2013 season, Dalton was one of 11 Robert Morris players named Division I-AA All-American by The Sports Network. This 6-foot-4 lineman also was All-Northeastern Conference.
The impressive numbers don’t stop there. Behind the strong play of the offensive line, the Colonials won the time-of-possession battle every game in 2013 and led the conference in that category.
Dalton said the biggest challenge in rookie minicamp over the weekend was learning the offense. He said it was more complex than what he was used at Robert Morris and he compared it to being a freshman all over again.
“It doesn’t matter if [a player] went to Saint Vincent, Penn State or Ohio State; it doesn’t matter,” Dalton said. “You’re here, and, ultimately, it’s all about who can learn systems and who gives the best effort.”
Despite the intricacies of learning an NFL offense, he said he chose the Lions over the Indianapolis Colts because he believed the system in Detroit fit him better.
This 280-pound lineman, who began his college career as a guard, added that the mental aspect of the game is his priority because he will be given the opportunity to show off his physical skills in upcoming practices.
If Dalton is able to make the opening-day roster, he would join an exclusive list of Robert Morris graduates to enter the NFL.
The other Colonials who played pro football were Robb Butler, a cornerback who played in one game for the San Diego Chargers in 2004; Tim Hall, a running back for the Oakland Raiders in 1996 and 1997; and, most notably, offensive lineman Hank Fraley, who played 10 NFL seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams.
While most Division I-AA players don’t enjoy an extensive pro career like Fraley — he played in 126 games — Dalton hopes to prove that not playing in one of college’s power conferences is not a detriment to achieving that goal.
“Yeah, definitely, I look up to [Fraley],” Dalton said.
“I’d like to be in his shoes someday because he’s a lineman who played many years and was able to provide for his family.”