LaSala named to preseason D3 football All-American team (updated)
An injury his sophomore year may have ended his season. But it helped Michael LaSala realize an important lesson.
LaSala, a 2013 Wilton High grad, had played all 10 games for the Washington and Lee University football team as a freshman, and started the first five games at offensive tackle as a sophomore before suffering an MCL injury.
In some respects, it was just what he needed.
“As a freshman, I really struggled to be fully into the team. I had just come from playing for the same town for 10 years, and I never thought I’d care about a team that much again. Though I don’t know if I ever truly considered it, I complained a lot and talked about quitting,” said Lasala, who is entering his senior season at W&L. “Then I started my sophomore year at tackle and even though we were losing every week, going through that hardship with my team started to get me attached.
“All of a sudden I wasn’t allowed to play because of my injury and that forced me to realize how much I loved playing with the team,” he said. “After I recovered from that injury, there was no more question about how much I cared and I could put all my complaining aside and just get excited about my next season, which turned out to be a pretty good one.”
His junior season was indeed special. So much so that LaSala last week was named to the D3football.com Preseason All-America football team, one of only 25 Division III players in the country to be named to the first team.
LaSala has now been recognized as a preseason first-team All-American by the Sporting News, Lindy's College Football Preview, and D3football.com.
For LaSala, however, the personal honors don’t carry too much weight, at least compared to his teammates and the success of the team.
“It’s a great honor and I’m very thankful for it, but being pre-season All-American won’t mean very much if my team and I don’t perform during the actual season,” he said. “I guess it was never necessarily a goal of mine to be All-American, so I didn’t think about whether or not it was possible. I’ve always tried to play my best because a championship in football was something I’d wanted since I was a kid.”
Last season, LaSala was a third-team All-American honoree from D3football.com, and was a third-team pick on the AP Little All-America team and a first-team selection by the American Football Coaches Association.
He also accomplished a lifelong goal, winning a championship in football, as Washington and Lee (located in Lexington, Vir.) won the Old Dominion Athletic Conference title with a perfect 7-0 conference mark. It was the first title in five years for the Generals, who had finished 2-8 the year before.
Washington and Lee’s season, and undefeated record, ended in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament with a 51-21 loss to Thomas More, the eventual national runner-up.
In addition to his national honors, LaSala was named first-team All-ODAC, first-team all-state and first-team All-South Region. He received the Virginia College Division Offensive Lineman of the Year Award from the Touchdown Club of Richmond.
Blessed with size (6’3”, 265 pounds) and athletic ability, LaSala is a perfect fit for Washington and Lee’s triple option offense.
Last year, he was part of an offensive line that paved the way for the nation's top rushing attack, with an average of 433.9 yards per game. He started all 11 games and helped Washington and Lee set a slew of records, including total offense (5,439 yards), rushing offense (4,773 yards) and points scored (417).
“W&L’s offense fits really well with how I like to play football. If we were a pass-heavy team, I’d be lucky to get all-league honorable mention. Fortunately for me, the triple-option offense allows me to get my horns down and just hit people as hard as I can, which is what I love most about the game,” he said. “The offense also provides me a lot of opportunities to get out in open space with linebackers, which I think my time as a lacrosse player helps me a lot with.”
He said his contributions the team’s success were no greater than any other player on the line, despite the honors he’s received.
“I think a major reason for this added recognition is that the greater success of our whole offense kind of gets focused on me because it’s so hard to pin down a single guy who’s responsible for an effective triple-option,” he noted. “It’s been pretty humbling to receive all these honors. I really think they should’ve spread the wealth a little more and better recognize all the guys who were responsible for our success last season.”
At Wilton, LaSala was a two-time all-FCIAC pick in football, and Class L all-state selection his senior year. He also captained the 2013 boys lacrosse team that won the Class M state title, playing close defense.
LaSala said he’s gotten more effective in the weight room over the years, and improved his speed and form, like most college athletes.
He said the level of commitment has been challenging, given the academic workload and myriad of temptations at college.
“I think the thing that makes your commitment to the sport that much greater in college is that your free time is so much more valuable than it is in high school. You’ve got a lot more work to do, so you need that time to study,” he said. “What I appreciate is that when you get a group of guys that are willing to give up so much time, time that can be used for so many other things, you know that they have to be invested in the team.”
LaSala and his teammates open the season on Sept. 1 at Johns Hopkins, which is ranked 15th in the D3football.com Preseason Top 25.
As for the season ahead, LaSala makes no predictions — only that the Generals will work their hardest to repeat last year’s success.
“The only thing I can expect is for our team to put up our best effort. I know if we work really hard and play like we can, our goals will follow and we’ll all be satisfied with our season,” he said.
As far as the future goals, LaSala said leaving W&L and football behind will be a difficult adjustment, but he plans on “taking the all the valuable tools W&L has given me and using them as best I can wherever I end up” after graduation.
“I’ve loved my time at W&L, probably too much, and am shocked and a little terrified that I’m going into my last year there,” he said. “It’s really crazy how quickly the time went, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”