2015 was a season of change for D.J. Fluker.
A first-round draft pick in 2013, Fluker was the Chargers’ starting right tackle in 2013-14. In 2015, the Bolts coaching staff made the decision to move Fluker inside to right guard. It was definitely an adjustment for the 6-5, 339-pound Foley, Alabama native, but Fluker performed admirably at his new position. According to STATS, LLC., he surrendered only one sack the entire season.
Fluker is one of the team’s most tenacious and durable players, no matter where he lines up. In his first three seasons, including playoffs, he’s started 45 of a possible 50 games.
Many athletes overcome personal adversity to reach the pinnacle of their sport, but few experienced the hardships endured by the 25-year-old Fluker.
Fluker, whose initials stand for Danny Lee Jesus, was born in New Orleans and spent the majority of his childhood in the Bayou city living in the Lower Ninth Ward. That was until Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and started Fluker’s life spinning. When the hurricane hit, the family fled to nearby Biloxi, Mississippi. When Katrina passed and they returned home, all that remained was a concrete slab. With their home demolished, Fluker’s mother, Annice, scraped together what little money she could and the family headed to Mobile, Alabama. It was a rough time for the family. Fluker, then just 14 and weighing close to 400 pounds, along with his mom and siblings struggled to find shelter. Sometimes it was a church, other times a homeless shelter. When all else failed, they would sleep in their mom’s Ford station wagon. They also foraged for food wherever they could, even if it meant ravaging the dumpsters of fast food restaurants.
The tide finally began to turn when Fluker enrolled at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School and met Head Coach Steve Savarese. Savarese would occasionally let Fluker sleep at his house in a spare bedroom that had become available after Savarese’s daughter moved away to college. It meant a lot to Fluker, now aged 15, because it was the first time he’d ever had a bed to himself. With a small sense of stability, Fluker became a star defensive tackle on the football field, but he continued to work hard off the field, taking nothing for granted. Fluker did odd jobs to help his mom financially. He cut grass, power-washed houses, built cabinets and piers, worked in retail stores and cleaned trailers. He also became one of the most popular and well-liked students at McGill-Toolen and people went out of their way to help the Flukers. Students even held a fund drive to assist a family in need and they chose the Flukers.
Then just as quickly as he found firm footing, Fluker had to go through more change. Prior to his junior year of high school, personal issues forced Fluker’s mom to move the family back to Biloxi. Shortly after settling, the family’s temporary home — a trailer — was burned down by kids playing with matches. The Flukers decided on a return to Alabama, this time settling in Foley for Fluker’s senior year. It was at Foley High School that Fluker moved from defensive tackle to offensive tackle and it ultimately started him down the path that led him first to the University of Alabama and later to the Chargers.
At Alabama, Fluker was a cornerstone at right tackle and a three-time BCS champion. He started all 27 games during the 2011-12 seasons, earning second-team All-America and first-team All-SEC honors. With his family struggling to make ends meet, Fluker decided it was time to take matters into his own hands and made himself available for the 2013 NFL Draft. That year, Fluker graded out at 98.6% on his blocking assignments, he surrendered just four sacks, and was flagged just twice as the Crimson Tide finished the year 13-1 and 7-1 in the SEC. All the while, Fluker earned a degree in health studies in just 3 1/2 years and by doing so, he received an invitation to the Senior Bowl, which helped bolster his draft stock.
The Chargers picked Fluker 11th in the 2013 NFL Draft. His first contract included a seven-figure signing bonus. The first thing he did was purchase a new home for his mom, younger brother and two younger sisters in Mobile, and the second thing he did was pay tuition so that his younger brother, Leon, could attend college.
Knowing his family was secure allowed Fluker to flourish on the football field as a rookie with the Chargers. Besides earning all-rookie honors, his teammates chose him as the team’s Most Inspirational Player. So impressive was the young Fluker that late in the year, he walked into Head Coach Mike McCoy’s office and asked for permission to address the team at a time when he felt like some of his teammates weren’t giving maximum effort. It was a momentum-changing experience for the whole team, which rallied around Fluker as the Bolts won their last four games of the regular season and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
In June 2015, Fluker returned to Alabama to host a golf tournament and youth football camp. Proceeds from that camp helped support McGill-Toolen Catholic High School.
Fluker also dedicates himself to helping others in need in Southern California. One group he’s particularly supportive of is at-risk youth. Fluker makes regular visits to Juvenile Hall and other facilities that treat at-risk youth. He speaks to them about the hardships and realities of life, and helps provide the children with the tools to overcome them. In July 2015, the San Diego Juvenile Justice Commission honored Fluker at its annual awards banquet. The event pays tribute to members of the law enforcement community who go above and beyond the call of duty to help incarcerated minors in the community.
When Fluker was a rookie in 2013, he and second-round draft pick Manti Te’o developed a unique bond while taking part in the NFL’s Rookie Symposium in Ohio. During a break from the sessions, Fluker was sitting outside while the former Notre Dame linebacker was swimming laps in the hotel pool. As a child, Fluker nearly drowned in a swimming pool and was deathly afraid of the water. Still, Fluker showed an interest while watching Te’o swim laps, so the linebacker volunteered to hold the 340-pound lineman’s midsection while he learned to kick and stroke. After a few short tries, Fluker picked it up and was able to swim a short distance, thanks to Te’o’s help.
Besides swimming, Fluker has also taken to boxing while playing for the Chargers. Fluker trains at a local boxing gym and the workouts have helped him drastically improve his speed, footwork and hand placement.
TRANSACTION HISTORY: First-round pick by Chargers, (11), April 25, 2013...signed June 6, 2013.
2015: Helped Chargers pass for 404 yards in 33-28 win over Detroit Sept. 13 as line allowed just two sacks in 44 dropbacks...left Lions game with ankle injury during late third-quarter touchdown drive...inactive Sept. 20 at Cincinnati (ankle)...despite playing on hobbled ankle, helped Chargers to 30-27 win over Cleveland Oct. 4 as Bolts passed for 358 yards and three touchdowns, while line surrendered just two sacks...team won game on 34-yard field goal with no time left on clock...played entire game at right guard Oct. 18 at Green Bay as Philip Rivers set franchise records for attempts, completions and yards...Team Captain Oct. 25 vs. Oakland...inactive Nov. 29 at Jacksonville, Dec. 6 vs. Denver and Dec. 13 at Kansas City (concussion)...returned to starting lineup at right guard Dec. 20 vs. Miami and helped team rush for season-high 140 yards, while line allowed just one sack in 37 passing plays as Philip Rivers threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns.
2014: Started Games 1-16 at right tackle...blocked for season-high 162 yards rushing in 31-0 win over New York Jets Oct. 5...helped Bolts rush for 116 yards and pass for 313 while line allowed just one sack in 35 passing plays in 31-28 win at Oakland Oct. 12...helped pass protect for 383 yards and three touchdowns in 34-33 win at Baltimore Nov. 30, including game-winning eight-play, 80-yard, 1:44 drive that started with 2:22 left in contest...part of line that allowed just two sacks in 56 passing plays during 38-35 overtime win Dec. 20 at San Francisco...line also helped Ronnie Brown rush six straight times for 22 yards to San Francisco’s 22 on game-winning field goal drive in overtime that capped 21-point comeback, tied for greatest in franchise history, including overcoming 14-point deficit midway through fourth quarter...left Dec. 28 game at Kansas City briefly in second quarter with right leg injury but returned.
2013: All-Rookie by Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)...Chargers co-Most Inspirational Player...started Games 1-2 at right tackle...suffered concussion in practice and inactive Sept. 22 at Tennessee...started Games 4-9 at right tackle...Pepsi Next NFL Rookie of Week after Oct. 20 game at Jacksonville when he shifted to left tackle as injuries depleted offensive line...Bolts beat Jaguars 24-6, line didn’t allow any sacks and helped block for then-season-high 158 rush yards...started Nov. 17 at Miami, Nov. 24 at Kansas City and Dec. 1 vs. Cincinnati at left tackle...started final four regular season games and both playoff games at right tackle.
COLLEGE: Second-team Associated Press All-America and first-team All-SEC as junior in 2012...SEC All-Freshman in 2010...BCS National Champion as sophomore (2011) and junior (2012)...finished career with 37 games played and 36 starts at right tackle...totaled 245 knockdowns and 34 touchdown-resulting blocks as starter...redshirted in 2009...played at Alabama from 2010-12...health studies degree.
PERSONAL: Born in New Orleans, La....consensus All-America offensive tackle as senior at Foley (Ala.) High School...invited to play in 2009 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.