In an all-new feature on Chargers.com, we’re granting fans an exclusive, all-access pass to tag along with the team’s players and coaches to show you a glimpse at life on the inside.
First up was Anthony Lynn, as we joined the head coach during one of the team’s final OTAs of the offseason.
Next up, spend a day with cornerback Casey Hayward for a day in the life of the Pro Bowler at training camp.
It’s Tuesday, August 8 and the Bolts are entering the “dog days” of camp. The second week of training camp just kicked off, and there are still a handful of practices until they take the field for the first preseason game. We join Hayward shortly after as his alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. in his room at the team’s training camp hotel.
6:45 a.m. – It’s an abnormally sunny morning for such an early hour, which is perhaps why Casey Hayward looks so alert despite just waking up minutes earlier. Wearing a black Vanderbilt t-shirt emblazoned with the team’s mascot, Mr. Commodore, on the front and pair of black sweatpants, the Pro Bowler greets the day by soaking in some early sunshine on the balcony of his hotel room. In a few minutes, he’s off to begin his daily routine, which includes some light stretching and body maintenance. But right now, he’s reflecting on his personal life. He stares off onto the horizon, talking about his mother, Tish, who passed away last July from breast cancer. He talks about carrying on her legacy through the Hayward’s Hands non-profit foundation, a program they started together that serves his hometown of Perry, GA. Running his hand through his hair, Hayward outlines how he plans to expand the program in the coming months, thankful for the platform to impact the community. All of this is possible because of the game he loves. Because of the NFL. Because of his talent. But more than anything, it’s possible because of the love and dedication of his mother, who supported him through thick and thin to reach this level. With a deep sigh, Hayward leaves his balcony, picks up his tan and orange backpack off the wooden floor, slings it over his shoulder and heads out the door:
“I think about her every morning. She’s my first love. We had a bond that was special, so I think about her and say a prayer to her every single day. I still have my dad around, so I talk to him and my brother a lot about it. We’re strong as a whole, and I carry her with me. I have her tattooed on my arm, and I touch it before every game.”
7:31 a.m. – After spending about 45 minutes getting his body ready for the day ahead, Hayward strolls into the meal room of the team hotel. A creature of habit, he enjoys the same breakfast each morning. Scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, butter and some grape jelly. He lets out a small laugh as he chomps down on a slice of crispy bacon:
“Breakfast of a champion!”
7:38 a.m. – Hayward strolls over to a table occupied by a single teammate – Antonio Gates. The two make light chitchat for a minute before being joined by Melvin Gordon, Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams. It’s mostly quiet as everyone scarfs down their breakfast, but they do talk about one piece of news – the retirement of a former teammate. Brandon Flowers announced earlier that day that he was hanging up his cleats after a standout career. Hayward explains how Flowers can still play at a high level, and that the cornerback knows it, but it probably is the right time to call it a career. The remaining few minutes are filled solely by the sound of silverware scratching plates as everyone rushes to finish their breakfast before the first meetings of the day at 8:00 a.m.:
“Just wait until later. It’s early, so we’re still a little sleepy. We really chop it up once the day gets started!”
7:58 a.m. – The doors to Salon G-2 blow open, and Hayward plops into his seat in the second row of the defensive backs room at the team hotel. He whips out his tablet and notebook, and starts chopping it up with Jahleel Addae. The two sit side-by-side for each meeting during training camp. For the next 45 minutes, Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus intricately details the day’s game plan. Practice will have an added emphasis on goal line this afternoon, and the team reviews film from Monday’s session to go over necessary adjustments one last time. Hayward walks out of the room with an extra pep in his step. The film hammered home something that had been eating at him since leaving yesterday’s practice. Overall, it was a good day for the Pro Bowler, who played relatively lights out. Still, there are two plays he can’t shake, recounting them as he gets his ankles taped for practice:
“I did fine, but there are two plays I didn’t like. I’m pissed. On one play I just didn’t have very good technique. On the other, we were putting in some new stuff, and I blew a coverage. It was the first time we put it in, and I won’t blow it again. Overall it was a pretty solid day, but those two (eat at me). One went over my head. That’s not ever supposed to happen. I can have a good game for 70 plays, but if I have two bad plays out of 72, that’s all anyone remembers. It can be the difference in the game. It’s the same for offensive linemen as it is for cornerbacks. We can be lights out the entire game but for one play, one that can cost the team, it’s all anyone can remember. So I need to be better.”
9:04 a.m. – Chargers Camp requires players and staff to take several shuttles throughout the day. The first goes from the team hotel to Orange Coast College, which serves as the players’ locker room for the entirety of camp. Hayward bounces off the shuttle to a chorus of fans chanting his name. Giving them a quick wave, he enters the locker room and transforms from Vanderbilt alum to Chargers cornerback. Wearing a skin-tight white Chargers shirt with the sleeves cut off, he puts on his trademark headband and grabs his pads and helmet as he heads to the shuttle to take him to Jack Hammett Sports Complex:
“Let’s go! Time to work.”
9:37 a.m. – A handful of teammates are already on board when Hayward takes a seat in the second row. Joey Bosa is in the first, with Rayshawn Jenkins and Dexter McCoil nearby. Tenny Palepoi follows shortly behind as the shuttle begins the three-minute trip to the practice fields. Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” comes on the radio, and Casey asks the driver to pump up the volume. In no time, the entire shuttle is rapping along as they reach the field. Now it’s time for one of the players’ favorite parts of camp – walking the high-five line filled with throngs of fans:
“The fans, they’re the best. We’re in a new area, and we’ve got so many fans coming out every day. They are showing us love, so we’ve got to show them love. I sign as many autographs as possible before I have to leave. I’ll give high-fives and take photos as much as I can when we come in, and then when we leave. It’s hard sometimes because you want to be there for every fan, but there isn’t always time. I try to be there for them as much as I can because they have really showed us a lot of love.”
9:55 a.m. – Extra attention has been on the Bolts’ secondary of late as Jason Verrett recently returned to the fold. Hayward and Verrett are inseparable in the minutes before practice officially begins, going over techniques while joking around with light-hearted banter. At one point Philip Rivers walks over, and Hayward engages in some friendly trash talking with the QB. They go back and forth over who is going to get the better of the other when the action starts. Finally, the whistle blows and practice kicks off. The secondary spends extra attention on tackling during individual drills. One of the most energetic groups on the team, Hayward keeps it loose and light. When one of the group’s favorite songs come up, he runs over to the D.J. and tells him to crank it up.
10:49 a.m. – Travis Benjamin stands toe-to-toe with Casey Hayward as the ball is snapped. Earlier in the day, the cornerback vowed not to get beat deep, and he’s sure to be put to the test against the pure speed of Benjamin. But number 26 is up to the task. Hayward stays stride-for-stride with the wideout, shielding him away from the ball as it falls to the ground. Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley is fired up, shouting out, “Yes! Yes!” from the other side of the field.
10:58 a.m. – Don’t get beat deep. That’s the mantra of the day, but once again, Rivers wants to test the secondary with his arm. At first it looks like Hayward bites, but in actuality, he stays true to his assignment where he is supposed to be. Tre Boston cuts off in front of the receiver, not allowing him to catch up as the ball falls to the ground. It’s one of the last plays of the period, and while they successfully forced an incompletion, Hayward, Verrett and Boston remain unsatisfied. The trio believe they could have come up with a pick. For the next four minutes, they engage in a lively conversation about passing off receivers, how best to communicate and talk pre and post-snap, as well as proper technique to get the pick:
“It’s common for us to get together like that. We were sharing what we’ve seen. He saw something else from my man coming across, and he almost jumped it, but at the end of the day it’s about staying on top to not (allow) anything deep. As long as we stay on top and the ball doesn’t go over our head, we’ll end up on top.”
11:04 a.m. – Hayward is ticked off. Lined up against Tyrell Williams, he tries to squeeze the wide receiver as he cuts over the middle. However, he isn’t able to get there in time as the big, rangy wideout hauls in the completion. While Hayward may be heated in the moment, it’s the only completion he allows the entire day:
“I was so mad about those two balls getting by me yesterday that I came in more focused today. I was focused yesterday, but I had those mental errors. When you have mental errors, you have to forget about them and not worry about the day before. We’re going to get beat. It’s a fact. As a cornerback, you are going to get beat. Receivers are too good, but you have to let that play go. Yesterday I held onto the play too long, and the ball got over my head a second time as a result. So today, I said no balls over my head. And after I gave up that one catch, I said no more. That’s it. Nothing else will be caught today.”
12:09 p.m. – It’s one of the last snaps of practice, but it’s a memorable one. Head Coach Anthony Lynn places the ball near the goal-line, challenging the defense to keep them out of the end zone. They not only do just that, but turn it over when Boston comes up with the pick. The defense explodes with a raucous celebration, and Hayward makes sure he’s in the middle of it. Hooting and hollering as he jumps around Boston, who does one of his patented, leg-shaking dances, the cornerback smiles as he comes off the field:
“That’s fun! When you make a big play, everyone comes off the sideline to celebrate with you. That’s the thing about our team, everybody is happy for one another no matter who makes the play. It’s a team thing. It’s a defense thing.”
12:12 p.m. – Hayward is all smiles as he points to his pads on the ground. Seconds later, fifth-round draft pick Desmond King flashes a modest grin, bends down and picks up the Pro Bowler’s gear. It’s a tradition for younger players to carry the vets’ equipment off the practice field during training camp. Heck, Hayward did it himself when he was a rookie in Green Bay. It’s good natured fun between an established vet and a blossoming young playmaker; one whom Hayward has taken under his wing:
“I’m six years in! Man, I had to do that as a rookie. It’s all fun, man. We have a good (bond) in this cornerback group. Anything the rookies need, I’m there for them. I remember what it was like when I was in (King’s) shoes, so whatever I can do to help to help any of them from Rayshawn to Mike (Davis) to Desmond, I’ll make sure I’m there. Any tips I can give them regardless, I’ll tell them. But yeah, the rook’s got to bring that gear to the bus!”
12:19 p.m. – Everyone wants a piece of Casey Hayward. That’s to be expected as a Pro Bowl player fresh off a season in which he led the NFL in interceptions. Thus, the cornerback is constantly in demand once practice ends with numerous media requests. First up today is a visit with Gary Hoffmann and Shannon Farren on KFI-AM 640. Following a 10 minute live hit, Hayward is set to take the podium. However, Gates is currently holding court, so the cornerback takes the few minutes he has to snap selfies and sign autographs with fans. Gates finishes up five minutes later, and now it’s Hayward’s turn in front of the mic. He answers a bevy of questions with his trademark humor, embracing an aspect of his profession he didn’t always enjoy:
“I embrace the media. When I was in Green Bay, I didn’t embrace it as much as I did now. In Green Bay, I hid from the media. But now I’ve realized I have to embrace these moments. You never know, one day they may not ever want to talk to me again. So now any time they want to talk to me, I come. I appreciate them more. The older I’ve gotten, I got a new perspective. So I’m embracing it, and now I’m asked to do a lot more because I’m more engaging.”
1:58 p.m. – It’s lunch time, and back at the hotel, Hayward piles his plate high with beef stroganoff over a bed of rice. A couple pieces of snapper are also on the plate as well as dozens of string beans. On a separate plate, Haywards fills it to the brim with salad and veggies. Content with his choices, he returns to the same table he sat at for breakfast, and gets into a deep discussion about two of the greatest tight ends in NFL history. One happens to be sitting a few seats away:
“We love to rap about the other guys in the league. We also talk about players and athletes in other sports. But today we were talking about Gates and (Jason) Witten. Watching LT go into the Hall of Fame, we were talking about how Gates and Witten are shoe-ins, but they are such different players. Witten is seventh in NFL history in yards, but Gates has more than 50 touchdown catches than him. So it’s crazy.”
2:34 p.m. – Meetings start in less than 30 minutes, but Hayward wants to get a head start. Racing up to his room, he lays on his bed and fires up his tablet to re-watch this morning’s practice. Film study is an important part of Hayward’s routine. He didn’t always appreciate its importance, but these days, he can’t stress enough how it’s helped make him one of the game’s true shutdown corners:
“It’s crazy, but I have a routine for watching film. I stay with it even the night before going into the game. Gates is always joking at me because I’m always trying to get away to watch film all the time. I’ll have just come from watching film and we’ll be (chatting), and I’ll be like, ‘Ok, time to get back to the film.’ But it’s so important. That’s how you know what’s going on. You’ve got to be a student of the game. You’ve got to know what’s coming before it happens. Sometimes they don’t run exactly what you’ve seen, but the stuff you have seen, you’ve got a chance to jump it. That’s how you make a big play. That’s how I got some of my picks last year. Solely based on what I’d seen on film. That feeling, when you know what’s coming, it’s just crazy. It’s to where sometimes even I’ll see the play, and I know it’s not coming to me, but I can (communicate it) to the next guy. But when it is to my man, and I know it’s going to be a dig if they line up a certain way. And then they do. He runs that dig, and then it’s game over.”
4:10 p.m. – The Bolts are on a fifteen-minute break, but not Casey Hayward. He saw something on film that he couldn’t get out of his mind, so he pulls up a chair outside overlooking the parking lot and dials up the tape. Once again explaining how important it is to study, he pulls up a play from last season, going into specific details of an interception he snagged against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
“The motion of Mike Evans was exactly what I saw on tape. He came across, and inside I’m thinking, ‘I have seen this. I know this.’ The game plan had me following him, so I studied everything about him. We were in man-to-man, I saw the way he motioned over and stayed tight, so I knew he was running a seven-stop. I barely moved. I went underneath him and picked it off because I’d seen that play so many times. It’s one of their favorite routes because he’s a big body. It’s hard to get in between him and the ball. So that’s where tape pays off.”
6:02 p.m. – Another shuttle and Hayward is back at Orange Coast College with his teammates. Instead of practicing at Jack Hammett Sports Complex, the Bolts step foot on the field for walk through. While practices in the morning are open to the public, these nightly sessions are closed as it is all about fixing issues identified from earlier in the day. A student of the game, it’s a part of the job Hayward relishes even though for some it can become monotonous:
“Walk through is really all about making sure we’ve got our assignments right. It’s not really about making plays. We are going over what we messed up in practice. It’s all about corrections.”
7:04 p.m. – As he tends to do, Lynn is about to call on one of his players to break the team down, but he has an announcement to make first. “This man is having an outstanding camp, especially the past few days. Casey, come break us down.” The team claps and shouts out, “Showcase!!!” as number 26 enters the middle of a 90-man huddle, raising his hands to say a few words. His teammates lift their hands in the air toward Casey’s, shout out together in unison, and head back to the locker room:
“He said I’m having a good camp, and I said to everyone, ‘Yeah, he’s telling the truth!’ That was cool, though. That does mean a lot. I’m working hard. We’re all working hard. We want to be great. But it’s funny though because Philip came up to me afterward and thought I said something else He thought I said something about getting the best of him. We laughed, and then he said it’s true that I am having a great camp. So yeah, that was cool.”
10:07 p.m. – A long day is about to come to an end. After getting back to the team hotel, Hayward decided to treat himself to dinner at The Counter, a burger joint located in Irvine. He sits down with Dontrelle Inman, feasting on his usual order of a turkey burger with bacon, lettuce, American cheese, mayo and ketchup. The cornerback returns to his room and turns on one of his favorite TV shows to relax – “Power”. After that, it’s a couple facetime calls with friends and family, and finally, time for shuteye:
“This is when I get my FaceTime action in. I got my core group of five that I FaceTime with most nights. Then I’ll get my Netflix in to wind down at night after watching more film. That’s how I get ready for bed, and then it’s back to the grind again tomorrow!”