Undrafted free agents and the Chargers go together like peanut butter and jelly.
For an impressive, not to mention active league-record 23-straight seasons, an undrafted rookie free agent has made the Bolts' opening day roster.
Back in 2017, that story belonged to Austin Ekeler. Fast forward three years later, and the running back from Western St. agreed to terms on a multi-year contract extension with the team that took the chance on him.
"I called my mom right away, and that was the first thing I did when I made the team (three) years ago," Ekeler said. "I let her know that I was moving up a level as far as the pay bump! It felt great. You can't really put it into words. I'm almost speechless…. She was lost for words, too. She didn't know what to say. She thinks I'm on top of the world (and was saying) it was just a matter of time before the world knew. She's my number one fan and always has been since day one, so you can imagine the emotions."
Ekeler put his name on the map for the Bolts back in 2017 due to the hard work he showed throughout the offseason program and training camp. Specifically, in the third phase of football.
"Austin Ekeler was a pest," special teams coordinator/assistant head coach George Stewart jokingly said of Ekeler about his rookie season. "Every day in my office, saying, 'Coach Stew.' A pest, but you put him on the field and he was very productive. You have to find those guys."
But it was his play in the team's final game of that preseason that literally made the difference.
"What I'm looking for is (players like) Austin Ekeler," head coach Anthony Lynn said in advance of the team's fourth preseason game in 2019. "That's when he made this football team — in this game this Thursday night (two years ago.) I'm looking for guys to step up, make plays like him and change our minds."
Change their minds he did, as Ekeler finished the game with eight carries for 50 yards on the ground, and three receptions for 58 yards through the air.
Since then, Ekeler took advantage of every opportunity he received and never looked back, appearing in 46 games while making 11 starts for the Bolts. His 14 career touchdown catches are the most by an undrafted running back through three seasons since 1967.
But while he feels he's been able to fly "under the radar" over the last couple seasons, he knows those days are over and a "different spotlight" is now upon him.
But make no mistake about it, as you can tell from the offseason workouts he's posting on social media, the kid from Eaton, Colo. is going to continue to work hard and serve as an inspiration for that next generation of undrafted rookies.
Take a look back at the best photos of Austin Ekeler from the 2019 season.