Brandon Mebane reaches down in his three-point stance, his right hand in the turf while his left flexes with anticipation.
He’s been in this spot before.
In fact, he’s done it 143 times.
Mebane’s been the anchor of a defensive line from the moment he entered the NFL 11 years ago. His first 131 games came in a Seattle Seahawks uniform, while the last 12 have been as a member of the Chargers.
Even though he’s played thousands of snaps against hundreds of players, the same emotions flood over him each time the ball is lifted off the ground into the quarterback’s hands.
It’s go time.
As the man in the middle, nobody plays the game with more physicality than the 6-1, 311-pound nose tackle. He immediately clashes with the opposing center and guard, inspired by one motivating factor – “Be a champion.”
That mindset has guided Mebane on each play of his career
There was never any doubt he’d succeed in the NFL. Mebane’s talents on the football field were well known when the Seahawks made him the 85th overall pick in the second round in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Yet over the years, Mebane has learned to impact the game beyond his play in the trenches. It may not have come as natural as his God-given athletic gifts, but the 32-year old has emerged as one of the premiere leaders in the National Football League. In fact, he was named the Chargers’ Most Inspirational Player during his first year wearing the lightning bolt.
It’s for this very reason that the locker room looks toward Mebane in times of adversity, which they currently find themselves in. A pair of heartbreaking losses at the buzzer have the Bolts in an 0-2 hole with the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town.
It a role he’s worked hard to perfect.
“I only started talking as a leader my fifth year in the league,” he said. “One of my coaches told me it was time to start doing that. I never saw myself as actually talking in front of a group of people. I tried it. I started talking, and it worked. Everybody liked it. So I started doing it more and more. Then I kind of got good at it and put my own spin into it.”
“His leadership qualities are off the chain,” Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith said heading into the 2017 campaign. “Just for a position coach to have that kind of leadership within your room, combined with his playmaking ability from the nose position; it makes my job so much easier. He’s a great guy and an outstanding player. We came here to the Chargers together, and we approached it that way. I couldn’t be happier to have him right now.”
In the locker room and on the field, Mebane’s presence is impossible to miss. That’s especially the case during pregame warmups, when the nose tackle gathers his teammates around, looks them each in the eye and speaks directly from the heart.
“I’m trying to get everybody going and set a mindset,” he said. “I need to let everybody know what’s at stake. What’s our goal? What are we fighting for? We’re fighting for each other. We’re fighting for each other’s families. We want to be champions. That’s the reason we play this game – to be a champion. That’s what I want to be known for when (all is said and done). A champ. I want to always be known as a champ, so that’s what we have at stake.”
Those words resonate with his teammates.
“He always tells us to play like champions,” fellow defensive lineman Damion Square said. “His outlook on things is different than most, and most of the time, he’s right. He’s been around for a long time and played in the big game multiple times. So he’s trying to bring that championship mindset here. He knows what it looks like, and he’s trying to create that environment here.”
For a L.A. native who went to Crenshaw High School, mere blocks from where the future home of the Chargers is currently under construction in Inglewood, it’s a situation he never could have fathomed while growing up.
After all, the respected NFL leader was a shy kid, often too embarrassed to say a word.
“It was *not *natural to speak like this,” he admitted. “It took time. Now, it’s like second nature, but I didn’t grow up being very social. I didn’t talk to a whole lot of people. I was a shy kid growing up. I didn’t talk a lot at all, but I grew out of it.”
While it may not have come naturally, leadership is certainly in Mebane’s genes.
All he has to do is look at his one-year old son, Makai.
“It’s kind of funny because I watch him, and he is exactly like I am now. It’s wild. If you put some music on, he’ll start dancing. If you say anything to him, he’ll react to you. It’s really funny though because I was the total opposite when I was his age.”
Perhaps that’s why Mebane covets his leadership role as much as any of his accomplishments on the field. It’s been a transcendent experience, growing from a small kid who barely opened his mouth into a 32-year old leader and Super Bowl champion.
“It means a lot to be doing it still after all these years,” he surmised. “I’m grateful. I’m thankful for the man upstairs to let me play for 11 years. Every position has a lot of responsibility. I look at mine as one where you have to be responsible at all times. When I see I’ve (inspired) or gotten through, there’s nothing like it.”