Nearly 30 minutes have passed since practice ended, and Notre Dame’s defensive captains Isaac Rochell and James Onwualu remain tucked away in the corner of the locker room, actively rehashing the day’s work.
Only they aren’t in South Bend, nor part of the team’s veteran leadership.
Instead, the former Golden Domers are rehashing Saturday’s early morning practice during the Chargers’ rookie mini camp. The Bolts drafted Rochell, a 6-4, 280-pound defensive end, in the seventh round while Onwualu, a 6-1, 242-pound outside linebacker, signed as an undrafted free agent.
“I tell people (having him here) is a game changer,” Rochell said. “Just the comfortability of having somebody I’m close with here to decompress after practice and learn the defense with makes it easier.”
“He’s somebody I can rely on just to be honest,” Onwualu added. “We hold each other accountable. We’ve built that (trust) through four years. Having him on the field with me every single snap, I can look at him and he’ll push me to keep on going. We have that bond together we built in college. And like he mentioned, learning the defense could be a steep learning curve. Being able to help each other take that step, which is a difficult thing for a lot of the rookies, definitely helps.”
The pair first met over five years ago during the recruiting process to Notre Dame.
“When I was being recruited they told me, ‘You are going to be great friends with Isaac Rochell,’” Onwualu recalled. “I had just finished up a mission trip, and so did he. We were doing similar things in high school and had similar interests. We became friends early on and got closer throughout college.”
Their relationship grew tighter each season, especially last year as the two served as the team’s only defensive captains during a rocky season in South Bend. After going through those trials and tribulations side-by-side, they trust one another to lean on when times get tough.
As fate would have it, both players were in Manhattan on the final day of the draft. It was only fitting that they celebrated their NFL future together over a home cooked meal Onwualu’s mother cooked at his brother’s apartment.
“I was drafted and left to get something to eat,” Rochell said. “Then he texted me something like, ‘See you in Cali!’ I got super hyped! I called him and he told me he was coming out here, so I was super excited. We were in the same city, so we celebrated together. That’s what’s crazy. We worked out together from our Pro Day until the draft. Every day we were getting together stressed over where we were going to go. Then we end up on the same team. It’s just crazy.”
While Rochell learned his future in the seventh round, Onwualu had a decision to make once the draft ended.
The linebacker didn’t lack for suitors.
In fact, 17 teams contacted him when the draft ended offering him a contract, but there was no doubt in his mind he had to don the lightning bolt. Not only does he believe Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley’s system suits him to a tee, but he also grew up a fan of the team.
“I still have LaDainian Tomlinson’s poster above my bed,” he laughed. “I’ve been a Chargers fan since I was younger. I was a running back growing up, and he was my favorite player. Then I made a visit earlier in the process with the Chargers, and met the coaches. They explained to me where they saw me fit, and I saw an opportunity to help the team. I’m excited to be part of the organization, and help the team as they make the transition to L.A.”