The horn buzzes at Jack Hammett Sports Complex, signaling for all players to hop on the bus.
Only this isn’t at the end of practice. Instead, it’s a good 30 minutes after the Bolts called it a day.
Several players are still signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans when from the back field comes a sweat-drenched Craig Mager. He’s spent the past half hour putting in extra work with Adrian Phillips, and the only reason they’re leaving the field is to ensure they make the last bus.
“Just another day,” he says with a wide grin and infectious laugh.
This loose version of Mager is entirely different from the one who took the field last year at Chargers Camp.
That Mager was wound tight, worried about his spot on the roster after appearing in 21 games with 10 starts over his first two seasons. After what he called an up and down preseason, the former third-round pick failed to make the 53-man roster, instead spending the majority of 2017 on the practice squad.
It was a humbling experience for Mager, but one that he’s grateful for.
The 26-year-old has stated how the practice squad was the absolute best thing that could have happened to him as he was able to solely work on his craft. Without having to focus on the opponent or that week’s game plan as much, Mager was able to devote infinitely more time on refining his technique and fundamentals.
“I think I really learned how to be the best me,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s football, so I try to come out here and just be the best me, no matter what the situation is. I focus on my technique and focus on building my confidence, and at the end of the day when it’s my time, I’ll be ready.”
Mager barely takes a breath before continuing his train of thought.
“Last year, I was kind of worried about stuff that I couldn’t control. Now I just worry about the things I can control. How I take care of my body. How I recover. How I work at practice. So it’s a whole new me. Who knows? Maybe it’s the real me. Maybe I finally got back to being myself. I did what it took to get me here.”
The results have been promising.
Mager has been steady and solid over the first two weeks of training camp, which is why he has more confidence than ever before heading into the first preseason game.
“I feel like I’ve had my best training camp so far,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting better every single day. I look at and take every rep like it’s an opportunity. I really feel like I didn’t know how to practice the last few years, and now I feel like I’ve honed in on what it takes to be ready for the game. I feel really good.”
This brand-new Mager has caught the coaches’ attention.
“Craig Mager is a guy that has really caught our eye because he has really taken to the coaching as far as using the techniques,” said Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley. “We're seeing him use his hands more and staying on top. He's having a much better training camp than he did last year."
“Craig is dependable,” added Head Coach Anthony Lynn. “He’s where he’s supposed to be. I like the way he’s executing right now. We’ve seen a lot of growth. He’s a professional.”
Equally important is that his teammates in the backend are singing his praises as well.
“Craig is playing with more confidence, and when you have confidence, you play at a high level,” said Casey Hayward. “That’s what Craig is doing right now. He’s making those plays when the ball comes his way. He’s doing a good (job).”