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'He's the Alpha': How Khalil Mack Has Dominated a Decade in the NFL

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You don't make it a decade in the NFL without a heavy dose of talent.

But there also needs to be an undeniable work ethic inside of you, too.

Khalil Mack has plenty of each trait, and both have been on full display as he navigates his 10th NFL season.

"He's the easiest superstar I've ever coached in my life," said Chargers outside linebackers coach Giff Smith. "He's very much a team guy, he's a tough guy, hard worker, holds himself to a high standard, you can coach him hard. He's just a pleasure."

Mack enters Week 8 tied for fourth in the NFL with 7.0 sacks. Among players with that many sacks, he's the only one over the age over 30. And he's older than everyone else on the list by at least three years.

It's been a vintage performance from Mack, a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time First-Team All-Pro who was the league's 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.

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But where does Mack's seemingly never-ending work ethic come from?

The 32-year-old sat at his locker earlier this week and smiled when posed that question.

"It comes from Fort Pierce, Florida, man," Mack said. "Growing up, watching my dad grind and do what he did. The example he set and the way he carried himself every day — whether people knew it or not — my respect came from him.

"That's how I try to carry myself throughout my day," Mack added.

Mack's father, Sandy, worked with various programs over multiple decades that all centered around juvenile detention centers and troubled youth.

"He knew, based on the situations those kids were going through, he wanted to raise us in a manner where we wouldn't end up in those situations," Mack said. "I've carried that [with me]. Still do. The opportunity I have, I just want to make the most of it."

Mack has done just that through his 10 seasons in the league, showing up day-in and day-out.

"He competes in the weight room like he competes on the field," Smith said. "And then when he goes on the field, he's the first in line.

"He's setting the standard and that's what guys see and that's when it's easy to follow a great player, is when they are willing to put others before themselves," Smith added. "He's always leading by example. He's not the most vocal guy, but he's definitely the alpha."

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Mack's dominance was on full display in Week 4 against the Raiders as he notched a whopping 6.0 sacks against his former team.

That mark was a single-game best for both Mack and in Bolts franchise history, and just one off the single-game NFL record.

Mack had been close to getting sacks in each of the first three games but entered that October 1 game with none in his pocket.

Smith said he and Mack had a conversation before the Raiders game and joked that the sacks would come in waves if he simply stuck to his plan.

His performance against the Raiders was more like a tidal wave.

"It takes others to do their job to have that happen," Smith said. "But Khalil is very powerful, he's strong, he's gotten a lot better with his hand usage and he can execute pass rush games.

"But the most elite thing to me about him is he can rush with vision on the quarterback in the pocket. You either got that or you don't," Smith continued. "You can teach the other stuff. That, being able to feel the quarterback, where he's moving up. It's just like a quarterback being able to feel the rush and how to move out, some can do it and some can't do it. He can do that.

"Games like that, he was sitting on a goose egg going into that game. He'd been rushing really well … but I knew it was weighing on him," Smith added. "I think we both had a feeling it was going to come and come in bunches. Now I ain't saying any of us thought it'd be six, but it couldn't happen to a better guy."

Joey Bosa added: "He's one of the best in the world so wasn't really surprising. He'd been close a lot of weeks so it was about time."

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Mack's career sack total surpassed 90 after that game, and it now resides at 91.5 entering Week 8.

Up next? 100 career sacks, something only seven active players have accomplished. If Mack becomes the next player to hit that milestone, he'd be only the 43rd player in NFL history to do so.

"I thought about it after getting those six against the Raiders," Mack said of the century sack mark. "It was, 'Oh, hmm, that's 90.'

"I could get there this year. It's in my thought process," Mack added. "But at the same time, the only think I'm really thinking about is winning games and doing whatever I can to help the team, whether it's from a leadership standpoint or anything else."

As Mack reflected on his NFL career to this point, he used the word "unique" multiple times.

He only played one season of high school football and was passed over by multiple big-name Florida schools and ended up at the University at Buffalo.

He followed Sandy's work ethic to made himself into a first-round pick and hasn't looked back since.

But what Mack is most proud of about his career isn't his sack total or personal accolades, which includes a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's All-Decade Team of the 2010s.

Instead, it's how he's excelled on the field while also finding fulfillment off it with a wife and two sons.

"The path I've taken from being a single young man in this league to being a family man, it's something I take pride in," Mack said.

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Smith first met Mack back in 2012 when Mack was in college and the coach worked for the Bills. Mack's journey, Smith said, fills him with pride.

"I'm more grateful to be around the man than actually the player," Smith said. "I'm very grateful that I got to know Khalil Mack the man. The coaching is fun. Obviously, the better players, the better coach you are, but I'm more grateful for getting to know him on a different level.

"He's an old soul. He likes old R&B, Motown music, so that's a natural connection. He's just a genuine man," Smith added. "You try to teach these young boys how to be men, and I think he represents that. There's going to be good days, there's going to be tough days. But there are not bad days. There's no bad days. There's difficult days, but there's not bad days. I think when you can keep you attitude at that level, life seems to go a little bit better."

Mack will certainly heed that advice as the Chargers sit at 2-4 and get ready for a primetime showdown with the Bears.

The veteran knows the work that lies ahead for the Bolts. But if there's anyone that can rise up and get it done, it's him.

It's what Mack has done his whole career.

"I know the preparation and the time we put in. And just understanding and knowing the game," Mack said. "There's a lot of things we've got to get better at. Look in the mirror and self-reflect.

"It's up to us," Mack added while motioning around the locker room. "It's not up to coaches or anybody else. We have to go out there and play the game the way we expect to play it. We have to hold ourselves accountable and I have to hold myself accountable."

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