Nicknames can originate from the unlikeliest of places.
For the Chargers' secondary, a college highlight reel sparked the birth of the JackBoyz brand in Los Angeles.
Adrian McDonald entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent cornerback from the University of Houston. He spent the 2016 season on the Chargers' practice squad. When the Bolts defensive backs were in the market for a moniker to match their style of play, "A-Mac" served as motivation.
"[Defensive backs coach Ron Milus] and all the guys, we'd be in the meeting room and we'll have a couple extra minutes and they'll just be like, 'Alright, we're going to watch someone's highlight tape,'" McDonald said. "And then, they turned mine on."
McDonald left Houston as the football program's all-time interceptions leader (17) despite never playing cornerback in high school. His college career was packed with hard hits, forced fumbles and INTs – lots of INTs.
All-Pro safety Adrian Phillips noticed that every time McDonald got a pick, he "threw up the J" with his hands. The Chargers' DBs room was curious.
"He said, 'It's the JackBoyz,'" Phillips explained. "'We're always taking the ball away. If we come in, you know what time it is. You better hold the rock cause we're going to take it away.'
"And we liked it. [Safety] Tre [Boston] was in the room for the first time. Tre was like, 'Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We're going with that – I like that!'"
Phillips said everyone in the secondary was on board with the name, and the mentality that came along with it.
JackBoyz pride themselves on supplying energy for the entire team. They hunt the football. Interceptions result in unapologetic celebrations.
At Houston, McDonald explained that forcing turnovers gave his Cougars teammates a license to "act like you've never been there before." This aligned with Milus' philosophy of the secondary celebrating their accomplishments.
"If you make a play, let's not just throw it to the official and walk back to the huddle," Milus said. "Shoot, let me see it. Let's go!"
McDonald was released by the Chargers in August 2017, but the name he introduced has stuck around for good.
Los Angeles had the league's No. 3 passing defense in '17. Casey Hayward made his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, and Pro Football Focus named him the NFL’s top corner. Trevor Williams, McDonald's former roommate, came in at No. 10 overall on PFF's rankings.
Last season, three members of the Chargers secondary made the Pro Bowl and/or an All-Pro team: cornerback Desmond King, rookie safety Derwin James and Phillips on special teams.
"The thing about having that identity, [you've] got to make plays," Phillips said. "If you're not making plays, they're going to look at you stupid. So now, we kind of just hold ourselves accountable as being the best secondary in the league and that's why we're the JackBoyz."
The personal accolades are the end result of a unit that feeds off of each other's successes. Every turnover – whether it's King's pick-six in Seattle or Williams' 86-yard INT return against San Francisco – ends in a group celebration, similar to what McDonald and Co. did in Houston.
"He brought it out here with us and we're just keeping it alive," Williams said of McDonald.
Chargers rookie linebacker Emeke Egbule first learned about the JackBoyz when he was a freshman at Houston. In 2018, he recalled being an honorary member after snagging an interception.
"It was still a thing when I was there a year ago," Egbule said.
For the better part of the last decade, the Cougars' secondary has featured several undersized, three-star high school prospects including Jaguars cornerback D.J. Hayden, Bengals cornerback William Jackson, safety Trevon Stewart and McDonald.
Houston led the nation in forced turnovers per game in 2013, according to Sports Reference. In 2015 – the season the Cougars beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl – they were third.
The unheralded, opportunistic group of defensive backs helped propel Houston to college football prominence. Phillips called it an honor to bring the JackBoyz to the pros.
"We originated it in the NFL, but we know we weren't the true originators," Phillips said. "So they started it, we just kind of took it to another level."
McDonald recently finished his first semester of graduate school at Texas State University. He's currently a defensive grad assistant on the football team, working with the DBs.
From afar, McDonald said he takes pride in how the name has grown in popularity in L.A.
"You have to have your identity in the room," he said. "Whenever you believe in something, you buy in and you emphasize it, 'Shoot, we're JackBoyz.' [You've] got to live it, and that's in all aspects, not even just on the field."
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