Mike Bercovici knows it's a rare blessing to get even one crack at playing in the NFL let alone a second chance. Yet here the quarterback is once again, under center at practice for the Los Angeles Chargers for the second straight offseason.
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State last year, "Berco" turned heads during training camp and early in the preseason. He started off with a bang, completing 12 of 19 passes (63.2 percent) over his first two exhibition games for 154 yards. His top performance came in the second game against the Cardinals when he amassed a 94.4 passer-rating while leading the Bolts on a pair of scoring drives.
"There is no substitute for game reps," he said. "Getting that under my belt built my confidence. I'm hoping to get reps this year as well. I was thrown into the fire, and it was an awesome experience. It's something I can really build on for next year. Mentally, this time it's completely different. There are things I know I can control and things I can't. Honestly, in year two I feel more like a football player. It's fun, and I'm really enjoying being back with the same offensive coordinator and in the same QB room."
Unfortunately, Bercovici struggled over the final two games last preseason, completing 12 of 25 passes (48 percent) for 142 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions and two fumbles while being sacked four times. Two days following the preseason finale, the Bolts waived Berco during the final roster reduction.
The hurt of not making the team remains fresh nearly nine months later.
"It was heartbreaking. To get so close to something you wanted your whole entire life, and to be in the right system around the right guys; it was obviously disappointing. But when I got that phone call to come back, (all those factors) are what really made it exciting to come back and pick up where I left off."
Bercovici had workouts for four teams after being let go by the Bolts, but nothing came to fruition. Back at Arizona State, where he threw for 5,332 yards and 42 touchdowns over a standout four-year career, the QB continued to stay in shape with a regimented program. He texted back and forth with Philip Rivers a couple times while keeping track of the team's fortunes.
At the same time, the Los Angeles native relived his emotional journey each week as the star of the NFL Network show, "Undrafted".
"It was actually very rewarding throughout the football season to watch that. Every Tuesday night my girlfriend or my family would come over and we'd watch it. It made me realize how grateful I was to have had the opportunity to play in the NFL however long it may be. Obviously it's a little bit of a heartbreaking story (to not make it in the end). It made me relive some memories that maybe I didn't want to, but they did an amazing job with it."
Finally, he got the call he'd been hoping for as the Chargers signed him to a reserve-futures contract shortly after the 2016 campaign came to an end. While last year's story ended in disappointment, Berco is focused on flipping this year's script to a happy ending.
"I was extremely grateful to get that phone call to come back because I knew this is the place I wanted to be," he explained. "I think the biggest thing is consistency. I need to prove to them I can make all the throws. I want to prove I can manage the offense at a high level and make all the throws, but also be a leader on the field and command the offense. I remember in college, in year two you speak the language of the offense. The opportunity to come back to (Offensive Coordinator) Ken Whisenhunt's offense is huge, and will play a big factor. I think I can be a better version of myself coming back here."