Despite only knowing each other for a little over a month and coming from different cities and walks of life, the Chargers rookies have been bonded by football.
While the game they live and breathe is usually the glue that holds them together, the rookies were bonded by life off of the field during their three-day Rookie Transition Program.
“It’s been a great opportunity for us to have former players and guest speakers come in and talk to us about a variety of different topics whether it’s about our transition from college to the pros or the social aspect of life,” fullback Derek Watt said. “It’s a wide spectrum but we’ve had some phenomenal speakers who have been awesome to hear from and a lot to learn.”
“It’s been going well,” added guard Donavon Clark. “Especially with the guys coming in to talk to us whether they are veterans who have played the game or guys who have done other things in their lives. It’s been great to hear everyone else’s stories and I also think it helps our rookie class get closer.”
Along with guest speakers, the league-mandated program discussed important off-field topics and potential pitfalls that may arise in the NFL. For the first time ever, the program was held at Chargers Park and was inclusive for both drafted and undrafted rookies, which NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said was integral for building camaraderie.
“We felt like it was in the best interest of the clubs, first and foremost for the general manager and head coach, but also beneficial for the players and not separating the drafted from the undrafted,” Vincent said. “We’re capturing 100% of your population, all of your new rookies, and 55-65% of that group, the undrafted, will be on a roster this year. It was important to localize it. For the Chargers, the resources are local, the networks are local and your issues are local. Being able to facilitate a local (group) when everyone is included, it’s in the best interest of the club and the player.”
“It’s great to have everyone here,” added Watt. “It’s good to stay with our group. We have good chemistry already, but we’re learning more and more about our teammates (by doing) some small group discussions as well. Hearing stories and backgrounds (from) the guys has been good for our chemistry.”
From discussing topics like character to workplace respect, and hearing from speakers like former Charger Shawne Merriman to former NBA player Keyon Dooling, it was hard for some players to pick one moment that stood out. Yet for undrafted fullback Chris Swain, one of the week’s most intense topics had an impact on him.
“Personally, it’s been the sexual assault and domestic violence seminar,” he said. “Coming from the Naval Academy, that was a big topic so to hear conversations with other people and people who have been through it was big for me.”
As Watt mentioned, the rookies were able to break down into smaller discussion groups after almost every seminar; something Vincent believes proved beneficial for tackling daunting subject material.
“Having 255 guys after a speaker finishes and you ask, ‘Are there any questions?’ Not a hand goes up. But with 26 rookies, we can break them off into small groups and (questions happen). You can tell somebody has experienced that or knows someone who has experienced that and then they can go down the hall and talk about it. That’s healthy and this is where you bond. This is where those lifetime relationships can occur when you start sharing the similarities about real life experiences and working through them together.”
While the rookies are off until training camp, they’re walking away from the week empowered and knowledgeable, not only about themselves, but about one another.
“With all this, I’ve been taking notes and writing it all down so hopefully that will help me with my rookie season just making great decisions and living with no regrets,” Swain said.
“(I’m taking away) knowledge and wisdom from people who have done it or been in our shoes,” added Watt. “Keyon Dooling from the NBA came in and we got another perspective from a professional athlete. They’ve been through it, they know what it’s like, they know issues guys have had and things to do and not to do and it’s been great to hear what they have to say, learn from that, and not make the same mistakes they’ve seen.”