Even by an undrafted free agent’s standards, Nick Dzubnar knows he was the longest of long shots to make the Chargers last season.
In fact, the inside linebacker believes he was the only person who truly thought he had a chance. While others may have been surprised when he earned a spot on the roster, he merely accomplished what he expected all along.
Not only did Dzubnar make the Bolts out of tiny Cal Poly- San Luis Obispo, he thrived as he led San Diego with 13 special teams tackles.
Now, the underdog is vying for an even bigger role in year two.
“Being undrafted from a smaller school, I know I beat whatever long odds it was to get here. But I think obviously I should have gotten picked up or drafted late. I definitely feel like I’ve overcome a lot to get here, and going into this year, I hope I get my chance on defense. I was frustrated as the year went on to not get (more snaps), but that is just my competitive nature. It’s what got me where I am today, and I’m not going to let up. If you prove you are a nitty-gritty player that grinds, the coaches will find a spot for you.”
A native of Mission Viejo, Dzubnar certainly has the chops to help on defense. He left Cal Poly as the second-leading tackler in school history with 414 tackles, including a single-season record 167 as a senior.
In fact, although he felt like he belonged on the Bolts all along, one preseason game confirmed he had what it takes to play in the NFL. Dzubnar recorded seven tackles and one sack against the Arizona Cardinals, stating his case in resounding fashion. He actually finished the preseason with 25 tackles, which were the second most in the NFL among all rookies.
While Dzubnar aims to make his mark on defense in 2016, he refuses to let that come at the expense of his special teams prowess. Pacing the unit in tackles is something the 6-1, 240-pounder looks to repeat in year two.
“That was a big deal for me. Anything I do, I want to lead in whatever stat I can. If it’s on defense, I want to lead it in tackles. If it is on special teams, I want to lead it in tackles. It’s just the underdog mentality to take advantage of whatever snaps I get. So if they have me out there playing special teams, I am going to be the best special teams player I can be. I absolutely take pride in being a special teamer. Do I want to be a defensive player? Absolutely. Can I be both? Absolutely. My goal is to be both.”
Perhaps most remarkable, Dzubnar barely played the third phase of the ball until he landed in America’s Finest City.
“All special teams is is a dog fight on every single play,” he said. “That’s something I pride myself on. Physically outworking the other guy and trying to pretty much just beat him up. I hadn’t done it since my second year of college once I became a true starter. I knew I’d always be good at it just because of my mentality and the way I play, but this is the first time I’ve really played it. And I think I excel at it.”
Even though Dzubnar played in all 16 games a year ago, he doesn’t take his future for granted. If anything, he’s more driven than ever to prove his worth, believing a season in the system sets him up for greater success.
“I have the same mentality, but the level of comfort is completely different. Last year at this time I wasn’t comfortable at all. I was just trying to grind it out and get through it. Going into my second year, I’m still hungry and still physically and mentally competitive in everything I do. But the level of comfort in knowing the defense, and what it’s like to go through this again, it’s a big deal.”