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What a Difference a Year Makes for These Chargers

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A year ago, they were sitting at home, nervous as could be without a clue of what the future held in store.

"I couldn't sleep," said Derwin James. "I was just wondering how my life was going to be. Where I was going to be going."

"I was worried," added Justin Jones. "I wasn't really nervous, just worried about where I was going to go and where I would end up. I wanted it to be the best opportunity."

We're of course talking about last year's rookie class, and can you really blame them for the endless questions running through their brains?

"It was crazy," explained Uchenna Nwosu, who the Bolts selected in last year's second round. "Crazy! Where am I going to go? Who's going to call me? What round am I going to go? What pick am I going to? I'm getting anxious. Everybody's asking me questions. Man, it was just a lot."

Well, what a difference a year makes.

The Chargers owned seven picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, coming away with Derwin James, Uchenna Nwosu, Justin Jones, Kyzir White, Scott Quessenberry, Dylan Cantrell and Justin Jackson. In addition, they added several key undrafted free agents including Detrez Newsome and Trent Scott.

While they were a bundle of nerves this time last year, none of those players could have imagined just how different their lives would be today.

"I'd never even been on this side of the country!" said Jones, who the Bolts took in the third round out of NC State. "It was like going to a new school. You don't know anybody. You're trying to figure them all out and learn their names. After going through everything with everybody, you're drawn together (like brothers). It's how a team should be. This has been the best opportunity of my lifetime. I'm so happy to be here."

Every member of the draft class flashed at times from the moment they arrived at Hoag Performance Center to when their rookie seasons officially ended in January.

Of course, none more so than James, who earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors right off the bat.

"My life is completely different 12 months later from last year," James said. "I'm (seen) at a different standpoint now than I was as a rookie. But I'm not done. I want to continue to grow and continue to get better. I'm not going to dwell on the past and (my success) as a rookie. I want to pick up from there and keep going with my teammates…. It's amazing. This is what makes football so special. You meet different guys from different places, and they all come for one common goal – to win a championship. I'm just happy to be here and do my part."

The NFL Draft really is a dream come true for so many players.

However, that was more the case for Scott Quessenberry than most prospects as last year's fifth-round pick grew up a die-hard Bolts fan.

"There were a lot of nerves and anxiousness, and then when I got the call, it all went away," he said. "It's the best moment of your life. It doesn't matter if you're the first pick or the 250th, it's the best day of your life, for sure. And for me, I could only have ever imagined (the team calling me to be) the Chargers. I'm going to do everything in my power to be here a long time, and play to the best of my ability."

It's an unfortunate reality that many prospects won't hear their name called when the Arizona Cardinals select "Mr. Irrelevant" with the last pick (254th overall) of the draft. In fact, most prospects will end up as undrafted free agents.

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While they'll most likely be disappointed at first, those emotions quickly evaporate when realizing a significant amount of NFL players enter the league in the same fashion. In fact, those joining the Bolts simply need to look around a locker room that already includes Adrian Phillips, Austin Ekeler, Michael Badgley and other successful undrafted players.

Speaking of Badgley, his year-long journey may be the most unique of any second-year Charger. After going undrafted out of Miami, he signed with the Indianapolis Colts, but was let go during final roster cuts as the team boasted the legendary Adam Vinatieri. He remained unemployed until joining the Bolts in October.

The rest is history.

Badgley connected on 15-of-16 regular season kicks, setting a franchise-record for single-season field-goal percentage with at least 15 makes (93.8 percent). He also connected on a 59-yard field goal, which was the longest field goal in franchise history. Then in the Bolts' Wild Card win over the Baltimore Ravens, he rewrote the record books with the most field goals (five) and points (15) in a postseason game in Chargers history.

Clearly, Badgley wouldn't change a thing about his pro career to date.

However, one year ago on the eve of the 2018 NFL Draft, never in his wildest dreams could he have predicted how the next 12 months would play out.

"I was excited," he recalled. "It's one of those things you've been prepping for a long time. It's your time to wait and see what happens. Then obviously you expect things to happen, and then they don't. But you just let it ride and take advantage of the opportunity you get. So it's insane. Thinking about it, it kind of puts things in perspective. Sometimes stuff won't go your way, but you've got to keep going and take advantage of the opportunities that are given to you."

So, what advice does he have for those who'll go undrafted this year?

"Don't let your ego get in the way; take advantage of it."

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