The 2021 NFL Draft is officially in the books.
For the Los Angeles Chargers, they've added nine draft picks and agreed to terms with 10 undrafted free agents.
So, now what?
For any rookie in the NFL, now begins the process of getting acclimated to their new careers.
Though, it's still surreal.
"They're taking the opportunity to let it sink in that, 'Hey, I'm a professional athlete,'" mentioned Arthur Hightower, Chargers senior director of player engagement. "Knowing that it's here, those realities happen with every step. They get on a plane, they see the facility, they get a jersey with their name and number on it, they get a helmet. They finally see a teammate they saw on TV last year. Every step becomes a little bit of living a dream so to speak … Right now, it's some kind of nerves mixed with excitement."
Hightower helps lead the rookie development program for this group and also acts as a resource for whatever they need.
"Now they're leaving their nests of their colleges where they're familiar with everything and they're coming to something unfamiliar," he said. "So my biggest thing is to try to make it as familiar to them as possible. Understanding the transition that happens. Little things like knowing their names, walking them around the building where they know where certain things are so they can get some sense of familiarity and similarity so they can compete and play football at the level that they want to."
The club's rookie development program starts next week when the newest members of the Bolts will get their first official taste of life as Chargers for the team's rookie minicamp.
But there's a process as to how much of a feel the coaching staff and front office will get for these players. According to Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, rookie minicamp will help the group get a feel for how these players learn.
Coming off an unprecedented year like 2020, it's more important than ever to treat this onboarding time with a special nuance.
"You have to have a nice process to it," Telesco said. "Especially right now for all these rookies because they haven't done much football since their last college game. We've got to be careful as we kind of ramp them in. But that's what the offseason's about; to get them learning, what they're going to do, learning what it means to be a Charger and when we get to training camp, that's where things start to pick up."
"This is a year unlike any other, so for some of these guys that opted out or even in a COVID year, it was just a different year," added head coach Brandon Staley. "So it's just making sure we're really thorough in onboarding them the right way and I think that's something we're going to take a lot of pride in."
One of the ways Hightower helps this group acclimate is by having the previous year's crop of rookies in on the process.
"The previous year's class helps with the transition because they realized the (class before them) helped them as well," Hightower said. "They were able to play and matriculate as far as football players here, but also, grew as professionals (off the field) … They know they can find a trusted veteran who can help guide them along the way."
But while next week begins a crash course in all-things Chargers, it's the beginning of new opportunities, ones Staley is excited to be part of.
"I think the big thing is not skipping any steps with them," Staley reflected. "What we need to do, is we need to go back with these rookies and get them to truly understand our way of playing. Why we play the way we play and really investing in them the same way we did with our veteran group. So going back to that square one with them and build them the same way we built the veteran group. And then, getting them to know who they're going to be playing with; their teammates, their coaches. Those relationships that are really important … And getting them into a rhythm and routine of how to be a pro."
Check out some of the best photos of the Chargers 2021 Draft Class!
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