Staying Loose

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This is NFL Rookie Diaries, a series where NFL rookies take you inside their new lives as NFL players. From adjusting to playing the game at its highest level, to learning the locker room culture, to adjusting to life off the field, these rookies tell it like it is. Welcome to the NFL.

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Danny Woodhead was talking a lot of trash, man. If you know Danny, that’s no surprise. He’s always that high-motor guy, laughing and cracking jokes, trying to lighten the mood. We started things out in position groups, so I was there with Danny and the other guys, and I think the thing that surprised me most was how competitive everybody was. I mean, I knew these guys were competitive — this is the NFL — but things were getting serious.

They took the best guys from each group and put them together to go toe-to-toe. Things were about to get real. Keenan Allen was in. Danny got picked, too. But Antonio Gates was the favorite to win.

I didn’t get picked, but I was kind of glad I got left out. It was super competitive, and I was only bowling in the 160s while these guys were throwing strikes left and right. Some of them were rolling high, like in the 240s.

I’m gonna have to step up my game for the next time we have a team bowling event like that.

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From the day I stepped on the campus at Chargers Park, it was like I was one of the guys. There’s no hazing or division in the locker room between vets and rookies. This team has one goal — to win a Super Bowl — and if you’re here to help reach that goal, they welcome you with open arms. You instantly become part of the family.

Whether I’m kicking it at Keenan Allen’s house playing some 2K, hanging out with guys like Melvin Ingram from the other side of the ball or talking football with a Chargers great like LaDainian Tomlinson, it’s been really easy to connect with the rest of the guys.

This is a team in every sense of the word. When the wide receivers go out to dinner as a group, they’ll invite me. It’s not like a “wide receivers only” kind of thing. And the vets? Going in, you kind of think the older guys are gonna keep to themselves. You know, you’re 22 years old — basically a kid in the league — and these guys have families at home and stuff, so you don’t think they’re gonna hang out and connect with the rookies too much.

But that night at the bowling alley, which was only a couple of weeks into training camp, showed me that I was wrong about that. Not only were vets like Danny and Keenan and Gates out there interacting with rookies, they were acting like rookies themselves. They were excited about competing and cracking jokes and energized about everything. Some of those guys went strike-for-strike against each other, and it was like they were a bunch of kids out there, and that attitude is contagious.

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It’s the same way they are on the football field. They keep things loose and they keep things fun, but when it’s time to go to work, they put the time in and get their jobs done. That’s the culture in San Diego.

That night at the bowling alley it really sank in that I was in the right place. Draft night is stressful, but those weeks and months between the draft and the start of training camp are just as nerve-wracking. You never know what’s waiting for you when you step on that field and into that locker room. You can’t help but be nervous, even if you’re confident in your game.

After I didn’t get picked to compete that night at the bowling alley, I just stayed on the side on another lane and kept doing my thing. One of my coaches was watching me, and when I started my last game of the night, he was teasing me, like, “You won’t get a strike … ”

And right when he said that, I did. Then another. Then another! I came out hot. Five frames into that game, I was looking at strike-strike-strike-spare-strike. I was bowling the game of my life.

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Then, as I was stepping up to roll the sixth frame, the lane turned off. Our time was up. Guys were packing up their things, putting their normal shoes back on and getting ready to head out.

I’m not sure who won that night — I think it was Antonio Gates — but I do know one thing: If that lane didn’t turn off after five frames, I would’ve ended up with the best game of the night, and the whole team — coaches included — would’ve been there to see it.

I loved to be challenged. They know how to bowl out in San Diego, so next time coach tells us we’re hitting the bowling alley for a team outing, you can bet I won’t get left out of the competition. I’ll be ready.

Hands Off

Coming into the league as a rookie, you know things are going to be different. This is the NFL. But at the end of the day, it’s still football. It’s still the same game. Until it isn’t.

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