Chargers, USC’s Uchenna Nwosu both feel they hit a home run in NFL draft
When Uchenna Nwosu grew up in Carson, he didn’t have dreams of playing pro football in Los Angeles. He was more comfortable on a basketball court than a football field, and the NFL wasn’t back in Los Angeles yet.
But things change quickly.
The former reluctant football player from Harbor City’s Narbonne High made some history Friday, becoming the first hometown selection of the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL draft.
“It was pretty cool to call him and say, ‘You’re staying home,’ ” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said.
Desperate for help at linebacker, the Chargers took Nwosu in the second round with the No. 48 overall pick, giving the former USC star a chance to play at StubHub Center, near his childhood home.
“It means a lot to be around the people who supported me my whole life, to be able to play right down the street from my parents’ house, where we grew up walking and watching tennis matches and soccer matches my whole life,” Nwosu said. “Playing there, to be home, it just means a lot to me. I’m very grateful for it.”
In his senior season at USC, Nwosu blossomed into a disruptive force in the passing game, recording 9.5 sacks, and deflecting 13 passes.
“I showed them what kind of player I am, you know?” he said. “Just having another year in the system, being comfortable with it, being able to show everything I can do from rushing to covering, to dropping; doing everything … special teams. I just showed I’m a complete package.”
He said he’s most comfortable playing strong-side, outside linebacker, the position where the Chargers started former fifth-round pick Kyle Emanuel last season.
Nwosu was a favorite of the Chargers throughout the draft process and had a strong performance at his pro day. He also visited the Chargers’ facility during local workouts, even though he didn’t participate in drills. Instead, he was able to meet with the coaches, leaving a strong impression.
“We didn’t need him to work out here,” Telesco said, “but the fact that he came over and still wanted to meet with our coaches, spend some time with us, that was pretty neat. We don’t get a lot of one-on-one face time with these prospects. Our time is really limited. … I wouldn’t say that put him over the edge, but at least that confirmed a lot of the things we knew about him.”
Nwosu didn’t get off to the strongest start at USC. After a fight with a teammate before the Holiday Bowl during his freshman season, he was sent home and didn’t re-enroll the following semester.
But Nwosu returned in the fall and began a journey that ended with him being one of the Trojans’ leaders.
“Leadership is everything,” Nwosu said. “It’s how you establish a team, it’s how you win. You’ve got to have leadership, you’ve got have that toughness on the field. Without leadership, your team can’t get anywhere.”
After opening the Anthony Lynn era last season by taking three offensive players, the Chargers used six of their next seven picks on defense, including their first three picks this year.
After taking Nwosu, the Chargers addressed another need in Round 3 by adding North Carolina State defensive tackle Justin Jones. The Chargers were seeking a stout tackle to bolster a line that struggled against the run.
The celebration at Jones’ house was so loud, he had difficulty answering questions during a conference call.
“I think I’m pretty explosive to the ball, pretty strong and definitely just a team player for the most part,” Jones said. “[I’m] just encouraging players and trying to be a team leader and everything; just put forth our best efforts and get the win.”
While some, including Jones, expected the tackle to be picked on Day 3, Telesco said the Chargers saw a player with a good motor and plenty of size.
“Really good size, strength, but he plays really hard,” Telesco said. “You think they would all play hard, but when you’re big, sometimes those guys will take some plays off. This is a guy that doesn’t do that.”
In the final four rounds of the draft Saturday, the Chargers must address needs on offense, including tackle and running back. They also could use a kick returner.
Whoever the team adds, Nwosu will do his part to make them feel at home. After all, the Chargers are playing right near his.
“It’s going to be very surreal,” Nwosu said. “It’s basically my backyard.”
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