Big Transition for Chargers’ Craig Mager, Kyle Emanuel

Making the transition from college football to the NFL is notoriously difficult.

Many players can’t do it. Some can.

For Chargers’ third-round pick Craig Mager and fifth-round pick Kyle Emanuel, the transition is even more difficult than other rookies.

That’s because both played for “small football” schools, Mager at Texas State and Emanuel at North Dakota State.

Both were outstanding athletes at their respective universities, but the reality is the Sun Belt Conference (Texas State) and the Missouri Valley Football Conference (North Dakota State) are nowhere near the caliber of, say, the SEC or the Pac-12 in football.

Mager and Emanuel are raw. Flashes of talent have been seen here and there at training camp, but so have mistakes—the rookie, downright ugly kind.

It’s a process the two are embracing.

“It’s been a little tough but getting advice from the veterans makes it easier,” Mager said. “They tell you different stuff that they do when they’re out there, help you out, and stuff like that. Guys like Brandon Flowers, Jason Verrett, they’ve been in my ear telling me, ‘do this, do that,’ so that’s really been making the transition a lot easier.”

Though difficult, it’s not uncommon for players outside of college football’s power five conferences to find success in the NFL. While adjusting to the physical speed of the game is a challenge for all rookies, adjusting to the mental speed—particularly the complexity of assignment adjustments at the line of scrimmage—is perhaps the biggest challenge.

Moreover, in addition to making the jump to the NFL, both Mager and Emanuel are playing slightly different positions with the Chargers. Mager, who played outside as a cornerback at Texas State, has worked inside at nickelback during training camp, and Emanuel, a former defensive end in college, is making the transition to outside linebacker.

“It just means I have to prove myself,” Emanuel said when asked about the difficulty of learning a new position while playing at a significantly higher level of football. “There’s always going to be people out there doubting because you do come from a small school, whether you can make the transition or not. It is maybe a little bit bigger transition than the bigger school guys but its something I think I’ve dealt with pretty well so far.”

For the Chargers, Mager and Emanuel are projects with great potential. And like all rookies, they have a long way to go in proving themselves.

But, small school guys already know that.

Otherwise they wouldn’t be here.


–Andrew Burer (TWITTER: @andrewburer)




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