Chargers ILB Nick Dzubnar likes to hustle.
Actually, "out-hustle" is more appropriate. The former Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustang wants to get there first. He wants to beat you.
He credits that physicality and relentlessness to his time playing ice hockey, which he did seriously right up until he went to college.
"It came down to if I wanted to pursue hockey or pursue football," Dzubnar said after a recent practice at Chargers Park. "With hockey, you've got to go to the East Coast, to Canada, if you want to take it seriously. I blame it on my dad. I don't think he was ready to let me go yet. I decided to stick with football and go to Cal Poly."
Dzubnar's dad graduated from Cal Poly, and his grandparents live there. They had plenty to be proud of, as Dzubnar was the team's leading tackler the last three seasons and set a new school record as a senior for tackles in a single season (167).
"It's just the way my dad raised me, to be a hard worker, out-hustle people, beat everyone to everything -- related to hockey, but I transferred it to football," Dzubnar said. "It was able to help me succeed, especially in college."
As an undrafted rookie, Dzubnar now has the challenge of using limited reps to find a way to stand out in the NFL. He notched a sack against the Cardinals in the second preseason game while working with the second unit and now looks to build upon that before the regular season starts.
"It's a rollercoaster," Dzubnar admitted. "You gotta come out here, you gotta make a name for yourself. You go from being the top guy at your college to an undrafted rookie to not knowing the defense, not knowing the system, not knowing these guys. You gotta get really comfortable and listen to the vets, listen to the coaches. Thankfully, these veteran linebackers have been so helpful and super encouraging."
His fellow teammates have noticed his motor.
"Nick is a young guy, just trying to run around and hit somebody," linebacker Donald Butler said. "I think looking at the young guys, that’s what you want to see. High energy guy, high effort guy. He's picking up the system fairly fast, which is always good for a young guy. Really he's just a sponge, trying to get as much knowledge as he can."
No opportunity is too small when you're trying to show your value. Case in point: Reps on the scout team.
"If you're doing a scout team, special teams practice and you're not even the starter, but you're the guy going against the starter -- Well, I'm going to do my best to embarrass the starter," Dzubnar said. "I'm going to show them my work ethic and how hard I work."
Whether it's an ice rink or a football field, Dzubnar isn't backing down.