When he was just 15 years old, Craig Mager suddenly had to become the man-of-the-family.
Growing up without a father-figure, Mager had to step up and become a role model for his three younger sisters after his mother died in 2007. After the kids moved in with their maternal grandmother, football became Mager’s refuge at Luling High School in the small town of Luling, Texas, where he was named District 27-3A MVP and honorable mention all-state in 2009.
Following a standout career at Texas State, Mager’s hard work paid off when he was selected by the Chargers in the third round of the NFL Draft last May. Recently, Mager answered a few questions regarding his progress in the NFL and how his upbringing prepared him to handle life in general.
AG: Coming from Texas State to a third-round draft pick in the NFL is quite a jump. What has been the biggest transition for you?
CM: Just mentally knowing your playbook, knowing where your help is at and being aware (of your assignment) in “situational football plays.” You have to know when it’s four-minute situations or two-minute situations — (it’s) a lot more mentally than physically (in the NFL)… there’s not really two-a-days and stuff like that. So it’s a lot more mental reps where you’re connecting the dots as quickly as you can.
AG: I imagine the playbook at this level is a lot different as well. How far are you along in the playbook as the season has just started?
CM: I’m pretty good. I feel like I know all the plays, there’s just some formations that change the calls so you have to know those adjustments on the fly. So I’m still kind of learning those adjustments, but as far as the whole playbook goes, I feel really good about it.
AG: Did you set any goals for yourself as a rookie?
CM: Pretty much just to help this team win any way I can. I’m really trying to develop a special teams spot right now, and I feel like they really like me at a couple of positions.
I want to keep getting better on special teams and continue to learn from Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett at cornerback and study their techniques and learn what makes them successful.
AG: I think every high school football player dreams of playing in the NFL. Now that you have made it to this level, what has been the biggest surprise for you so far?
CM: I’m surprised how I’ve been able to come out here and perform as well as I do. Really, on television you think guys are really, really good, but once you get out here and study them on film everybody is going to have their weaknesses. So you have to make your weaknesses your strong points and maintain it throughout the whole season.
AG: That being said, what do you feel you need to work on?
CM: I’m not going to get beat over the top … I feel like I’m a real conservative, but I can still get better at tackling. I feel like I’m a solid tackler and I can make open-field tackles but the straight technique — it’s a little bit different out here in the NFL (where) the guys are much bigger and faster, so you really have to focus on your technique. Everybody is a good athlete so it’s the technicians that really separate themselves from the pack. I need to continue to get better at my technique and get better every day.
AG: How did the unfortunate circumstances you had to deal with as a teenager prepare you for life in the NFL, if it did at all?
CM: At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve been through one of the hardest times that anyone could ever go through at my age — so I feel like I can handle anything the world, the NFL or life in general can throw at me.
AG: So your mother dies when you’re 15, then your high school coach dies and just last year your grandmother passes away. Is there someone you trust that you can go to for advice regarding the issues that are bound to happen now that you’ve reached this level at your age?
CM: I go to my aunt, my mom’s sister. She’s actually had a rough life too after losing my mom, her mom and she actually lost another sister 10 years earlier — so I feel she’s just like me. I can call her if I ever need anything. She helps me out with everything and tells me the dos and don’ts in life. She’s definitely my rock.
The Endzone: An All-Sun Belt and All-WAC player for the Bobcats, Mager finished his collegiate career with eight interceptions, 211 tackles, 47 passes defensed, 9.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
When asked his thoughts when he saw his first NFL check Mager said, “It was just a blessing because at the end of the day, everybody in the world would want to be in my position and I’m just trying not to take it for granted and I continue to thank the Lord for my blessings.”