Kyle Emanuel played an integral part of four straight FCS Championship teams from 2011-14 as North Dakota State amassed a 58-3 record over his collegiate career.
As he looks around the Chargers locker room following a recent practice, the outside linebacker is befuddled why his first two years with the Bolts have been in stark contrast to his time with the Bison.
“The talent here is ridiculous,” he says matter-of-factly.
However, entering his third year, Emanuel senses the Chargers are primed to turn the page.
First off, he believes bad luck and unfortunate breaks contributed to the team’s record his first two seasons. Yet most of all, it’s the culture change he’s witnessed throughout the offseason program that excites him about the team’s future.
That shift comes directly from a coaching staff with a message resounding among the players.
“(Defensive Coordinator) Gus Bradley has talked a lot about servant leadership,” Emanuel explains with a gleam in his eye. “He talks about if you ask someone to be a leader, they may get all this anxiety thinking that means talking in front of a group and teammates. That it means having the spotlight on you. But no, he explains to be a servant leader. To help everyone else out with no agenda at all. Being a better teammate to everyone else not for your own benefit, but for the benefit of the team.”
Emanuel then shares other messages from the staff, including what Head Coach Anthony Lynn and Strength and Conditioning Coach John Lott have hammered home all spring.
“Accountability is big with them. If we can (rally behind) that mindset of being accountable to one another also, which we are, it (feeds) the culture change. You can see the culture change here. You can sense it. The (servant leader mentality) is feasible for a lot of guys, and we’re buying in. We sense a different sense of urgency in the weight room and on the practice field. That doesn’t mean necessarily we are going to go out and win 12 games, but I like where we are at right now. I like the competitive nature of this team.”
While Emanuel only has two years of NFL ball under his belt, he is actually the longest tenured Chargers linebacker on the roster. At 25 years old, he’s the second oldest. As such, he knows it’s his responsibility to be a conduit between the coaching staff and the other linebackers in the room.
“It’s crazy,” he laughs. “A lot of times I still feel like a young guy, but then I look around the linebacker room and other than Korey Toomer, I’m the oldest guy in there! So I have to be the leader. Younger guys look to the older guys who have been in the room to see how it’s done. That’s what I did when I was a rookie. So I think that’s the role I’m bringing around to this room (in addition to my role) on the field.”
Emanuel’s role between the lines will be both similar and different to what fans have seen in the past. As the OTTO in Bradley’s system, the 6-3, 250-pounder will be asked to do a little bit of everything.
“Gus fits me well. You have to be able to do a little bit of everything at the (OTTO position) under him. You have to be able to rush the passer. You are going to drop into coverage. You are going to have to set the edge in the running game. It’s a little bit of everything, so that’s similar to the same position I played last year. Gus just takes it to another level. You have to be versatile, and that is what I pride myself on being.” Read