One year ago, I wrote ‘90-in-90’, looking at the people behind the players on the Chargers roster. To date, it’s my favorite series I’ve ever written. When it comes to writing, my mantra is ‘write the things you’d want to read.’ Every year, NFL teams have hundreds of kids who have a story worth telling, but are reduced to merely a name and number as they struggle to make it in the brutal environment the NFL produces. 90-in-90 was a chance to tell their story.
I never got to finish 90-in-90, as the workload took its toll, and it flamed out after 43 articles. This year, I knew I wouldn’t have the time to take on 90-in-90 again, but there were stories that still needed to be told.
Let’s tell them.
Austin Roberts - TE, UCLA
Austin is the son of Alfredo Roberts, the RB’s coach on the Chargers currently. Roberts was a WR in High School for Carmel High in Indiana, and his performances there made him a 4* recruit, as well as the second best recruit from Indiana that year.
While in High School, Roberts also ran track, winning the State 100m as a Senior, which you can see here. From an athletic point of view, he might be the most gifted TE on the Chargers roster.
Roberts majored in Political Science, making the Athletic Director’s Academic Honor Roll in both 2014 and 2015, and seems to have his head screwed on.
Off the field, Roberts enjoys yoga, cooking, and fishing.
Fun Fact: Austin Roberts is the cousin of Chiefs WR Chris Conley.
Patrick Afriyie - DE, Colgate
Afriyie played both ways in High School for Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut, with 14 TDs and 11.5 sacks his Senior Year. That performance earned him a spot at Colgate, a Liberal Arts College who compete in the Patriot League in Division 1 FCS Football.
Afriyie racked up a whole host of awards at Colgate, including being named an All-Patriot League First Teamer in 2015, 2016, and 2017, as well as being the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 after a 10 sack season.
His Head Coach had this to say on Afriyie: “He’s a great leader and a great teammate. A lot of times with all of the attention being paid to him, sometimes that can pull a guy away from being a great teammate. Not Pat. He is a great teammate. If you want to sum up Pat, all you have to do is go back to the Cal Poly game. He gets clipped and hurt but stays in the next play. Can’t move, can’t run, and he crawls after the quarterback. Anyone who wants to know about Pat Afriyie, watch that play. That sums him up in how he approaches football and how he approaches life and how he approaches being a captain and how he approaches being a teammate. That’s rare, and I certainly hope he achieves everything that he wants to because he’s got the right drive.”
Tony Brown - CB, Alabama
One of the UDFAs with the most intrigue, Tony Brown was a 5* recruit and the #16 overall ranked player in the nation coming out of Beaumont (Ozen) High School in Texas.
Brown was one of the best athletes in the country for his age group, with a recorded (wind-aided) 100m dash time of 10.37 seconds. That’s quite fast. He went on to represent the USA in the 2013 Pan American Junior Championships, winning the Silver Medal in the 110m hurdles.
At Beaumont (Ozen) High School, his father was the Defensive Co-Ordinator. But while preparing for the season opener, his father suffered a stroke in his office.
“It was like you were watching a movie. I’m looking at my dad and he was always in shape. He lifted with me a lot of times. So to see something like that happen to a guy like my dad, it took me a while to realize that even happened. I’m still grasping it right now. It’s going to be a while for him to get to how he was, but I know, at least, that he’s going to get to how he was.”
Unfortunately, Brown’s father isn’t doing great health wise, and when Hurricane Harvey hit, Alabama sent a private plane to collect him and take him to a safe hotel to stay at.
B.J. Clay - CB, Georgia State University
As a Georgia State fan, I’m absolutely stoked that B.J. Clay is heading to camp with the Chargers. A 2* recruit out of Dacula High School, Georgia, Clay chose to sign with the Georgia State Panthers over Chatanooga. Clay had a nice career there, forming part of a strong CB trio with Chandon Sullivan and Jerome (J.R.) Smith, with 3 interceptions and 10 PBUs in his 46 games.
Growing up, Clay and his family used to feed the hungry every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and his main pre-game ritual is to call his parents before each game.
Clay earned his degree in Psychology in December 2017, and now he’s got a shot to make his mark in Training Camp with the Chargers.
Zachary Crabtree - OT, Oklahoma State
A 3* recruit and a Top-100 recruit in the State of Texas at Mansfield High School, Crabtree committed to Oklahoma State over Texas Tech, Baylor and Washington State, amongst others.
Described as a Team Leader, Crabtree earned First Team All Big 12 honors in 2017 after being named a Second Team All Big 12 in 2016, forming part of an Offensive Line that helped Oklahoma State become the first team in Big 12 history with a 1,000+ yard rusher, a 4,000+ yard passer and two 1,000+ yard receivers.
Crabtree graduated in December 2017 with a Sports Management degree, and in 2017 earned the Vernon Grant Award for ‘Outstanding Leadership, Spirit and Enthusiasm.’
Chris Durant - OL, William & Mary
A three-star letter winner in High School for Oakton High School, Durant had some interest from Penn State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and N.C. State, but received no offers from those schools and ended up playing his football for William and Mary, becoming a dominant force for them at LT.
Durant played basketball in High School, and played soccer until he got to High School. According to him, the coolest thing he’s done for someone else is “I gave two strangers a 45 minute ride after their car broke down and both their phones were dead.” That is awesome, although I suppose the chances of you being murdered are significantly less when you’re a 6’4, 300 lb behemoth of a man.
Something that I find funny is that when asked which 3 people (dead or alive) he could have dinner with, two of his choices were Malcolm X... and DJ Khaled. Quite a range there, Chris.
Marcus Edmond - CB, Clemson
A 3* recruit out of Lower Richland High School and the #16 recruit in South Carolina, Edmond did it all, playing both ways as a QB and CB, with 2,000 yards, 24 TDs and 4 INTs as a Senior - as well as playing Basketball and being a State Champion in the 400m track.
Edmond didn’t see the field as much as he’d have liked at Clemson, appearing in 32 games there but only starting 3 of them. Poised for a starting role in his Senior season in 2017, Edmond suffered an injury that kept him out for the majority of the season. That didn’t stop his parents, however, who continued to make the away trips for Clemson games, even with Edmond out.
That goes back to Edmond’s childhood, where despite both Edmond and his sister playing a plethora of sports all over the country, his parents made sure that they never missed an event - even changing in their car after work because they didn’t have the time to go home first.
Brandon Facyson - CB, Virginia Tech
Facyson has one of the more interesting backstories from this current crop of UDFAs. A 3* recruit out of Northgate High School in Newnan, Georgia, Facyson committed to Virginia Tech, believing it would be the best place to allow him to chase his two dreams simultaneously. Facyson wanted to make the NFL, but he also had a second, equally as important dream - to become a doctor.
As you can imagine, that wouldn’t exactly leave Facyson with a lot of spare time. According to ESPN, “there were the days when time evaporated so quickly, Brandon could hardly catch his breath. He’d pull an all-nighter studying for an exam, then head to practice the following morning without a wink of sleep. He’d run from a four-hour biology lab, hop in his car and drive to practice, an equipment manager meeting him in the parking lot with pads and cleats to save time.”
Injuries derailed Facyson’s time at Virginia Tech, but after graduating with a degree in Biology, the medical redshirt he received gave him the time to receive a second degree, in Sociology.
Facyson will be 24 by the time the Chargers take the field for the first time this season, and whether he’ll be one of the 53 running onto the field that day remains to be seen. If the NFL doesn’t work out - and maybe even if it does - Facyson is looking to take his MCATs, and one day become a Cardiologist.
Zack Golditch - OT, Colorado State
If Zack Golditch makes the Chargers roster, there won’t be a better story anywhere in the NFL.
On the 20th July, 2012, Zack Golditch was getting comfortable in the Century 16 Theater, enjoying a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Twenty minutes into the film, Golditch heard a loud ‘pop’, and felt a pain in his neck.
A bullet fired from the theater opposite had come through the wall, hitting Golditch. 12 people would sadly lose their lives that night, with Golditch one of 70 others injured in the 2012 Aurora Shooting. According to the Denver Post, the bullet was 1/16th of an inch away from hitting his vertebrae; a life-changing injury at best, a fatal one at worst.
While every news channel in the world was discussing the shooting, Golditch was back at school as soon as he’d had stitches put in his neck, lifting weights to make sure he’d be ready to play for Colorado State (where he’d recently committed) in the fall. Approximately 14 hours had passed in the time between Golditch getting shot and Golditch lifting his first weight that afternoon.
Not weeks. Not days. Hours.
Golditch would have a solid career at Colorado State playing all over the Offensive Line, and his play there was more than deserving of a spot on the Chargers roster in Training Camp. It’s too early to say whether or not he has a shot at cracking the opening day 53, but Golditch is without a shadow of a doubt the UDFA I’m rooting hardest for this preseason.
Albert Havili - DE, Eastern Washington
An All-Washington player for Federal Way in High School on both the OL and at LB, Havili was listed in the Top 100 recruits in the State of Washington by the Seattle Times. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Havili still holds the Federal Way record for the Discus - by quite a large margin.
Havili committed to Eastern Washington, where he moved around the field, playing LB in his earlier years before moving to DE for his Junior Year - a knee injury would cost him his entire 2015, but he rebounded strongly to finish his career with 199 tackles, 18.5 for loss and 12 sacks. He’s from Hawaii and majored in Communication Studies.
D’Juan Hines - LB, Houston
Hines has been making noise in Training Camp as a LB, but it’s taken him a long time to find his best position on the football field. Hines was an athlete in High School - and athlete is the perfect way to define Hines, as he competed in the 800m, High Jump and Long Jump in school - but he was most effective as a dual-threat QB, and his performance on the field made him a 3* recruit, eventually committing to Houston.
When Hines joined Houston, coaches couldn’t agree on his position, arguing whether he’d be more effective at WR or Safety. Eventually he was moved to LB, and exploded in his Senior Season, leading the team (and being third in the American Conference) with 110 tackles, and being named to the American All-Conference First Team.
Hines has a Bachelor’s degree in Retail Consumer Science as well as a Master’s degree in Global Retail. If that wasn’t proof enough of his intelligence, Hines was named on the American Conference All-Academic Team in 2013-14, 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Cole Hunt - TE, TCU
A 3* recruit out of El Campo, Texas, Hunt played both ways in High School, being named the AP 3A’s Defensive Player of the Year at the same time as being listed as one of the Top 10 TEs in Texas. While in High School, Hunt was a 4x All-Academic District Selection. He was a member of the National Honor Society, “the nation’s premier organization established to recognize outstanding high school students. More than just an honor roll, NHS serves to recognize those students who have demonstrated excellence in the areas of scholarship, service, leadership, and character.”
That wasn’t all Hunt did in High School, as he was a Junior Ambassador on the Chamber of Commerce, was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and was a member of Interact - which seems to raise money for charitable causes.
Hunt committed to Rice, but transferred to TCU after two seasons at Rice, and rounded up his Senior Season at TCU by being named an Honorable Mention All-Big 12, with seven catches for 63 yards (presumably he was named for his blocking talents, unless the Big 12 had a serious dearth in TE talent that year).
Fun Fact: Hunt shares a birthday with our very own Ruben Gonzalez.
Bijhon Jackson - DT, Arkansas
A 4* recruit from El Dorado High School, Arkansas, Jackson was named the #1 player in the state by ESPN and 247sports Composite Rankings, as well as the #5 DT in the country by 247sports. El Dorado were dominant throughout Jackson’s time there, winning 4 State Championships in 5 seasons.
Jackson committed to Arkansas over Alabama and Ole Miss, but struggled to make much of an impact in his first two seasons as he struggled to get his weight at a point that he felt comfortable with. He picked it up slightly in his last two seasons, with 3.5 sacks and 31 tackles over the two years, but he’ll no doubt feel that he could have contributed more during his time there.
There’s an adorable video of Jackson proposing to his girlfriend during the pregame ceremony on Senior Day:
(She said yes, by the way. It’d be a lot less adorable if she’d said no.)
J.J. Jones: WR, West Georgia
There’s very little information on the internet about Jones, but here’s what we do know: He went to Noxubee County High School, helping them win a 4A State Championship. He was then a walk-on at Itawamba Community College. When he caught his first TD there, he was so shocked he got the ball that he didn’t know whether to celebrate or not.
After Itawamba, he went to West Georgia, but his numbers weren’t overly special. He’s an athletic freak, though - he’s almost definitely the fastest guy on the team now that Kellen Clemens is gone - and his speed will give him a shot to make the roster - although he did not have a great day returning punts on Saturday.
Ben Johnson - TE, Kansas
For a UDFA, there’s quite a lot of hype about Ben Johnson, with a lot of sources labelling him a ‘big sleeper’ after signing with the Chargers.
A 3* recruit out of Basehor-Linwood High School in Kansas, Johnson had 12 TDs and nearly 1,000 yards in his Senior Year. That earned him a scholarship to Kansas, where he was named a two time All-Big 12 TE (an honorable mention in 2015 and second team in 2017), as well as being named to the to the Big 12 Commissioner and KU’s Athletic Director’s Honor Roll in 2014.
Johnson was a multi-sport athlete in High School, competing in basketball (winning a State Championship there) as well as Track and Field (namely the Discus). Like fellow UDFA TE Cole Hunt, Ben Johnson was part of the National Honor Society in College. Johnson graduated Kansas with a degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Anthony Manzo-Lewis: FB, Albany
Manzo-Lewis played DE and TE for St Joseph’s Regional High School in North Arlington, where he helped lead them to three consecutive State Championships. He committed to Albany, where his coaches asked him to move to offense for good, where Manzo-Lewis played FB, TE and H-Back.
Manzo-Lewis left High School weighing 185lb, but played his last season at Albany at 255lb - I wouldn’t want to be a LB in his way when he’s trying to clear a lane. He graduated Albany with a finance degree, and he becomes just the 14th ever Albany player to make an NFL roster - Brian Parker, who the Chargers briefly had on their roster for the 2015 Training Camp is one of the 14, too.
From North Arlington to Albany to Los Angeles isn’t the most conventional path to the NFL - especially for somebody who’s never been further west than Pennsylvania - but Manzo-Lewis could have a real chance to take Derek Watt’s job this summer.
Detrez Newsome - RB, Western Carolina
Detrez Newsome played football for Hoke County High School, but he might have been a little too good for the competition in Raeford, North Carolina. In the season opener against Wilmington Ashley High, Newsome had 402 yards on 20 carries and 6 TDs. Every time Newsome got the ball that game, there was nearly a 1⁄3 chance that he was going to score. He finished that year with over 2,000 yards and 37 TDs, before moving onto Western Carolina.
Newsome dominated there, too, with three straight 1,000 yard seasons, finishing second in Western Carolina history in both rushing yards (3,728) and rushing TDs (37), and is first in Western Carolina history in all-purpose yards (6,969).
I can’t find much personal information about Newsome, so instead, here’s a link to an article describing Newsome as ‘the most underrated RB in College Football.”
Steven Richardson - DL, Minnesota:
A 3* recruit out of Mount Carmel High in Chicago, Illinois, Richardson helped the team to back-to-back State Championships, including one in a dominant Senior Season, in which Richardson racked up 34 tackles for loss and 17 sacks.
Those talents took him to Minnesota, where he had a fine career, finishing with 103 tackles, 29 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. He might only be 5’11, but that’s just a shade smaller than Aaron Donald, who I hear is pretty good at football. And at 295lb with 31 reps on the bench press at his Pro Day, Richardson definitely has the size and strength the Chargers could be looking for in the interior of their defensive line.
Originally, Richardson had wanted to attend Purdue - not for their football, but for their academics, as they’re “a great technology and engineering school.” A 3x Academic All-Conference selection at Minnesota, Richardson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business and Marketing after just 3 1⁄2 years in college.
He’s been described by teammates as a ‘gentle giant’, but with the Chargers lack of depth at DT and Richardson’s ability, he could very well be somebody that makes a lot of noise this Preseason.
Nic Shimonek - QB, Texas Tech
I didn’t think I’d ever be writing about a Texas Tech QB that wasn’t Patrick Mahomes, but here we are.
A 3* recruit from Mildred High School in Corsicana, Texas, Shimonek originally committed to Iowa, but decided to leave the Hawkeyes to walk on at Texas Tech. Backing up Patrick Mahomes meant that he was never going to see the field for any meaningful gametime until his Senior Season, and it’d be fair to say he had an up and down season. After starting the season like a house on fire, he was benched for the final game of the regular season against Texas - although he came into the game late to throw 2 TDs, rescuing the win and taking them to the Birmingham Bowl, where he threw 59 times for 416 yards in a valiant losing effort against South Florida.
When Shimonek joined Texas Tech, he wasn’t getting scholarship money, which meant that his parents had to help him financially through school. That didn’t sit well with Shimonek, and so together with his girlfriend started a furniture restoration business, which did impressively well. (When Shimonek was given a scholarship in 2016, he decided to shut down the business to focus on football).
Shimonek majored in business (unsurprizingly), and has said that he’d like to start a construction company one day. First, though, he’s got a battle in Training Camp to prove that he’s worth a spot on the Practice Squad, if not the main roster.
Shane Tripucka - P, Texas A&M
Punters are people too! How’s this for a Shane Tripucka stat: In his two years as a starting punter for Allen High School in Texas, opposing teams didn’t record a single return yard against his punts.
That got him a place on the team at Texas A&M (co-incidentally, making him a teammate of Drew Kaser), where he did well once Kaser had left, leading the SEC (and ranking second in the NCAA) in net punting, with 43.4 yards per punt.
Far more interesting than punting stats, however, is the athletic bloodline in Tripucka’s family. His father, Chris Tripucka, played football for Boston College. His uncle was Kelly Tripucka, who played in the NBA for 10 years, and was a 2x All-Star. That still doesn’t necessarily make him the best athlete in the family, as Shane’s grandfather was Frank Tripucka.
Frank Tripucka was a CFL, AFL and NFL Quarterback, finding his most success with the Denver Broncos. Tripucka was named an AFL All-Star while in Denver, and performed so well there that not only did he enter the Broncos Hall of Fame, but he also had his #18 jersey retired.
Remember seeing a certain QB in Denver wear #18 recently? Well, Peyton Manning had called Frank Tripucka, telling him that he didn’t want to take the #18 jersey, out of respect for Tripucka’s legacy. Frank Tripucka insisted that Peyton wear the jersey, as ‘he was his kind of Quarterback’, but did have one request for Peyton - that he go out and win a Superbowl.
I don’t like your grandfather, Shane.
Trent Scott - OT, Grambling State
I know very little about Scott, because the place I usually go as a starting point for these is the college website, and Grambling State have written a total of 0 words on Trent Scott, unless they chose to write it in invisible ink.
Scott stands 6’5, 301lb. He runs a 5.36 40 yard dash (meaning a 40 yard sprint is almost certainly the only athletic competition I could ever best him in), had a 26 inch vertical jump, and put up 15 reps on the bench press.
According to Scott: “I’m a kid from a small town. I haven’t had any off the field issues. You going to get a kid that’s going to bust his tail every day trying to earn his spot. I’m going to work hard at everything I do; be competitive and just grind for every second that I’m there.”
I’ll have to take his word for all of that. Be better, Grambling State.
Justice Liggins - WR, Stephen F Austin
It’s a lot easier to write these when there’s nobody else who shares a name with the Chargers player. I’d rather research 100 Justice Liggins article than 1 “Dan Smith” article.
As I’m researching this, I’m realizing that Justice Liggins isn’t actually a current UDFA, as he was with the Colts last preseason before heading to the CFL, but I’ve never written about him before, so let’s do it anyway!
A 2* recruit from John Tyler High School in Texas, Liggins signed with Stephen F Austin, perhaps better known for their basketball than their football. (One of my friends had Stephen F Austin in his March Madness bracket the year they stunned VCU, and you better believe I hear about it at least 200 times every time March rolls around.)
Liggins had an okay career at Stephen F Austin, with 102 catches for 1,166 yards and 8 TDs there (just as a fun comparison, Keenan Allen had 102 catches for 1,393 yards and 6 TDs last year), finishing 31st in program history for receiving yards.
Liggins played in the CFL preseason for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, with 2 catches for 30 yards and a TD. He’ll have a chance to do similar in the NFL this preseason, but in a loaded WR group - one that Liggins is buried in right now - he’ll probably need to have a lot more than two catches if he’s going to stick with the team.