Nick Hardwick's advice to Chargers rookies: Take professional approach

SAN DIEGO -- Former Chargers center Nick Hardwick spoke with first-year players at the team’s rookie transition program this week. Hardwick said his main message to the nearly two dozen rookies in attendance was a simple one: Treat football as a profession.

“You can get after it and you can compete, but if you’re not a professional, you’re flailing,” Hardwick said. “So you have to give direction to the effort, and it has to be a very concerted effort.”

Hardwick offered a detailed plan for success that he used to play 11 years in the NFL, all with the Chargers. That included a workmanlike effort to learning the playbook, eating right, taking care of his body, meditation and financial planning with an eye toward the future.

Hardwick implored rookies to get to know their strengths and weakness, and also told them to live in the moment while being mindful of the future.

And he pointed to a poignant quote offered by former teammate and current Chargers tight end Antonio Gates during his time in the NFL: “You make your habits, and then your habits make you.”

Along with Hardwick, former Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman also addressed the first-year players this week.

“It’s learning how to realize those important details,” Hardwick said. “And then how that works itself down to becoming a success -- not only in football but really in life -- and taking this opportunity seriously.”

Lisa Friel, the NFL’s senior vice president for investigations, also spoke. She is responsible for investigating alleged violations of the league’s personal conduct code.

Friel spent nearly three decades working as an attorney in Manhattan’s sex crimes prosecution unit, and offered that informed perspective to rookies at Chargers Park this week.

“I try to do it like a stoplight,” Friel said. “The red things are the things you know you can’t do, and I don’t need to come out here and tell you those things. And the green things are things you know you can do.

“The problem is there is this yellow area, this risk area. And you need to recognize when you’re in the risk area. And when you are, you need to go back towards the green. Maybe your friends can keep pushing through the yellow, but they don’t have everything to lose that you have to lose.”

Friel also has two sons in their 20s, and uses that life experience to relate to NFL players who are going through similar situations.

“I do a lot of this education the same way I raised my kids,” Friel said. “And I think it comes across to them as coming from a caring place. I’m not from the league saying, ‘Don’t do this.’ I want to keep you as safe as I kept my kids safe.

“And I think that combination as a parent and a professional background gives me the credibility for them to listen to what I’m saying.”

Art McAfee, head of player engagement for the league, was also on hand. McAfee said his focus was on helping young players transition to the NFL.

McAfee said there are 22 mandatory topics the league covers during these rookie orientations, including overviews of league policies, personal development, mental health issues and financial education.

That transition also included the uniqueness of the Chargers relocating from San Diego to the team’s new facility in Costa Mesa, California, over the summer.

“It’s our effort to transition players from the college level to the pro level into a work space, and trying to normalize the process of being an employee as an athlete,” McAfee said.