By DJ Sixsmith
The San Diego Chargers have been one of the most difficult teams to figure out in the 2016 NFL season. One thing that’s for certain is that Melvin Ingram has developed into one of the best linebackers in the league. The 27-year-old had 10.5 sacks last year and already has five sacks this year. The 2012 first round pick was an All-SEC player and All-American in college, but overcame many obstacles on his road to becoming a professional football player.
Ingram spoke with CBS Local Sports about growing up in a poor section of North Carolina, playing for Steve Spurrier at the University of South Carolina, battling back from a torn ACL and being a father.
How did you develop such a strong passion for football?
Melvin Ingram: I fell in love with football on April 26, 1989. That was the day I was born. I started playing football as soon as I could. I was always playing football in the yard as a kid. I strapped up a helmet and started playing football as soon as I was old enough to do so.
You grew up in North Carolina and became one of the best high school players in the country. When did you realize you had a chance to turn football into a career?
MI: Those thoughts first began in middle school. That’s when I realized I wanted to get a football scholarship for college. In high school, I realized I had a chance to play the game at the next level.
What has been the greatest challenge in your football journey?
MI: The hardest thing was the school part. I just wanted it to be all about football, but that’s not how it goes. You have to have the grades and you have to be a good student to even go to college. That was a struggle for me, but with time anything can be done. I worked hard in the classroom in order to get a scholarship to South Carolina.
You played for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. What was it like playing for the Old Ball Coach?
MI: It was a pleasure. It was great to play for a coach of that caliber and be recruited by a coach like him. He made those years some of the best years of my life. The whole atmosphere at South Carolina was amazing. USC has the best fans in the country. I really matured as a man at South Carolina.
The San Diego Chargers picked you in the first round in 2011. What memory do you cherish the most from that night?
MI: That night was such a blessing. It was an honor to be drafted in the first round by the Chargers. That night represented a new beginning in my life.
In 2013, you tore your ACL. What was the most valuable part of that setback?
MI: That was a humbling experience. It really helped me learn who I was. You really have to work hard in your rehab. It’s not an easy thing and you really have to mentally lock into the rehab every single day. The rehab will make you question a lot of things in your life, but you have to keep your mind on getting back on the field. Being out of football was tough for me mentally. I didn’t question if I wanted to be a football player because I knew that’s what I’ve wanted since day one. I never wanted to quit. I never wanted to give up. The hardest part was just being away from the game. Rehab was my whole life.
You call yourself the ‘Young Paper Chaser’. Why do you go by that nickname?
MI: It’s a name I created for myself in college. A bunch of my teammates and I created it because it represents a brotherhood. ‘Young Paper Chasers’ are kids who come from the same less fortunate, low-income backgrounds with the same dream of making it big. Everybody does their job for a reason. You do this interview for a reason no matter if you like it or love it.
You grew up in a low-income area of North Carolina. What does it mean to you to be an NFL player after overcoming so much adversity?
MI: It means a lot to me. Nine times out of ten you don’t want to go back to where you came from. You have to work hard to get to where you want to go.
Let’s talk about your charity, Melvin’s Mission. You work with kids in inner cities to get better educational opportunities. What inspired you to get involved with this initiative?
MI: It’s been an amazing experience because I used to be one of those kids. I thank God every day that I got an opportunity to pursue my dream. Without God nothing is possible. I wish I had somebody who could’ve guided me when it came to my education. I’m now trying to pave the way and help these kids.
You recently became a father. What’s the best part of fatherhood?
MI: It’s amazing to be a father. I love being able to put a smile on my son Prince Melvin’s face. I am going to do everything I can to give him what he needs. My dad meant the world to me. My dad is now an angel watching me chase my dream and I think he would be proud of the father I am today.
The San Diego Chargers are filled with big time players besides you. What’s it like playing with Phillip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Joey Bosa?
MI: Phil and Antonio are Hall of Famers. That’s all you need to know. Joey is a great person and he is starting to become a really good player.
Finally, you like to rap from time to time on Twitter. Who are you favorite rappers?
Mi: Gucci Mane, Meek Mill, Jay-Z, Tupac, Rick Ross. I got a whole bunch of guys on my iPhone.
DJ Sixsmith hosts CBS Sports Radio Roundup from 2-6pm. DJ is also a play-by-play announcer who has called games on Fox Sports, ESPN 3 and the Big East Digital Network. Follow DJ on Twitter @DJ_Sixsmith.