SAN DIEGO — While Chargers fans were seeking out autographs of their favorite players, Tony Wilson was outside the gates of Chargers Park gathering autographs of a different kind.
Wilson was gathering signatures from Chargers fans during one of the team’s practices open to the public, petitioning to keep the team in San Diego.
A Chargers fan, Wilson said the team is more than football to him.
“They (the Chargers) go out they do blood drives, food drives, they go to schools for kids. There’s a lot of the kids that look up to them,” he said. “You’ve got businesses that rely on the Chargers — jobs — so it’s more than football.”
By the time the team’s practice was over, he’d collected at least a couple hundred signatures from fans as they exited the facility.
But while talk of the Chargers possibly leaving for Carson, Calif., new stadiums and expiring contracts of some of the team’s most favorite players goes on outside the hash lines, on the practice fields, it was business as usual for the coaches and players.
“Coach (Mike) McCoy tells us all the time that we can’t control anything that we can’t control and just focus on what we’ve got to do,” said cornerback Craig Mager, one of the team’s newest draft picks. “I really just try to focus on my job and let everything else play out.”
Both Mager and rookie linebacker Denzel Perryman said that separating the outside distractions while performing on the field was something they could already do.
“I learned this in college,” Perryman said. “I just focus on what’s going on in the locker room, just trying to do my job and get the playbook down,” the former University of Miami player and Chargers second round draft pick, said.
During his college time, Perryman said his then-coach Al Golden told him to “ignore the noise and all that other outside stuff.”
“It really doesn’t bother me at all, especially coming from U-M. The outside noise is nothing,” Perryman said.
Mager had faced distractions during his playing time at Texas State, including, he said, the loss of his grandmother and his sisters always trying to get him to do things for them.
“I knew that football was always my out,” Mager said. “I could always go and get on the field and forget about everything at home. Football really helps me out, weed out all of the distractions because when you’re out here all you’re thinking about is football.”
Chargers alum linebacker Billy Ray Smith was on hand Saturday, watching the team’s first practice in full pads.
Smith said there were distractions every year during his 10-year-long football career, but nothing quite as serious as what the team is facing this year, though he doesn’t think it will prove too much for the players.
“When you’re playing this game you have to be able to shut everything out,” he said.
As for the Chargers this season, Smith said he loves the moves general manager Tom Telesco made during the draft, especially with the top pick in running back Melvin Gordon.
“Anytime you can have a running back that can take some of the pressure off Philip (Rivers) I think that makes the offense much, much better, much more dangerous,” Smith said.
The Chargers will host FanFest Aug. 8 at Qualcomm Stadium from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and is free to the public. Their first preseason game at home is Aug. 13 against the Dallas Cowboys.
The story has been corrected since its original posting.