It wasn’t love at first sight for Isaac Rochell.
He hated football.
“I was terrible at it and used to cry before every practice because I hated it so much,” Rochell said in a phone interview.
Rochell, a Texas native who moved to McDonough, Ga., when he was a child, started playing football in sixth grade. He admitted he wasn’t very good early on.
“I was always at the bottom of the totem pole when it came to football ability.”
Despite loathing the sport, Rochelle’s father told him to stick with it, and he got better and better as the years went on.
Football began to grow on him as he got bigger and developed his skills, and it was in 10th grade when Rochell’s love for football started to manifest.
“I switched schools to a school that emphasizes football a lot,” Rochell said. “I went there for basketball. Then the football coach convinced me to take it seriously, and I fell in love with it.”
Rochell said it was a “natural process.” As he progressed, he put more and more time into it.
“It kind of became eat, breathe, sleep football, and I love it,” he said.
Fast forward a few years later, and Rochell ranked 139th overall on ESPN’s top 300 recruit list in 2013. He was recruited by Notre Dame.
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Rochell appeared in 11 games as a true freshman for the Fighting Irish, but his sophomore year was when he started to make a bigger impact. According to College Football Statistics, Rochell started all 13 games on the defensive line, finishing the season with 39 total tackles (including 7.5 tackles for loss) and 2.5 sacks. He also notched 10 quarterback hurries, broke up three passes and blocked one field goal.
He continued that success in his final two seasons at Notre Dame, racking up 119 total tackles, including 14.5 tackles for loss, and 17 quarterback hurries. Rochell was also named team captain his senior year.
Rochell was a durable lineman who played in over 83 percent of his team’s defensive snaps over the last three seasons. Not only was he busy on the football field, but he succeeded off the field as well, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science.
Above all, Notre Dame taught Rochell how to carry himself in both winning and losing situations.
“I think in every situation you have to be a champion, and you have to be somebody that carries yourself in a certain way,” Rochell said. “I’ve been on a 10-3 Notre Dame team that went to the Fiesta Bowl, and I’ve been on a 4-8 Notre Dame team that didn’t go to a bowl game. But in both of those situations, you have to carry yourself and be a certain player.
“It’s just the Notre Dame way; it’s how we operate. We’re always going to work hard, we’re always going to have a good attitude and we’re always going to be champions.”
Then came one of the most exciting but stressful times in his life: The 2017 NFL Draft.
Rochell traveled to New York to watch the draft. He was anxious watching the clock, so when the fourth round came along, he ended up walking around the city to pass the time by.
He made it back to the 40/40 Club, a sports bar and lounge co-owned by hip-hop artist Jay Z, where he watched the final round with family and friends. With time running out, Rochell’s phone rang; it was Chargers general manager Tom Telesco on the other end.
Rochell officially became a Los Angeles Charger.
“It’s unreal,” Rochell said. “It’s what you dream about.”
It didn’t matter that he was a seventh-round pick. He made it to the NFL, and he felt relieved getting his name called.
“Some guys look down on the idea that they went late, some guys would rather go undrafted,” he said. “But for me, this is a blessing and an opportunity and a privilege to be able to get drafted and picked by a team like that.”
At 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, Rochell is a powerful player who prides himself on his ability to line up all over the formation.
“I think versatility is definitely the biggest thing,” Rochell said. “I talked to the D-line coach (Giff Smith) a little bit, and I think they’re really going to try and use me in a lot of different ways. For my size, I create a lot of mismatches.”
He also acknowledged what he needs to work on.
“I think I need to continue to develop my pass rush. That’s the big thing I’m going to focus on.”
The Chargers have a lot of talent on the defensive line, one that features Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but the position could use more depth. Like most players, Rochell faces an uphill battle to earn a roster spot, but he’s a passionate player with a great work ethic who’s ready to compete.
“They’re getting a guy who’s going to adapt to whatever situation he’s in,” Rochell said, “and a guy who’s going to come in and work extremely hard for the franchise that he’s a part of.”