Fri, Sep 18, 2015

Coach Praises Botticelli's 'Fight and Determination'

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Photograph by Shana Siler,

San Diego entered the draft with serious questions along the defensive line. And although the team has made some strides to bolster the position recently -- drafting Darius Philon in the sixth round and signing Corey Liuget to a five-year extension -- the position as a whole is still in need of an upgrade.

Looking to provide that punch is Minnesota DT Cameron Botticelli, who signed with the Bolts as an undrafted free agent. Botticelli (6'4", 286 lbs.) comes off an impressive senior season in which he started all 13 games and racked up 29 total tackles, including nine for a loss, and three sacks. He was named the Gophers' Defensive Lineman of the Year and received an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention from the media and coaches.

It was quite a climb for Botticelli, who began his college career as a walk-on after playing linebacker at Marquette University HS. He earned a scholarship and eventually became a starter.

"He's the glue that's kind of held everybody together," said Minnesota defensive line coach Jeff Phelps. "He's a fierce competitor and he's had to battle through everything. I think that fight and determination will carry over into the NFL with the Chargers."

Phelps says Botticelli's determination and wide-ranging skills will serve him well in the NFL.

The linebacker-turned-lineman has experience on special teams, which is rare for a player so productive in the trenches. He can also be used as a fullback in short-yardage situations.

"He's been on the punt team [and done] some kickoff return stuff," Phelps said. "He's a big guy who can move pretty good. When you add that with the limited roster like the NFL carries, those guys are valuable."

Phelps says that versatility is one of Botticelli's greatest assets. It was enough to elicit interest from several NFL teams, so much so that Phelps had no doubt his former pupil would catch on with an NFL team in the event he went undrafted.

"I kind of had an idea that somebody would pick him up, possibly as a free agent," he said.

Another of Botticelli's critical attributes is his toughness.

Phelps remembers one game in particular in which Botticelli injured his elbow.

"I just assumed that he was done for the day," he recalled. "But the trainers came back and said, 'OK, Botticelli's ready to go.' It kind of took me by surprise. They had him taped up, they had put a brace on his arm and he continued to play. But that's just his work ethic, his want, his love of the game."

Botticelli's toughness flows from the neck down.

"He didn't come up with having everything given to him," Phelps said. "He's had to go through some trials and some tribulations and he's had to learn to trust people through the course of new people entering into his life."

Phelps was impressed with Botticelli's maturity from the moment they first sat down to discuss what Botticellu wanted his college experience to be like.

"It was right on the money as far as knowing the chemistry and knowing how things with the team were and how they could get better," he said.

Phelps believes Botticelli's hard work and struggles will help him as he looks to beat the odds and win a spot on San Diego's 53-man roster. He will battle with the like of Philon, Ricardo Mathews, Mitch Unrein and Damion Square for a backup position on the defensive line.

If Botticelli can even claim a spot on the practice squad it will bode well for his future chances with the team, as Kendall Reyes and Mathews are both entering contract years.

"I think he's just a great young man and I'm really excited to see what the future holds for him," Phelps said.

Botticelli is currently working on his master's degree in Youth Development. Phelps believes his protege is well prepared for whatever the future holds, on the field or otherwise.

"He could turn around and be the governor of the state of Minnesota once he's done playing football."

Can Botticelli overcome the odds and win a spot on the active roster? Discuss in the message boards!

Brie Stimson has freelanced for a variety of publications for the last several years, with a recent focus on sports journalism. Although she's not a native of San Diego, the city has quickly become her home. Follow her on Twitter: @BrieStimson

Cameron Botticelli, Chargers, Corey Liuget, Damion Square, Darius Philon, Jeff Phelps, Minnesota, Mitch Unrein, Ricardo Mathews
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