NFL rookie says hockey made him a tackling machine

NFL rookie says hockey made him a tackling machine

Nick Dzubnar rushed up the middle of the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive line, lunged and grabbed the leg of quarterback Drew Stanton, bringing him down to the grass.

Granted, his natural inclination may have been to put a shoulder into his jaw, knocking him down, forcing a turnover and then preparing to fight one of his teammates in retribution. But this was a San Diego Chargers’ preseason game. It was a field, not a rink. It was football, not hockey. Although Dzubnar believes his time playing the latter has informed his approach to the former.

Dzubnar is an undrafted rookie linebacker from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which isn’t exactly Linebacker U. Nevertheless, he’s the school’s all-time leader in tackles, which is great considering he almost opted to play another sport.

He caught the hockey bug before and during his time at Mission Viejo High in California. He almost considered a junior hockey career, but he followed his father’s path to Cal Poly instead.

Still, Dzubnar said the tools hockey gave him are the foundation for the kind of football player he’s become.

“Physicality was huge. I was always a real physical player. The sport’s a physical game. Guys don’t like to get hit. It’s the same thing in football: If you bring the hit to them, outwork them, outhustle them … a lot of guys, if you throw a puck into the corner, they’re not going to want to get it if you have a guy working his butt off to beat you to that corner,” he told NBC San Diego.

“You gotta protect that puck. You gotta protect your goalie. You gotta protect your teammates. You gotta set the tempo. So a lot of that stuff translated to football, at least work ethic-wise. Hockey set the mentality that I have right now.”

As of now, Dzubnar is one of those preseason darlings that’s playing his way into a role on the Chargers.

And of course, if things don’t work out … well, the Gulls are a thing again.