University of Miami

‘If you want to win, get the U in.’ Chargers banking on UM players for successful 2019

Hurricanes’ Michael Badgley on his game-winning kick

UM's Michael Bagdley ​speaks to the media about his winning kick after the University of Miami defeats Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.
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UM's Michael Bagdley ​speaks to the media about his winning kick after the University of Miami defeats Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.

George Stewart had a big problem, and little time to solve it.

It was Week 6 of the 2018 season, and the Los Angeles Chargers’ special teams coach didn’t have a kicker. At least a healthy one.

Caleb Sturgis (who played two seasons with the Dolphins) had a strained groin and the short-term prognosis was not good.

So Stewart held a midweek tryout.

But Denzel Perryman, the Chargers’ linebacker, didn’t even need to see the candidates put on their cleats.

“I told Stew, ‘If you want to win, get the U in,’” Perryman recalled Wednesday, sitting in the shade after Day 2 of Chargers minicamp.

Not only did Stewart listen — picking Michael Badgley, the ex-Miami Hurricanes specialist, to fill in for Sturgis — but Perryman’s lyrical advice might as well be the Chargers’ 2019 motto.

Badgley (at UM from 2014 to 2017) and Perryman (2011-14) are two of four ex-Miami players on Los Angeles’ offseason roster. The others are wide receiver Travis Benjamin (2008-11) and safety Rayshawn Jenkins (2012-16).

That’s a sizable chunk of L.A.’s 90-man roster. And when they get together, their whole seems greater than the sum of their parts.

The four Hurri-Chargers agreed to sit with a Miami Herald reporter after Los Angeles’ Wednesday minicamp practice — a request many would view as a chore. But this quartet seemed to relish in entertaining themselves — and us.

“All about the U!” quarterback Cardale Jones, who played collegiately at Ohio State, hollered with snark as he passed by the group.

“Get out, Buckeye,” Perryman shot back.

Translation: It’s fine for one Hurricane to rag on another (and they did plenty during our short visit). But not for an outsider — even if he’s now a teammate.

At 29, Benjamin is the oldest of the four — and his Canes comrades wouldn’t let him forget it.

He might also have the most to prove in 2019. The Chargers decided to extend Benjamin’s contract through 2020 this offseason, but unless he improves on his 12 catches from 2018, he probably won’t be around to see that final season.

“I always wanted to play with an elite, Hall of Fame quarterback in [Philip Rivers], and me just having this opportunity to sign back and make this playoff run, Super Bowl run again, I was happy with it,” said Benjamin, who joined the Chargers in 2016 after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Browns.

Benjamin, who said he has “way more unfinished business” after last year’s stat line, has the game to be Rivers’ deep threat. He ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash coming out of college.

Which raises the question: Is he the fastest UM player of the last decade?

“Last century, probably,” he shot back, perhaps joking, perhaps not. Benjamin did concede “there was a couple of fast players,” to come out of UM.

Badgley isn’t one of them — at least using the NFL’s scale. He ran his 40 in five seconds flat, but that’s plenty swift for a kicker.

Plus, he was quick to make the most of his opportunity with the Chargers.

He made all three of his kicks and his seven extra-point attempts in the two games Sturgis was sidelined. That was not enough to keep his job when Sturgis healed up, but Los Angeles decided to stash Badgley on its practice squad as an insurance policy.

Smart move, because Sturgis missed a field goal and two extra points his first week back. He was gone soon thereafter, and Badgley has been the guy ever since. He went on to set four Chargers records in his half season on the active roster, including longest field goal in team history (59 yards) and most field goals in a playoff game (five, against the Ravens).

He was so good last year, the Chargers decided not to sign competition for Badgley this offseason, suggesting he’s the team’s kicker of its present, and perhaps its future.

Does he want to make a career in Orange County, California?

“Yeah man. Why not?” Badgley responded. “I’ve only gotten more comfortable in the year I’ve been here. I came out here in October, and as the year went on, I got comfortable.”

Same goes for Jenkins, who has a chance to start next to Pro Bowl safety Derwin James in the Chargers’ secondary this season. Los Angeles coaches have been impressed with Jenkins’ showing in his position battle with rookie Nasir Adderley.

It would be a huge promotion for Jenkins, who has been almost exclusively a special teams player since the Chargers took him in the fourth round in 2017.

“The main thing is, I got my weight down and so I’m a lot more explosive,” Jenkins said. “I feel like just getting them game reps the last three games of the season last year kind of boosted my confidence and everything, so I’m just trying to hit the ground running.”

So there’s a chance, albeit small, that all four UM players will play major snaps for Los Angeles this year.

But barring injury, there’s a 100 percent chance that Perryman will be the man in the middle. He signed a two-year, $12 million free agent contract in March to remain with the organization that took him in the second round in 2015.

That was a long time ago, so you might not remember that the linebacker-needy Dolphins could have taken Perryman not once, but twice that year. (They passed on him each time, going so far as to trade out of the 47th pick and eventually take the since-departed Jordan Phillips.)

But Perryman, taken by the Chargers with the very next selection, will never forget the slight.

“From all the conversations I had with the coaches from the Miami [local pro day] that they had, I really thought I was going to be a Dolphin,” he recalled. “When they traded down, I’m not saying that I felt some type way, but I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ Then I see the San Diego area code, 858, I picked up the phone and it was like, ‘Hey, Tom Telesco, San Diego Chargers.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’m going coast-to-coast so it can’t be that bad.’”

But you wanted to play for hometown team?

“I mean, it didn’t really matter where I went, to be honest with you, as long as I got picked up,” he replied. “That was a blessing in itself. It would have been nice, but they just kept talking about playing back at home. ‘We’re going to keep you here. We’re going to keep you here.’ Obviously, coming out of college, ‘They’re going to pick me.’ That was my mindset. But I love it where I’m at. This is my new home.”

He might as well be speaking for the whole UM contingent. They were two wins from the Super Bowl last year, and that was with a banged up roster.

With a little luck (and 37-year-old Rivers continuing to defy Father Time), perhaps this is the year they win the championship they never could in Coral Gables.

“It’s like being back in the locker room,” Perryman said. “I’m not going to lie. When Travis got here, I was OK, I feel like I was back in my freshman year, back in my element. And when [Jenkins] got here, I was like, ‘OK, I got another brother on defense.’ I went back to how we used to practice at Greentree. And then when [Badgley] got here, ‘I was like, now it feels like Miami.’”

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