Chargers' Fluker goes from homeless to graduate, NFL starter

Publish date:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) D.J. Fluker had bouts of anger sometimes, wondering how God let him and his family wind up homeless, five people sleeping shoehorned into a car.

The challenges of trying to succeed in football and school - and he valued both - became daunting at times, too.

But the San Diego Chargers' right tackle, pushed by his mother and a series of coaches, managed to parlay a 6-foot-5, 339-pound frame and abundance of talent into a college degree at Alabama and a promising NFL career.

''God just does things to see how tough you are, and that's one of those times you had to be tough,'' Fluker said in a recent phone interview.

''You had no other choice. That really helped us, being able to pray and go to church. That really helped us a lot. Going through those times, I was like, `I don't want to have to do that again, ever.'

''When I did get opportunities to do things that I needed to do, I took full advantage of them.''

It's a message Fluker wants kids to hear. That's why he's made regular visits to Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility in suburban San Diego and visits youth at boxing gyms.

It's also why he's hosting his first football camp Friday in Mobile, Alabama, in another effort to share his message of hard work, faith and encouragement.

Daniel Lee Jesus Fluker has quite a tale to tell of how he came to be a 2013 first-round pick and a 17-game starter as a rookie.

Fluker, his mom Annice, and his three younger siblings spent about a month mostly living out of their Ford Escort when he was an already-massive soon-to-be ninth-grader. Their home in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Normally easygoing and gentle off the field, Fluker remembers a different mind-set at times during this trial: ''Being angry, being mad. You always ask God why? Why did this happen to me?'' he said.

Then, Fluker said, he turned that experience into motivation to succeed.

The Flukers headed to nearby Biloxi, Mississippi, in the storm's aftermath before landing in Mobile, Alabama, where D.J. played defensive line for McGill-Toolen High School for two seasons under coach Steve Savarese.

Fluker's mother ushered him into Savarese's office, and the coach saw a frightened, timid kid who looked more like a graduate than a freshman and shrank back from an attempted hug.

''He was just a ninth-grader and he was so scared,'' Savarese said. ''I'll never forget as long as I live how scared he was. He was frightened. I didn't understand at the time, but I could tell he was real nervous. He was shaking in his seat. I'll never forget it.''

Fluker wound up staying often with Savarese. The coach's wife would do his laundry and his daughter tutored him in English.

When Savarese and his son and son-in-law took Fluker to a buffet, he left with three takeout boxes for his siblings.

''He trusted everyone and he loved people,'' Savarese said. ''He was a magnet. Everybody loved D.J. because he always had a smile on his face. He treated everyone with respect.''

Fluker went back to Biloxi for his junior season before landing at Foley (Alabama) High School at midyear when the trailer they were staying in burned down.

Fluker did have moments of doubts about sticking with football since balancing sport and school is never easy.

''I had a point where I didn't care sometimes,'' he said. ''I was like, man, I can't do it.' We all get burned out trying to make it somewhere. But they just (coaches) kept pushing me. It was like, `If you keep going, you're going to make it.'''

Fluker graduated from Alabama in 3 1/2 years before skipping his senior season to turn pro. He was his family's first college graduate but, it seems, far from the last.

He bought his mother a house after getting his first contract and paid for his sisters to attend private school.

Brother Leon just graduated from college and got married and sister Aerial recently finished Mobile Christian and will attend college on a scholarship. Youngest sister Victoria is still in high school.

''They're all doing pretty well so far,'' Fluker said. ''Everybody's hanging in there.''

He wound up being one of the nation's top recruits after Foley coach Todd Watson suggested he move to offensive line as a senior.

Watson, who remembers Fluker as ''a big ole teddy bear,'' said the player was reluctant to make the move at first. Then he suggested that Fluker watch the NFL draft and compare where left tackles and nose guards were picked.

''He watched that weekend and came back and said, `Coach, I think I'd like to try this left tackle,''' Watson said.


Follow John Zenor on Twitter:


AP NFL website: and