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Chargers stay local, draft LA natives Tuipulotu, Henley


AP Sports Writer

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Tom Telesco and Brandon Staley did not need to look far to find the players the Los Angeles Chargers took Friday on the second day of the NFL draft.

Southern California defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu and Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley are Los Angeles natives and took part in the team’s local pro day before the draft.

“Those two guys really took advantage of their opportunity in that setting,” said Staley, who is going into his third season as coach. “I’m from Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, which is a special place for football, but Southern California has taken it to a different level.”

Tuipulotu grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, which is a 20-minute drive from SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, where the Chargers play their home games. Even though he hasn’t played at the stadium, he went to a game last season when the Chargers faced the Seattle Seahawks.

“I was kind of preparing myself to, like, go somewhere far, like the East Coast or something, but I’m happy to stay home,” said Tuipulotu, who was the 54th overall pick.

Henley, the 85th overall pick, grew up in South Central Los Angeles and played at Crenshaw, one of the city’s top high school programs. Henley started his collegiate career at Nevada before he transferred to Washington State. He led the Cougars with 106 tackles last season, earning a first-team selection to the All-Pac-12 team.

Telesco, who is handling his 11th draft as the Chargers’ general manager, and Staley both said Henley’s biggest impact this season might come on special teams, where he played on all four units.

“I think he’s got a lot of ability, but there’s a lot to see and learn in the pro game for an inside linebacker,” Staley said. “We think he’s got a lot of good things to work with and I think he really upgrades our athleticism at that position.”

Tuipulotu was a first-team All-America selection last season after leading the nation in sacks (13 1/2). He was also the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year and was second nationally with 22 tackles for loss.

The 6-foot-3, 266-pound Tuipulotu excels as an edge rusher and will help provide depth alongside Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. Bosa has struggled with injuries throughout his career and missed most of last season with a groin injury.

“He has a lot of the characteristics that we think translate to playing championship defense,” Staley said of Tuipulotu. “He’s really tough and rugged at the point of attack. He’s versatile. He can rush from the outside and from the inside. He has versatility that way. He has the play style that we’re really attracted to.”

Despite having a strong trio with Mack, Bosa and safety Derwin James, the Chargers were ranked 20th in total defense, 21st in points allowed per game and the fifth worst against the run last season.

“To be coming into the league I wanted to learn from the best, and to be learning from Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, that’s crazy,” Tuipulotu said.

It is the first time the Bolts have selected a USC player since 2018, when they took linebacker Uchenna Nwosu.

Los Angeles drafted TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston in the first round.

The Chargers have four selections on Saturday, one in each round.


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