As the second night of the 2019 NFL Draft unfolded April 26 in Nashville, Nasir Adderley sat 800 miles away in Philadelphia waiting for his dreams to come true. A crowd of family and friends joined the 22-year-old at a rented venue to watch as players’ names were called aloud on live TV, celebrating as a group when the Los Angeles Chargers picked Nasir 60th overall in the first round.
“We all watched it together, and it was a really special moment for my family and people close to me to share that experience with me,” he says.
When the Chargers announced Adderley’s name, the Philadelphia native joined former Blue Hen Joe Flacco as one of the highest-drafted players from the University of Delaware, the highest-drafted player from the university since 2008 and the highest-drafted defensive player the school has ever seen.
But before he flew across the country to play for the Chargers, before he earned FCS All-American honors at UD and even before starting for four years as a Blue Hen, Adderly had spent most of his life laser-focused on learning important lessons and knocking down obstacles to achieve his dream.
Adderley’s first and most influential football inspiration was his grandfather, Nelson Adderley, who played for Ohio State and went on to have a career in the Canadian Football League. The elder Adderley recognized his grandson’s competitiveness and energy, and steered him toward football at an early age. “I was really active as a kid, running around a whole lot, playing basketball and football,” Nasir says. “I was kind of wild and jumping all over the place, so my mom and my grandfather thought it’d be a good idea for me.”
Nasir’s mother, Ria, raised him and his little sister in Philadelphia, often changing neighborhoods to give her children more opportunities. “I give the credit to my mom,” he says. “She always found a way. That’s why we moved around a lot. Financially, the situation is not the easiest on a single mother of two.
“Growing up in Philadelphia with my mom, she really did a great job in trying to put us in the safest neighborhoods and keep us away from any of the trouble,” Nasir says. “It gives me a reminder of why I’m doing this, why I’m working so hard, because it wasn’t easy growing up in Philadelphia.”
Nasir never knew his father, so Nelson became a vital figure in his grandson’s development, encouraging him to join a local church football team and teaching him off-the-field lessons.
“That shaped me into the man I am today,” Nasir says.
Nelson died June 28, 2008, when Nasir was in middle school. He later tattooed the date on his arm to remind him of the strong connection with his late grandfather.
As Nasir entered Great Valley High School in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, he reached out to a family member with a strong NFL legacy. Herb Adderley, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys and 1980 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee defensive back, immediately recognized Nasir’s talent. Though they were generations removed (Herb is Nelson’s cousin), the two bonded.
“I talk to him all the time on the phone,” Nasir says. Herb gave Nasir a list of 25 ideals to keep in mind during his football career. “It was little pointers, just about life, being a good man, what I need to do on the field and to listen to coaches lecturing me every day. He is feeding me knowledge all the time when we talk.”
When it came time to decide on a college, Nasir went with UD, citing its kindness and willingness to take a chance on him. Nasir settled on the Blue Hens a month before Signing Day, when the top recruits in the country commit to their college of choice.
“It was clear that they had a lot of interest in me, not only as a football player, but as a person,” Nasir says. “You could just tell they cared about you, your well-being as a person, and that it’s going to be a family, you know what I mean? So that’s what drew me toward Delaware, because everyone is just so kind to one another, but at the same time, about that business and going to chase a goal.”
During his college transition, he followed Herb’s advice—and legacy—and switched to playing cornerback and safety. He earned a starting spot on the Blue Hens his freshmen year despite having little experience at the position. He started the whole season, leading the defensive backs with 58 tackles.
Despite Nasir’s success and growth as a defensive player, the team won just eight games during his first two seasons, and it hadn’t seen a Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearance since 2010. The university fired the head coach during Nasir’s sophomore year.
Danny Rocco came on as head coach in 2017, bringing along defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Chris Cosh. “They helped me out on and off the field,” Nasir says. With the transition in coaching staff, Nasir thought about transitioning himself to the position at which he’d be eventually drafted—safety.
Under Rocco and Cosh, Nasir and his teammates propelled the Blue Hens back to the FCS playoffs, and the team went on to win 14 games after Nasir switched positions. All the time on the field in various positions proved invaluable to Nasir’s goal of becoming a well-rounded, detail-oriented competitor.
“I was able to play four years as a starter at Delaware, and that helped me a lot with my experience,” Nasir says. “Especially in the NFL, you have to be very detailed when it comes to just knowing your playbook and knowing what the offense is trying to do with you.”
During his junior and senior years at UD, Nasir intercepted nine passes, leading the team his junior year with 42 solo tackles and 87 more tackles as a senior. He earned All-CAA honors his junior year and FCS All-American during his senior season. To cap off his stats, he made an ESPN SportsCenter highlight with a 92-yard kick return touchdown.
However, his proudest moments during his UD career came from connecting with his teammates and bringing a winning culture to the Blue Hens. “It was just a great ride,” he says. “We just had a lot of fun, and really enjoyed it.”
Nasir was invited to the Senior Bowl, impressing NFL scouts enough to be projected as a top safety prospect in the 2019 draft, which ultimately proved correct.
Nasir says he takes pride in maintaining close ties to family in Philadelphia and his school in Delaware, even spending his first NFL paycheck on a trip for his mom to visit him in California. But traveling to L.A. has opened a new chapter. “I’ve become pretty good at adapting to any given situation,” Nasir says. “I’m locked in on my role and what I’m supposed to do in the game.”
While Nasir shone during the NFL preseason with his first career interception against the San Francisco 49ers, a hamstring injury followed him from the off-season and put him on the injured reserve list after Week 4 of the NFL season. Nasir played a limited role on special teams before the coaches opted to sideline him to keep him healthy for next season. (Chargers head coach Anthony Lynch referred to Nasir’s first year as a “redshirt” season.)
This year, the Chargers are set to move into a new stadium that can hold 70,000—more than four times the size of the college stadium where Nasir’s career began. He can’t help but note the huge crowd at the beginning of games, he says, “but as soon as I cross the line, I don’t think about it ever again.”
Coming back from an injury in the Chargers’ new home gives Nasir the perfect opportunity to prove himself. “I always wanted to be great at what I do,” he says. “It’s always been about getting here and playing at a high level, so that is my focus. I’ve got people counting on me.”