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Opportunity for Sean Chandler comes from hard knocks

New York Giants defensive back Sean Chandler #36

New York Giants defensive back Sean Chandler #36 drops back into pass coverage against the Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey on August 9th 2018. Credit: Daniel De Mato

Sean Chandler has been trying to prove himself from the day he was born.

“I feel like ever since I’ve been alive I’ve had a chip on my shoulder,” the Giants’ rookie safety said this past week. “I always have the motivation to keep going hard. I feel like coming from humble beginnings, not just in football but in life, it gave me that chip on my shoulder. Just to go after everything I ever wanted, and that’s to be in the NFL.”

Chandler was homeless for most of his life. He grew up with his mother and two siblings in the Camden, New Jersey area, bouncing around from shelter to shelter and from relative to relative, and occasionally spending nights sleeping on the street.

It was a difficult way to grow up, but Chandler said his mom helped shield him from a lot of the realities that the family faced every day.

“I was just being a kid,” he said. “I had a fun childhood. It wasn’t really agonizing, but as I got older and saw the things I came from and how I overcame them . . . I was like, ‘Dang, I really did that.’

“We always had something to eat and things like that,” he continued. “She just allowed me to be a kid. My mind wasn’t on being outside and things like that. I would always be outside playing. When I was outside, I was outside playing. It was things like that.”

Now he’s outside playing in the NFL for the Giants. And on Sunday, he’ll probably get a chance to do more of that than he ever has before.

With starting safety Landon Collins out for the season, Chandler figures to be one of the players called upon to help pick up the slack in terms of snap counts and production. He already has seen an uptick in his playing time in the last few weeks — with Collins in and out of the lineup, he played a season-high 21 defensive downs against the Bears last Sunday — but now there should be even more opportunities for the undrafted rookie to make his mark.

He may or may not start — the Giants likely will have Michael Thomas step into that role — but Chandler will be used extensively. And if he makes the most of it, it could mean sticking around with the Giants past this season and being able to set down roots on the roster.

“He’ll have an opportunity to get more snaps here down the stretch,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “I’m excited for him for that and to see if some of the work that he’s put in over the last five to six months can lead to him playing well and earning a role here for us down the stretch.”

That’s something he was never really able to do as a kid. To be able to do it in the NFL would be special. To be able to do it with the Giants, the team he grew up rooting for, would be almost magical.

The door to Chandler’s future first opened when he earned a scholarship to play football at Temple. He knew that would give him a chance to do one of two things. He would either earn a college degree, which he felt confident would lead to a steady and decent-paying job, or he would make it to the NFL. “Which is also a good-paying job,” he said.

“I knew that was a way out and I would be able to move my mom out of the circumstances she was living in,” he said.

After four years at Temple, he was given a chance to do that. He was not drafted, but the Giants called and offered him a free-agent contract.

It’s a path that often results in heartbreak and disappointment, and Chandler showed up at the Giants’ facility knowing he had to show the team that he belonged.

As for himself, he already was a believer.

“When I walked into camp, I had the mindset that I could play in this league,” Chandler said. “There wasn’t any proof [I needed]. I always had the confidence that I could play in this league [and] I felt like they wouldn’t have given me that call if they didn’t think I could play in this league too.”

The first Giant to really buy in on Chandler wasn’t even a Giant at the time. Thomas was a pending free agent and served as a position coach at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl last January. He worked with Chandler there.

“I saw it from then that he’s got it,” Thomas said. “I’m impressed. I’m proud of him, but I’m not surprised. That’s who he is as a player. He works hard, he always makes sure he’s where he needs to be, he goes hard every single play, leaves it out there, so I’m happy for him. I’m happy for all his success.

“He’s somebody who literally has it all. He has enough size to play at the position, but he’s very quick, very aggressive style. He’s willing to tackle, he can cover well, so he has all the talent. He’s just got to keep improving and learning the pro game now compared to what he did in college, and once he gets that, I’m excited for his career.”

There still was some convincing that had to take place once Chandler arrived in East Rutherford. The Giants liked the raw materials Chandler provided.

“When we were working in training camp and we get a chance to put some pads on, you saw Sean is not afraid to go put his face on somebody,” Bettcher said. “He is not afraid to play physical and he’s a guy that will run around and just continually has to learn how to play the position in this league.”

“During training camp, he did the things that we thought gave him a chance to make our team,” Pat Shurmur said. “Like any young player, he didn’t know enough initially and he’s getting better each week. A lot of times, you’ve got to try and manufacture it to get him reps, but he’s been forced into action and he’s done a good job. I think he’s getting better each week, and if he continues on that path, then he’s got a future.”

That’s all Chandler has ever wanted. A future.

When he made the team out of training camp, he said it was a “heart-throbbing” experience waiting to hear his fate.

“But then it became a special moment,” he said. “I was able to give my mom a call and let her know I was officially on the team. But I knew in the back of my head I was going to have to grind out each and every day to keep my spot.”

He’s done that. Now he has a chance to expand it.

He was asked if it will be “intimidating” to have a larger role than he’s had.

“No,” he said, laughing. “It’s not intimidating. Football is football. I attack everything like I usually do.”

One of the things that Chandler said he learned from Collins was toughness. Collins was able to return to the game last week after suffering a shoulder injury that eventually would require surgery and end his season.

Throughout his life, Chandler has demonstrated his own toughness.

It’s a different type of determination. But, Chandler said, not too different.

“I definitely feel like it carries over,” he said. “You go through tough things in life and it makes you tougher in football.”

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