SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Donnie Edwards has never lacked motivation.
He was too poor or too small or too whatever, he kept hearing, as he made his way from a challenging childhood in a lower-middle class suburb of San Diego to playing linebacker at UCLA and then in the NFL.
He eagerly signed with his hometown Chargers as a free agent three seasons ago, rejoining Marty Schottenheimer even though the coach is a disciplinarian. Again, motivation.
Edwards missed most of training camp when the Chargers were installing a new 3-4 defense after severely cutting his leg in an accident at home.
But based on his career-long consistency, it's no surprise Edwards is having a Pro Bowl-caliber year while helping lead the team he once idolized toward the playoffs.
It's truly exciting,'' Edwards said.Here's a young boy from National City, who grew up watching the Chargers; I mean, playing Pop Warner, I played defensive line and I had all Chargers players numbers. I had 14, which is Dan Fouts, playing defensive line, which is unheard of. I had 18, Charlie Joiner, I had 89 (Wes Chandler), I had 80 (Kellen Winslow). I just tried to emulate all my heroes when I was a kid.
``It's a dream come true, because not very many people have an opportunity to grow up watching a home team and play for that team.''
And helping lead it to the brink of the playoffs, where the Chargers (10-3) haven't been since 1995, when Edwards was a senior at UCLA.
Edwards intercepted Brian Griese twice last Sunday, returning the second one 30 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the closing minutes of a 31-24 win over Tampa Bay, the Chargers' seventh straight victory.
Two weeks earlier, his fourth-quarter interception against his old team, Kansas City, set up a winning field goal.
It's not a long drive from where Edwards grew up, just south of downtown San Diego, to Qualcomm Stadium. But it took a lot of work for him to get to the NFL, and help from a lot of people along the way. That's why Edwards has given away the balls from his 20 career interceptions.
After both interceptions Sunday, he ran over to the stands and gave the balls to family members. An aunt got the touchdown ball and a younger brother got the ball from his first-quarter pickoff. The ball from his Kansas City interception went to his stepfather.
``It wasn't just one person that was like always there for me, it was a whole bunch of people,'' said Edwards, who's also given balls to college friends and old coaches.
``I don't forget that because I didn't make it this far by myself and I want to recognize the people who gave me help along the way,'' he said.
Edwards was one of nine siblings who grew up on welfare. He now lives with his wife in Rancho Santa Fe, one of the most expensive communities in the country.
No one gets to pick the family you're born into or the economic status of where you are when you're young,'' he said.But you can do something about it when you start setting goals for yourself and you're motivated and determined to go after it, what you want out of life.''
Edwards' goal was to earn a college scholarship, so he focused on school and athletics. He switched high schools to avoid gangs and other distractions.
This was my ticket out, a scholarship,'' he said.My fallback was joining the Marines, because I could get the GI bill. No matter what, I was going to go to college. I wanted out. I grew up with enough negative surroundings. I used that as negative motivation to go out and change the way it is for so many generations.''
Edwards weighed only 175 pounds as a freshman at UCLA. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs.
He always felt that he should have been a higher draft pick than a fourth-round pick,'' said Schottenheimer, who coached Edwards for three seasons in Kansas City.I think he uses that as a motivating tool, to prove that he's a better player than a lot of people gave him credit for, including the Chiefs. He's a playmaker.''
Edwards, who at 227 pounds is undersized by NFL standards, said he's always played with a chip on his shoulder.
``I expect to be the best. I'm my biggest critic. I expect to make every tackle, and I get mad when I don't make every tackle. But that's my attitude.''
Edwards leads the Chargers with 129 tackles, 90 of them solo.
He works coaches hours as far as watching film and his preparation and all that,'' fellow linebacker Steve Foley said.The way that this guy prepares, the things that he puts into the game, goes beyond any others that I have been around.''