Every year in the draft, there brings about a handful of players who had the short end of the stick in life growing up, whether it be lack of parental figures, drugs, gang ties, etc. Texas State’s Craig Mager’s story offers a true glimpse at what the bottom of the barrel looks like, and his triumphant rise from the ashes into the cusp of living his dream as an NFL player.
As a 15 year-old high school male, the focus is often on sports, girls or getting our license in just one short year. When Mager turned 15, his focus was on a birthday party. It was supposed to be a joyous time in his life, but that happiness quickly turned to horror when he found his mother laying unresponsive. He immediately ran to the phone and called the first person he could think of, his aunt, Cindy. She could tell how upset Craig was, clearly hearing the collision of his fist and the wall through the telephone. His mother had been admitted to the emergency room the day before, complaining of a very severe headache. The hospital prescribed her with a Fentanyl patch to treat her headache, only they gave her the improper instructions on using it, and she inadvertently overdosed.
“He’s got the question of “why?” Cindy said. “He’s got the question of “Why did they kill my mom?” and I’m going to put it in those terms, but his questions are “Why? I don’t understand how they could do that” because his mom was a nurse, and it was kind of as if she chose a career that was almost like—her destiny.”
Four years later, a malpractice lawsuit concluded that the hospital was responsible for his mother’s death.
Craig’s father was nonexistent growing up, so with his mother and two younger sisters to look after, Craig took on the role as man of the house. Now without his mother, adversity was a hard pill to swallow for Craig but he faced it head-on, and it helped him grow from it.
“It helped mold me into the person I am today,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t be the same without going through it.”
With two younger sisters and no mother, Craig took on a dual-parental role, offering them advice as best he could.
“He kind of served as my mom and my dad,” Courtney Mager-Sayles, his sister, said. “He would go to my games, make sure I was at practice, make sure I listened to my coaches and kept my grades up.”
When the college recruiters came knocking on his doorstep, Mager ultimately chose Texas State, in large part to the proximity of his hometown of Luling, only 20 minutes away. This allowed him to attend his sister’s games and to go back home when need be. A four-year starter for the Bobcats, he never missed a game due to injury, starting all 48 games. The 5-foot-11, 201-pounder was the first ever Texas State player to get the nod to participate in the 90th Annual East-West Shrine All-Star Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. He also gained an invite to the combine, where he posted a 4.44 in the 40, a 38-inch vertical and a 130-inch broad jump, all amongst the best numbers for corners.
Cindy couldn’t be prouder of her nephew, admiring his grit and never-say-die attitude in the face of adversity, and especially for everything he has coming up with football.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Cindy said. “God called her home for a reason we’ll never understand. God never puts you in a place he can’t take you out of.”
A fiery, aggressive competitor, Mager displays a motor that runs strong all game long, and has great change-of-direction ball skills. He also doesn’t back down from larger receivers, and has great timing when going up on 50/50 balls high in the air. And Steelers’ fans will savor the fact that he loves to hit, a must to play corner in Pittsburgh.
Taking late round fliers on cornerbacks seems to be of the front office’s liking, and this year may be no different. However, the position needs some major upgrading this year, so waiting until the later rounds would be a foolish decision on their part. However, Mager would provide great value in the 5th round, so if the team goes corner in round 1 or 2, his name would be a wise one to double-dip on late.
“I wanted to make him a safety because of how physical he is, but after seeing him in person, he may not be big enough,” said an NFC director of player personnel. “He’s not as fast as you want, but he’s a player and he’s really, really tough.”
Wherever the next step in his journey takes him, Craig will never forget the legacy his mother left on his life.
“We were at a little high school game, and I got tackled pretty hard,” Craig said. “She jumped over the fence, freaking out just because a boy tackled me hard. I was like, “Mom, I’m good. You don’t have to worry about it.” That always laid on my mind.”