For Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree, Saturday's Wild Card contest cannot come soon enough.
"It's definitely something that I'm excited about," he said. "Thankful and blessed to be a part of it. Just to go from the season we had last year to this — you definitely couldn't write a better story."
And it has been quite a journey.
Ogletree's story with the franchise began five years ago when the linebacker was drafted out of the Georgia. It includes four consecutive losing records, a coaching change, a variety of new teammates, and, finally, an NFC West division title.
But for the Georgia product, the team's 2017 success hasn't come as much of a surprise. Although the Rams have become a feel-good story within the NFL this year — completing a tremendous year-to-year turnaround — Ogletree's reasoning for the club's 180 is simple: Hard work pays off.
"I've always been taught that if you work hard it will come to you eventually, you just have to keep working," he said. "Every year I always think we have a shot at doing something great. I knew it was just a matter of time before things did change."
And change they did.
The team captain has been a staple of the Rams defense since he was drafted in 2013, leading the club in tackles in four out of his five seasons. But this year has allowed Ogletree to experience something entirely different — high production on both sides of the ball.
"It's been fun," he said with a smile. "We joke about it all the time how we were playing a whole bunch of snaps the last few years here and our offense didn't really do too much. [But] for them to have the year that they're having, it definitely takes a lot of snaps off of us."
That's in large part thanks to first-year head coach Sean McVay. As soon McVay walked through the door, Ogletree said he could sense that things would be different this year.
"They came in and took control of the room. I was a little shell shocked, but I felt like everybody kind of responded to them really well," he said.
Words like accountability and effort became commonplace around the Rams locker room. The team adopted a "We Not Me" slogan, something that Ogletree as a team captain has really taken to heart.
"'We Not Me' means it's all about the team — no one man is bigger than the team," he explained. "We are all here for the same goal and we all have to do our part to reach that goal. If you're not doing the right thing to help this team win, you're not part of the 'we,' you're being a me."
And the players' ability to put the team first is what Ogletree says has been so instrumental in their success this season. Even in times of hardship or adversity, the team remained together.
"I would say the Seattle game [in October] really kind of did it for me because even though we lost, I felt like we were always in the game. It wasn't a feeling of, 'We can't win this,'" Ogletree said. "Even though we did lose, everybody didn't get down. We kept pushing forward and it's just that mindset that [McVay] instilled in us to never blink and just keep pushing forward."
Now the club will push forward into the postseason, breaking the franchise's 12-year playoff drought. It will mark a first for Ogletree and 46 other players on the Rams roster. And it will admittedly "mean a lot" to the linebacker who has been waiting a long time for this moment.
"We haven't even made it to the playoffs since 2004, I think. So for us to make it to the playoffs and play our game at home, I'm definitely looking for the city to be there and support us," he said. "It should be a great atmosphere."
So what changes does Ogletree expect heading into a game of this magnitude?
"The only thing that changes is that you don't have any repeats," he said.
"You can't have any do-overs. It's one and done — if you lose you're out, if you win you keep going. We'll have that mindset going into the playoffs and I think everyone understands that either you win or you go home. That's been our motto all year long — just to win each day. You have to win by any means."