How Austin Ekeler went from nearly unknown to Chargers star

He arrived because the underdog — undrafted however hardly unloved by the Chargers — dealing with odds practically as tall as he was, properly, not so tall.

Again then, approaching six years in the past now, Austin Ekeler was 5 foot 8 5/8.

At this time, the Chargers listing him at 5-10.

He’s nonetheless 5-8 5/8.

However practically 7,000 yards, 59 touchdowns and numerous celebratory strums of an imaginary guitar later, Ekeler’s peak issues little in comparison with the lengthy shadow forged by his coronary heart.

A working again who could be so troublesome to wrap up that even Ekeler’s drive has a stiff-arm, defensive coordinators NFL-wide at the moment are compelled to acknowledge a participant each Energy 5 faculty ignored.

“All the stuff everyone’s seeing him do today,” stated Jas Bains, Ekeler’s coach at Division II Western State, “he’s been doing since high school.”

The Chargers’ Austin Ekeler, recognized for his bodily working, drags Tennessee defenders as he positive factors additional yardage.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Instances)

Undersized and underestimated, Ekeler possesses a want too giant to be confined to a huddle, a wish to succeed — no, a have to succeed — that’s spectacular amongst even essentially the most obsessed athletes on earth.

One method to categorical drive in soccer is by ending performs. Nobody within the NFL has completed extra performs in the long run zone over the past two seasons than Ekeler.

His starvation runs so deep it as soon as confirmed itself in maybe essentially the most graphic manner attainable.

As a rookie, his chiseled body was filled with potential and nerves, so many nerves that after Ekeler stepped into his first huddle of his first follow in his first offseason session with the Chargers, he needed to step again out — so he might throw up.

Suzanne Ekeler performed small-college basketball in Colorado. She had submit strikes and a nickname. They known as her “The Animal.”

“Apparently,” Ekeler stated of his mom, “she was a maniac out there.”

Suzanne raised her two sons totally on her personal. Ekeler has by no means met his organic father, a person who was out of his life earlier than Ekeler was born.

Suzanne, Wyett and Austin Ekeler at the younger brother's game at Windsor High School in Colorado.

Suzanne, Wyett and Austin Ekeler on the youthful brother’s sport at Windsor Excessive College in Colorado.

(Courtesy of Ekeler household)

For some time, there was a stepfather, one who gave Ekeler slightly brother, Wyett, and a major aversion to handbook labor.

A part of Ekeler’s upbringing included engaged on his stepfather’s 80-acre ranch in Briggsdale, Colo. — early and lengthy hours tending to horses, cows and chickens, even within the windy, jarring freeze of winter.

“It was something he hated,” Suzanne stated. “Both my kids hated it. But those chores, they had to be done.”

The stepfather additionally constructed fencing, which meant Austin and Wyett additionally constructed fencing, mile after mile of barbed wire. They’d spend their days pounding posts into the grime and their nights sleeping in a camper.

Ekeler’s father is Black, his stepfather white, as is Suzanne. For some time, after it was simply Suzanne and her two boys, of us would marvel in regards to the make-up of the household.

“People would ask me if Austin was adopted,” Suzanne stated. “I’d be like, ‘Nope. Absolutely not. I went through 27½ hours in labor for him. That’s my kid.’ ”

Austin Ekeler, 6, played soccer as a child in Eaton, Colo., about an hour outside Denver.

Austin Ekeler, 6, performed soccer as a baby in Eaton, Colo., about an hour outdoors Denver.

(Courtesy of Ekeler household)

The three of them lived in Colorado’s northern plains, slightly greater than an hour from Denver, in Eaton, a single-story city with a Fb web page and a petting zoo.

Suzanne credited Eaton and her neighbors for serving to increase Austin, calling the place “an amazing community that had our backs.” Austin repaid everybody on the town by turning into a star athlete for the Eaton Excessive Reds.

He was quick and robust and explosive, successful a state championship as an extended jumper and accumulating soccer statistics so video game-ish that, nonetheless at the moment, the numbers appear to develop every time the tales are retold.

Now thought-about one of many NFL’s strongest gamers pound for pound, Ekeler first discovered about weightlifting whereas at Eaton Excessive and about on-field toughness slightly earlier than that. Within the summers when he was rising up, his mom would coach him in basketball.

In the future, whereas making an attempt for example a sure inside transfer to the remainder of the crew, “The Animal” whirled and elbowed her first born within the face, blackening Ekeler’s eye.

“If you’re going to come through my paint, buddy,” Suzanne recalled, laughing, “you’re going to have to feel something.”

It could be years earlier than Ekeler even contemplated the NFL as a chance. He didn’t develop up watching soccer. He watched rodeo, his stepfather concerned in crew roping.

When he was about 12, Ekeler tried bull driving — briefly — straddling animals that had been truly calves. Yeah, simply calves. Simply indignant, ornery calves.

“My bull-riding career lasted three bulls,” Ekeler stated. “I got bucked off every one of them before eight seconds. And I was terrified the whole time.”

Suzanne Ekeler with son Austin Ekeler at a Nebraska game.

Suzanne Ekeler with son Austin Ekeler at a Nebraska sport.

(Courtesy of Ekeler household)

He had by no means heard of Western State earlier than the college started recruiting him. Situated in Gunnison, Colo., not removed from Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Western’s soccer area sits at practically 8,000 ft of elevation.

“It’s nowhere near anywhere,” stated Tom McConnaughey, a former Chargers scout who was among the many first to find Ekeler. “If you don’t get there before the snow comes, you’re not getting there.”

Only some small faculties confirmed curiosity in Ekeler and Bains was the one coach who stated he might stay at working again. Others wished him to play within the secondary or signal as an athlete.

The identical day he graduated from Eaton — one among 96 in his class — Ekeler packed his 2001 Chevy Silverado and drove up the mountain to Western, the place he was understanding along with his new teammates by dusk.

Similar to in highschool, he was a star from the beginning, a crew captain and virtually instantly the most effective participant within the Rocky Mountain Athletic Convention.

“He was the guy here,” Bains stated. “We played as good as he played.”

There are footage of Ekeler everywhere in the faculty, which is now known as Western Colorado College. Within the administrative places of work. The athletic places of work. Bains’ workplace. Photos and a jersey displayed in order that Ekeler’s time there received’t be forgotten.

They nonetheless discuss his efficiency towards Northern Colorado — 226 yards and two touchdowns — when he scored after being tackled, rolling over on high of a defender, regaining his ft and sprinting away from defenders who already had hit pause.

“He was dodging people just to take the handoff,” stated McConnaughey, who now works for the Jacksonville Jaguars. “It was not a good team. It was watching him evade the first guy and the second guy and then trying to plow through the third and four guys. And he usually was able to do it.”

Earlier than taking on at Western, Bains was an assistant at Chadron (Neb.) State when former Charger Danny Woodhead, one other undersized working again, was there. McConnaughey recalled Bains describing Ekeler as “Woodhead 2.0.”

As Ekeler was readying for his senior season, Bains defined to him how favorably he in comparison with Woodhead and the way NFL scouts had been starting to point out curiosity.

Bains couldn’t be utterly certain Ekeler would succeed as a professional however knew Ekeler had the correct wiring, one thing Bains witnessed typically from his workplace overlooking the college’s indoor area home.

“We’d be in here on a Saturday getting some work done,” Bains stated. “You’d look down into this facility — it’s just massive — all the lights are on and there’s one guy in there. Of course, it’s him.”

McConnaughey visited the college early in Ekeler’s ultimate season, arriving on a day when the soccer crew didn’t have follow. So Bains summoned Ekeler to his workplace to fulfill the scout.

Western State's Austin Ekeler carries against Northern Colorado on Sept. 5, 2015.

Western State’s Austin Ekeler carries towards Northern Colorado on Sept. 5, 2015.

(Joshua Polson / Related Press)

They sat collectively for 2 hours watching tape. McConnaughey: “I’d never seen a kid do that” — the session together with every little thing from Ekeler asking questions in regards to the NFL to detailing his post-football plans of working in power administration.

McConnaughey stated he left satisfied Ekeler was “a squared-away guy” and had these parting phrases: “We gotta get you to camp somehow.” Over the subsequent a number of months, McConnaughey known as and texted Ekeler typically.

Following his ultimate faculty season, Ekeler knew his finest shot at making it to the NFL was to provide himself utterly to soccer. So he left Gunnison and moved to Denver to coach at Landow Efficiency with different prospects.

By that time, Ekeler was working with an agent, Cameron Weiss. In the future, Ekeler known as with an replace on his coaching. The dialog went one thing like this:

Ekeler: “Do you know who Christian McCaffrey is?”

Weiss: “Well, yeah.”

Ekeler: “I’m doing as well as him in pretty much everything here.”

“My first reaction was, ‘This is real?’ ” Weiss stated. “So I confirmed it with the trainers at Landow. They told me, ‘Yeah, Austin is freaky.’ ”

McCaffrey turned the second working again drafted in 2017, going No. 8 general to Carolina. In all, 245 extra gamers had been picked, together with 25 working backs. None of them had been named Austin Ekeler.

“All my life, I’ve seen people around me tapping out. And I’d be like, ‘No, we’re just getting started.’ ”

— Austin Ekeler, on perseverance

As a substitute, moments after the draft ended, Weiss took a name from the Chargers, who provided Ekeler $5,000.

Conscious the crew may need a spot for a working again and recalling how a lot curiosity McConnaughey had proven, Ekeler picked the Chargers over one other crew that provided him twice the cash.

Requested now about that competing supply, Ekeler stated he wasn’t conscious of any of the main points.

“Once the Chargers called, that was it,” he stated. “I didn’t care what else was out there.”

He made the Chargers as a rookie, performed himself into an elevated function in his second 12 months and, when Melvin Gordon held out to begin the 2019 season, proved he may very well be a No. 1 again.

Ekeler’s function expanded steadily but additionally shortly as he first seized after which squeezed dry his alternative.

Past the top zone, the story was a lot the identical, Ekeler understanding that the fleeting nature of soccer and the celebrity it may present requires a two-minute offense off the sector too.

“All my life, I’ve seen people around me tapping out,” he stated. “And I’d be like, ‘No, we’re just getting started.’ ”

As somebody who eats up floor for a dwelling, it appears pure that Ekeler at all times has had an curiosity in actual property. He started investing in rental property early, shopping for his first duplex heading into his second NFL season.

A number of months earlier, he had acquired his first endorsement deal — $4,000 in credit score he might use to purchase something he wished from Adidas. Fairly quickly, he was signing gadgets for a memorabilia firm for $1,000.

None of this stopped Ekeler from returning to highschool after his rookie season to finish his diploma, a really possible way for a “squared-away guy” to acknowledge soccer can’t final without end.

Into his second season, Ekeler’s social-media presence elevated as he willingly engaged with followers — “I need that interaction,” he stated — his reputation rising proper alongside along with his Charger stats, the numbers ultimately making Ekeler as beneficial in fantasy soccer as the true factor.

In mid-March 2020, the Chargers signed him to a four-year, $24.5-million contract that assured him $15 million.

The Chargers' Austin Ekeler runs the ball past Titans safety Kevin Byard.

The Chargers’ Austin Ekeler, who has confirmed to be bodily and elusive within the NFL, runs the ball previous Titans security Kevin Byard.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Instances)

Just some days later, COVID-19 shut down his budding world, leaving Ekeler pondering he’d survive on understanding and taking part in video video games till the restrictions had been eased.

“I played video games for two weeks and went crazy,” he stated. “I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’ I just can not sit still. I need to be building things.”

So he started sharing his exercises on Twitch. Ekeler began Gridiron Gaming Group, a streaming enterprise that allowed athletes and celebrities to attach with followers whereas taking part in video games resembling “League of Legends.”

He saved accumulating actual property and established the Austin Ekeler Basis on the identical two rules upon which he established Austin Ekeler: create alternative and fulfill potential.

“It would be really easy to play football and invest my money and just chill and grow a family,” he stated. “That sounds terrible to me. And I’m like, ‘Why does that sound terrible?’ It’s because I have all these ideas in my head and if I’m not acting on them I feel like I’m lost.”

A kind of concepts is “Eksperience,” an app designed to attach followers to athletes serious about increasing and monetizing their streaming presence. Ekeler has been engaged on the challenge for 2 years with hopes of launching it quickly.

“Instead of having his walls up like most athletes do, Austin has his walls very much down.I cannot tell you another guy I’ve been around who holds himself out in that manner.”

— Cameron Weiss, agent representing Austin Ekeler

He employed a supervisor and works with a public relations agency, Sunshine Sachs, and a advertising firm, Rubicon. Ekeler estimated that there are 10 to fifteen individuals “helping me move this engine that I’ve been creating.”

He joined with a accomplice and now owns 115 rental properties in Colorado and Missouri. He moved his offseason dwelling to Las Vegas for enterprise functions and put in a streaming studio there to match the one in his Orange County home.

“What really gives me substance in my life is when I’m building things,” Ekeler stated. “There’s no concern about trying to do too much. I’m trying to make it too big. I’m searching for that.”

He’s the star of “Ekeler’s Edge,” a fantasy football-themed present on Yahoo, and “Ekeler Dome,” an interactive competitors sequence he livestreams.

Every week, he provides away two signed jerseys to individuals who have him on their fantasy groups, Ekeler asserting the winners himself in movies he data.

“Instead of having his walls up like most athletes do, Austin has his walls very much down,” stated Weiss, the agent. “I cannot tell you another guy I’ve been around who holds himself out in that manner.”

Ekeler has executed endorsement offers with greater than 75 companions, actually consuming (Chipotle), ingesting (Anheuser Busch) and sleeping (Sleep Quantity) his manner into turning into a promotional power.

Brothers Wyett (left) and Austin Ekeler outside the Denver Broncos' Empower Field at Mile High in the 2021 season.

Brothers Wyett (left) and Austin Ekeler outdoors the Denver Broncos’ Empower Area at Mile Excessive within the 2021 season.

(Courtesy of Ekeler household)

However he does set limits. Ekeler doesn’t drink caffeine, so he has turned away espresso firms and power drink makers. He doesn’t gamble, so he’s brushed apart these overtures, as properly.

“Dollar signs are not in his eyes in that sense,” stated Madison Dodson, Ekeler’s supervisor. “It has to be something he believes in and truly supports. He’s authentic to his core in everything he supports and does.”

Ekeler additionally has labored with Frito-Lay, which could appear an odd pairing given how keen his abs are to point out themselves. However, get this: he loves Flamin’ Sizzling Cheetos. Sparsely. Additionally loves Taco Bell the identical manner.

“Taco Bell’s my jam,” Ekeler stated. “But I’m not eating it every flipping day or every week, you know?”

Ekeler’s social media presence by no means has been higher. His girlfriend, Melanie Wilking, is a dancer and content material creator with 3.4 million followers on TikTok, the place the 2 of them could be discovered dancing to routines she choreographed.

For his or her first date virtually two years in the past, Ekeler stunned her by taking her parasailing. Stated Wilking, “I think he was more scared than I was.”

Ekeler is co-owner of a crew in Fan Managed Soccer and final 12 months, for the primary time, topped seven figures in endorsement earnings.

Nonetheless, away from the sector, he lacks the flash he routinely shows on Sundays, a reality Dodson underlined by calling Ekeler “just a farm-town guy from Colorado.”

After signing his second contract, the one factor Ekeler splurged on was his white Corvette, a experience he coveted going again to a childhood of taking part in the online game “Need For Speed.”

Throughout Tremendous Bowl week final season, Dodson stated she saved noticing all of the diamonds and sparkles adorning different NFL gamers. She turned to Ekeler at some point and stated, “We gotta get you a necklace.”

He shook his head.

“No,” Ekeler advised her, “I gotta get myself more real estate.”

Austin, Suzanne and Wyett Ekeler outside their mom's home in Colorado.

Austin, Suzanne and Wyett Ekeler outdoors their dwelling in Colorado.

(Courtesy of Ekeler household.)

Suzanne hardly ever misses both of her sons’ video games, Wyett now a security at Wyoming, the place he will get round city in his huge brother’s previous Chevy Silverado.

She used to take a seat in a decrease, nook part of SoFi Stadium, together with the households of different Chargers. However then, one sport, she missed her boy scoring a landing within the reverse finish zone. The subsequent week, Suzanne moved up a degree.

Now, in Part 212, she’s the one sporting the No. 30 “MAMA EK” jersey within the entrance row, unfurling the Ekeler flag and ready to alternate realizing waves along with her son after he trots onto the sector for warmups.

“When I sit back and watch him now, I’m just so thankful that the world gets to see what I’ve seen for so long.” Suzanne stated. “I’m so darn proud of him.”

Plucked from the highest of a Colorado mountain, greater than a mile within the air and with aspirations even loftier, Ekeler continues to chase all that’s attainable — on the sector and off — and perhaps some issues that aren’t. However, then, why not?

“I don’t want to crash and burn and have everything crumble down,” he stated. “I don’t want things to be catastrophic. But I’m trying to test myself and push as hard as I can. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I could learn.”

Yeah, he got here down from a peak, Austin Ekeler did, totally intent on constructing a mountain of his personal.