SANTA BARBARA, California – Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler walks into the room like the giant that he is. He’s only 5-foot-10, but his height hides a spirit that stretches him much taller. Ekeler is in Santa Barbara to open a state-of-the-art gym at one of the oldest high schools in the state, Santa Barbara High School. It is something these 2,200 students have never really had and something that is close and dear to their hearts.
“I never really thought about it and listened to my community,” he said when the gym opened on June 16 with about 30 student-athletes in attendance. “They asked me, ‘Austin, what did you do to go this far and achieve all these achievements?’ and I started thinking about it. “
And he realized that it was in the weight room where his dreams took root.
Ekeler is an obsessive exercise with bulging abs and biceps. He achieved them by always demonstrating what no one thought he could do with 5-10. He primarily plays as a running back in the NFL, which he has done since joining the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
But he also worked hard in the weight room, and when he learned that Santa Barbara High was full of students who, like him at one point, lacked the resources to build muscle and promote wellness, he turned to his own newly formed foundation: the Austin Ekeler Foundation – looking for help and found an empty space at Santa Barbara High School.
“It’s a beautiful place, but it’s 70% free and reduced lunch,” Ekeler said. “They need help. It is not a private school where they get tons of funds, they don’t get everything. They needed our help and I saw the opportunity to do it.”
Ekeler knows something about receiving nothing. He was raised in little Briggsdale, Colorado, by a single mother. He had to do housework while living on a farm, such as breaking frozen ice in water tanks so the animals could have water. He built fences and carried food. It’s where he says he developed his work ethic; soccer became an outlet.
He was recruited by Western State Division II (now known as Western Colorado University), located in Gunnison, Colorado, with an enrollment of 3,500 people. Ekeler broke every rushing record the school had, scoring 63 touchdowns and finishing with 5,857 rushing yards in his career. And that’s where he developed the air-guitar celebration as a touchdown dance, which he still does as Charger.
Ekeler is now a superstar as a running back and wide receiver. It is what you know.
He is also determined to be more than a soccer player, volunteering his time at Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles to enforce the importance of youth wellness. Ekeler and his girlfriend, Taylor Frick, also make exercise videos that are “a little” unorthodox with her on his shoulders as he squats and on his back to do push-ups.
How to make story time fun again 📖🤓 pic.twitter.com/vg0GyGWXge
– Austin Ekeler (@AustinEkeler) Oct 16, 2019
He’s also contributed big on the field, with 73 carries for 356 yards and four touchdowns in six games for the 4-2 Chargers. And as a receiver, a role Chargers coach Brandon Staley has said he will continue to use, Ekeler has 27 receptions for 242 yards and three more touchdowns. It seems to bounce off tacklers.
“In the running game, Austin has very good vision,” Staley said. “He’s really good at contact. He’s the kind of guy who gets better as the game goes on, the more carries he’s given … Austin has been fantastic.”
Ekeler signed a four-year, $ 24.5 million extension in March 2020, but hasn’t given up on the work ethic. It is what you know.
“The way they raised me helped me the most,” he said. “I was raised … to work hard and not complain … It’s all I knew. It’s all I knew.”
Ekeler stood in a semicircle with the athletes at Santa Barbara High School, knowing that most of them would no longer be playing college sports. But he is still proud of what he has done and what he has given back.
“It all comes down to what you are passionate about,” he told them. “You have more time to develop skills doing that. Doing your best always generates something different and better. It is a great lesson in life.”
One you know well.