octobre 7, 2022

Austin Ekeler interview: Los Angeles Chargers running back on guitar lessons, Super Bowl contention, and the Fantasy Football community | NFL News

9 min read

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler

Justin Herbert takes the shot-gun snap and palms it off to Austin Ekeler, who swats and slaloms his way in for a touchdown before retrieving a guitar at the back of the end zone and mimicking Metallica while his quarterback de-bands his hair and headbangs along. Circa 2023… perhaps.

If he has it his way, the Los Angeles Chargers running back will be upgrading an air guitar celebration for the real thing in the not-so-distant future. Not so much lessons-permitting, which appears to be in good stead, but more so league rules and hefty fines-permitting.

« It’s been going really great man, it’s really hard, it’s like learning how to walk again, » Ekeler told Sky Sports. « I have to learn how to use my fingers and strum at the same time and so it’s like ‘which one do I look at?’.

« It’s been a journey but a journey that’s going to be long and I’m looking forward to it.

« If the NFL didn’t fine me for using a prop I would definitely do it! »

Highlights of the Los Angeles Chargers against the Kansas City Chiefs from Week 2 of the NFL season

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Highlights of the Los Angeles Chargers against the Kansas City Chiefs from Week 2 of the NFL season

Highlights of the Los Angeles Chargers against the Kansas City Chiefs from Week 2 of the NFL season

Rarely is there a moment when Ekeler is twiddling his thumbs with nothing to do. He is non-stop, running on a seemingly endless and infectious supply of drive, and he would have it no other way. When he is not learning to play the guitar, he is bobbing, weaving or blocking on a football field; if not at work, he is hosting live streams, engaging in or leading charity initiatives through the Austin Ekeler Foundation or serving as the NFL’s resident Fantasy Football wing-man by way of his own podcast.

With regards to the latter, he has emerged as the league’s favourite provider of thinly-veiled social media hints over his health each game week in view of helping those mulling over whether or not to start him in their Fantasy team.

He shrugs off all suggestions that he is a Fantasy Football expert, and declines to provide any tips other than one – pick him! Beneath the game itself is a savoured path to interaction.

« It’s truly amazing. I just recognised there was such a big community around Fantasy Football, » he said. « I live for taking advantage of opportunities and I see so many different opportunities coming from the NFL.

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« There are the two sides of the NFL: the playing in the league, getting paid and playing games, and then the actual fans, the communities.

« The NFL side we automatically take advantage of that just from getting paid, getting contracts, but the community side it’s up to us as individuals to actually go put effort and voicing what we feel, how we want to interact.

« That’s something I really put a lot of emphasis on, that’s why I don’t feel like I’m underappreciated because I do get so much support and put a lot of effort into interacting with fans, saying hi, doing pictures, doing giveaways, I have my own Fantasy show to give input, I answer all the questions that people submit, I have the foundation, I’m building an app for community engagement, I’m really trying to take advantage of the community side. »

Ekeler persists to embody the onus on platform-seizure and self-assertion in a league that can come with the caveat of a short shelf life, reminding himself regularly that it could have been different for the undrafted former Colorado white-water raft guide.

« The reason I do the things I do as far as outside of football goes back to before football, » he continues. « I never thought I was going to be in the NFL, but what I was trying to do was take advantage of the biggest opportunity I had at the time.

« So I was going into the business world out of school, I wanted to start my own business but football presented itself and said ‘hey, you might have the opportunity to play in the NFL’ so that was the biggest opportunity I felt I had at the time.

« I’ve being playing in the league a few years, I’ve got myself established, I know how to be a pro, I’ve got a good routine and now it’s a new opportunity that has presented itself and it’s the community side.

« I do a lot of stuff in real estate, I do a lot of stuff with my foundation as well, it’s a diverse offering I’m bringing to myself because other opportunities are presenting themselves. That’s the only reason I’m in the NFL, because I pretty much went all in on an opportunity. »

« I am an athlete, but that is not all I am. I am my own visionary, I’m trying to place as much value into the world and help as many people as I can while I’m doing that. I try to push myself as far and as fast as I can. »

Ekeler: I am more than an athlete

The opportunity that has presented itself on the field is one of Championship contention such is the alpha squad Tom Telesco and Brandon Staley have assembled. It has made for some switch from a part-time job in the Rocky Mountains.

Pre-season projections played to the tune of a Chargers, well, charge headed up by quarterback Herbert, though Ekeler insists the locker room is « not even thinking about the playoffs ».

« When it comes to any team, and you can probably ask any team that is in any competitive league, you really cannot focus on the end goal, » he said. « The end goal which is the Super Bowl, I call it more so a result of the work you put in now.

« That is something we cannot control, but what we can control is the effort and consistency we’re trying to build up through our practices right now and what we’re doing as a team together to build chemistry, to build this consistency so when we play games we’re being consistent, we’re making these runs of wins because we’re putting in the work. »

Highlights of the Las Vegas Raiders against the Los Angeles Chargers from Week 1 of the NFL season

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Highlights of the Las Vegas Raiders against the Los Angeles Chargers from Week 1 of the NFL season

Highlights of the Las Vegas Raiders against the Los Angeles Chargers from Week 1 of the NFL season

Ekeler and the Chargers had been playoff bound for the first time since 2018 in January when they entered Sunday Night Football against the Las Vegas Raiders on the final day needing a win or a tie to secure a postseason berth.

The tie option was on the cards with 38 seconds left in overtime, the Raiders staring down a third-and-four from the Chargers’ 39-yard line and facing a field goal of upwards of 50 yards should they fail to convert. Los Angeles preceded to call a questionable timeout, after which Josh Jacobs ran for the first down to set up a 47-yard game-winning field goal and send the Raiders onto Wild Card weekend with a 35-32 victory.

« That last game was probably one of the most intense games I’ve ever played in and it was for both of us to continue our season and go into the playoffs and we ended up falling short, » he said.

« One thing I do know is I gave everything I possibly could to that game, just like I do every game, but that one was a staple because we went to overtime, playoffs were on the line, that’s what I really remember.

« As far as getting over it, I get over it pretty quick, man. Win or lose, I have the same mindset. If we win the game or lose the game I still need to continue to improve. Definitely talk about it, don’t forget it, but move on as quickly as possible. »

Ekeler closed out the 2021 campaign with 20 touchdowns (12 rushing, eight receiving), tying for most in the league alongside Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor and becoming just the second player in Chargers history to score as many in a season behind Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson.

His popularity among Fantasy managers may suggest so, but does he receive enough recognition as one of the NFL’s most productive backs?

« I don’t know who is overlooking it, but I certainly am not, » he said. « I know where I’ve come from, I know how my journey has been, I know I’m progressing.

« I think sometimes your recognition lags a little bit behind what you’re actually doing and so it’s up for you to continue pushing it out there, it’s up to me to continue putting out the same kind of production.

« We just brought in Zion (Johnson) in the first round of the Draft, o-line is very solid, we have Justin who is going to be throwing the ball around. I’m in a position where I have the opportunity to repeat if not surpass the season I had last year as long as I can stay healthy. »

When it comes to attention he knows he and the Chargers are not short of competition in Hollywood, where their neighbouring Rams are coming off a Super Bowl-winning campaign and where LeBron James remains Los Angeles Lakers poster boy/man.

« I think the lack of recognition maybe just comes from the culture of LA, because it’s a very crowded neighbourhood for entertainment, to be the new kid on the block with the Chargers, we don’t get as much recognition as some of these towns that football is everything, » he admitted.

« If you’re on the Packers, the Steelers, the Chiefs, the Broncos, there are other sports but football is like the crown jewel and we’re not the crown jewel in LA, especially because the Rams just won the Super Bowl too. They’ll still have the issue with competing with the other entertainment. »

Ekeler has been held to 75 rushing yards off 28 carries over the opening two weeks of the season

Ekeler has been held to 75 rushing yards off 28 carries over the opening two weeks of the season

Ekeler’s 1,558 scrimmage yards from 206 carries and 70 catches spoke to his value as a premier contributor in Joe Lombardi’s offense. One he intends to continue expanding on in unison with two 1,000-yard receivers and evergreen targets of Herbert in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

« The moment you stop trying to push for a bigger role in the offense is the moment you get passed by somebody else, » he continued. « You cannot be complacent. I always say it like this, it’s our job to keep our job and our ownership and administration’s job to replace us.

« For me, for all of us, we have to continue to show that we have a role in this team and we’re continuing to grow that role. Keenan (Allen), we know his role, we know what he’s going to do, now he’s got to hold onto it, stay consistent and show he’s still fulfilling that role.

« For a guy like me, I was undrafted, I continued to build my role, continue to progress in what I offer and now I’m in a position where I’m starter and I’m trying to bring up my other team-mates.

« It’s going to take all of us to win games and get to the playoffs. »

There are air guitars aplenty to come this season, you would imagine.

Look out for more from Sky Sports’ interview with Austin Ekeler in the coming weeks on quarterback Justin Herbert and head coach Brandon Staley on skysports.com and @SkySportsNFL on Twitter.

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