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Former Darlington standout shines in NFL debut
Erickson Bengals
Alex Erickson caught a TD pass and returned a punt for another score in his NFL debut for the Cincinnati Bengals in a preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings last Friday. photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Athlete of the Week is a web-only feature that will publish each Thursday throughout the calendar year

Alex Erickson (Darlington), Cincinnati Bengals football

    CINCINNATI — There is no debate about this week’s Mast Water Technology Athlete of the Week. Former Darlington High School and Wisconsin gridiron star turned NFL hopefully Alex Erickson had a dazzling professional debut last week. 

     Erickson, a 6’0”, 195-pound wide receiver, scored a pair of touchdowns for the Cincinnati Bengals in a 17–16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium on Friday, Aug. 12. He caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from A.J. McCarron with 47 seconds remaining in the second quarter to cut the Vikings’ lead to 10-7 at the time, and then he gave the Bengals a chance to grab a late lead when by using his dynamic return skills on a jaw-dropping 80-yard punt return touchdown to trim the deficit to 17–16.

    The former Redbird three-sport athlete finished the night with one reception for three yards and a touchdown on two targets, one rush for three yards and one punt return for 80 yards and another score.

     Friday was the perfect start for the undrafted rookie who is fighting for a spot on the Bengals’ 53-man final roster among a talented group of young wide receivers in camp.

     “As a competitor, any time you have a chance for something, you feel like you’re in it,” said Erickson. “I’m not trying to worry about the numbers at all.”

     It was the first time in his storied football career he returned a punt for a touchdown and caught a touchdown in the same game. The punt return was Ericsson’s first for a touchdown since his senior year of high school in 2010 and landed the NFL-hopeful the #3 spot on the ESPN Sportscenter Plays of the Day.

     “I knew I was going to have a chance to return it, just because the punter drove it— he hit it pretty good. I caught it going backwards, and you want to catch it going forward,” Erickson said at the interview podium after the game. “I was able to cut off some of their blocks and got on the punter and outran everybody. On a punt return, that’s such a long play. After looking at the clip you can just tell everyone was straining. It makes it fun when you just do your part and everyone else is doing their part as well.

     “When you’re driven back, there’s going to be more space. There’s going to be more room to make guys miss. It also makes it harder on our guys. They’ve got to run a little.”

     The Bengals’ two-point conversion try failed as the Vikings held on for the victory.

     Since being signed to a free agent contact earlier this year, Erickson has done nothing but impress the Bengals’ coaching staff with his hard work, his sure hands and his consistency. From rookie camp to OTAs to training to his first-ever pre-season NFL game, he has caught the eye of receivers coach Jeff Urban, head coach Marvin Lewis and many others in the Cincinnati organization.

     The Bengals head to Detroit for their second pre-season game against the Lions at Ford Field on Thursday, Aug. 18. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CST.


HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order):

Bailie Bussan, Jr., Southwestern/Benton/Cuba City girls golf

     Bussan carded a 43 at last Friday’s season-opening Darlington quadrangular to finish in a four-way tie for first-place. The Southwestern tri-op finished second with 205 strokes, eight back of Darlington (197).


Kinsey Gould, Sr., Darlington girls golf

     Gould shot a 7-over-par 43 last Friday at the season-opening Darlington quadrangular to finish in a four-way tie for medalist honors and leading the Redbirds to a first-place finish with 197 strokes, ahead of Southwestern/Benton/Cuba City (205), Lancaster (233) and Mount Horeb (251).


Michael McPhail, (Darlington), Summer Olympics rifle shooting

     Sgt. first-class Michael McPhail placed 19th in the qualification round of the 50-meter Prone Rifle competition at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games on Friday, Aug. 12. In his second Olympic appearance, McPhail finished 19th with a score of 622.0, narrowly missing out on the finals by 2.8 points. The top eight advanced to the finals with the cutoff 624.8. Germany’s Henri Jugnhaenel won the gold in the event, zeroing in after a disappointing qualification round (624.8, eighth place), to finish atop the podium with 209.5 points, which was a new Olympic final record. McPhail is the son of Dennis and Joyce McPhail of Darlington.