EDITOR'S NOTE: The Swnews4u.com Athlete of the Week is a web-only feature that will publish each Thursday throughout the calendar year.
By Tom Gunnell, Republican Journal
Alex Erickson, WR, Houston Texans (Darlington HS graduate)
DARLINGTON — The saying is that everything is bigger in Texas.
Darlington native Alex Erickson is hoping for big things as he begins his sixth National Football League season in the Houston Texans training camp.
Erickson, a 6’0” 195-pound wide receiver/kick returner, is in his first season with the Texans after signing a one-year deal with the team in March.
“I’m excited to be in a new spot and get new opportunities,” said Erickson during an interview in between sessions of his recent youth football camp held at Darlington High School’s Martens Field. “I hope to get the chance to come in and carve out a bigger role with the Texans. It will be a challenge, like it is every year in the NFL, but I’m really excited for this new opportunity.”
Erickson, a 2011 graduate of Darlington High School, spent his first five NFL seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals before signing as an unrestricted free agent with the Texans.
“It’s gone well,” said Erickson. “I was with the team for about a month. I’m getting to know the guys and getting to know the offense. I’m trying to get familiar with everything in Houston. It’s been a big adjustment. After five years in Cincinnati, you get accustomed to the way things are done there. You get comfortable with the way the team is and your role on the team.”
In his five seasons with the Bengals, the former Wisconsin walk-on established himself as one of the league’s top kickoff and punt returners having returned108 kickoffs for 2,672 yards (24.7 yards per kick return average) and also fielded 135 punts for 1,074 yards (8.0 ypr.).
Erickson has made strides as a wide receiver after primarily serving as a returner at the start of his career. In 80 games, including 14 starts, he has caught 93 passes for 1,086 yards (11.7 average) and one touchdown. He has also added 18 carries for 78 yards.
“I enjoyed my time with the Bengals, but I’m ready for something new,” said Erickson. “It’s been refreshing to get a new start. Sometimes change is good. I’m hoping that’s the case for me. Hopefully this leads to bigger and better things.”
Erickson said he would like to see his role as a receiver expand in Houston, but also knows he has a battle in front of him just to make the team with the Texans listing 12 wide receivers on their roster heading into training camp, which starts on Tuesday, July 27, at NRG Stadium and the Houston Methodist Training Center.
“On every team you find a role,” said Erickson. “I played a lot in Cincinnati, so my hop is to get more playing time at wide receiver and expand that role more in order to help the Texans win more games. I’m going to go into camp ready to compete and make the most of this opportunity.”
Erickson is not one to sink from a battle. A quarterback and defensive back in high school, Erickson thought basketball at UW–Stevens Point was going to be his career path until the Badgers offered his a walk-on opportunity late in the summer of 2011.
He would switched positions to wide receiver, and eventually worked his way to becoming the Badgers’ leading receiver by his senior year and an All-Big 10 selection by both the media and the coaches as well as a three-time Academic All-Big 10 performer.
Erickson went undrafted during the 2016 NFL Draft, however he made his way to the Bengals as a free agent. He made the team’s 53-man roster as a rookie and withstood challenges in each of his five training camps to remain with the Bengals. He has never missed a game in his NFL career.
The 28-year old returned to his roots on Wednesday when he and Kelsi, along with son, Owen, and daughter, Harper, hosted the Erickson Foundation’s fourth annual Football Skills Camp at Martens Field for an energetic group of more than 200 young athletes looking to improve their overall skills on the gridiron.
“This means everything to me,” said Erickson. “This is where it all started for me, right here on this field. I think it’s important that these kids understand that no matter where you come from or how big your school is, you can go on to achieve anything. If you set your goals high and work hard, then anything is possible. I hope they see that in my example.”
Erickson spent most of his time during the camp moving around from drill to drill and interacting with as many as the campers as he could, giving encouragement, high-fives and fist-bumps along the way.
Instructors at the camp included former Wisconsin Badger teammate and current Jacksonville Jaguars All-Pro linebacker Joe Schobert along with members of the Darlington Redbirds coaching staff and high school football team.
“It’s cool for these kids to get around guys who are performing at the highest level and see that they care about the youth and giving back to the community,” said Erickson
Skills competitions were also held during the camp with Badger and Texans merchandize awarded as prizes to the winners.