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/Tri-County Press
Alex Erickson, WR, Washington Commanders
DARLINGTON – At this point in his NFL career, all Alex Erickson is looking for is a chance to keep living his dream. And, he’s willing to fight– just like he’s always done– to keep that dream alive.
While he is focused on his future with his new team, the Washington Commanders, the former Darlington star remains firmly rooted in the past.
Fresh off the Commanders’ mandatory mini-camp, the seven-year NFL veteran returned home last week to host his annual youth football camp and two charity golf tournaments before returning to the Washington D.C. area for training camp in July.
“It’s home. It’s a place I can always come back to and I want to give something back to because it has given so much to me. It would be a shame for me not to give something back to this community,” said Erickson.
With the help of his wife, Kelsi, his kids, Owen, and Harper, and many other family and friends along with members of the Darlington Redbirds varsity football team, Erickson, 29, hosted his fifth annual Football Skills Camp at Martens Field for an energetic group of young athletes looking to improve their overall skills on the gridiron.
While the kids have changed over the years, the enthusiasm they bring and the joy they display meeting a real-life NFL player keeps Erickson pumped for another year holding the camp, which was split into two groups for kids entering grades 2-5 and kids in grades 6-8.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids coming out here to play some football and enjoy it,” he noted. “This is where my dreams started. I never want to forget that. For these kids, whether it’s playing in the NFL or something else entirely, I want to let them know that they can achieve their goals and dreams just like I did.
Then, on Saturday, the Erickson Foundation held its’ fifth annual charity golf outing for Hodan Community Services at the Dodge-Point Country Club in Mineral Point.
“The Hodan Center is a place we’ve been connected with for a lot of years,” said Erickson, who has also raised donations for the organization through the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats program each December. “It’s an organization my family believes in and our core values are very similar– giving everyone an opportunity to pursue their dream and aspirations and have a purpose.”
The Erickson Foundation will also be joining with See-Mor Grain to host the Never Forget fundraiser and golf outing this week to benefit Mineral Point volunteer fire captain Brian Busch and volunteer firefighter James Ludlum, who were killed in the line of duty. The monies raised will be used to give scholarships at Mineral Point High School and surrounding school districts in the memory of Busch, Ludlum and their families to honor the dedication of the local fire departments.
“A situation like this is not easy because their families are still grieving. We felt if we could help carry on their legacy and help support the volunteers in the community that we should do something,” Erickson explained. “These guys were volunteers out on their own time helping others and, ultimately, it cost them their lives. That’s the ultimate sacrifice. Our small communities need to have people like that. They are the real heroes. We want to honor that legacy and share the importance of those first-line defenders we have and let them know we support them.”
Being able to put on these sort of events not only allows him to give something back to his home area but it also helps Erickson keep his professional career in perspective.
“I’ve been blessed with a great support system from my family to the community and the entire southwest corner of the state, really. They have had my back the whole time. It gives me confidence knowing that people are there for me, rooting for me and loving me whether things are going the way they’re supposed to or they’re not. I know I can come back home and people are proud of me.
I’ve always felt that what you do on the field is important, but who you are as a person is more important than that.”
After spending his first five NFL season with the Cincinnati Bengals, the former UW-Madison walk-on signed with the Houston Texans but was released late in training camp. He then joined the Carolina Panthers and spent the entire 2021 season with the organization, serving mainly as a returner with the club.
Erickson, a 6’0” 195-pound wide receiver/kick returner, signed with the Commanders in the off-season and has been working hard at their OTAs and mini-camp to get up to speed learning a new offense for the third time in the last two seasons.
“It’s been going well so far. It was good to get out there and get acquainted with the guys and the system, and get myself in position to compete once we get into training camp and win a spot on the roster.
He noted most teams have similar concepts when it comes to their offensive systems, but the difference is in the terminology and details.
After having several different offense coordinators in both college and with the Bengals at the start of his NFL career and jumping between two teams a year ago, Erickson feels he’s become adept at adapting quickly.
“Learning a system and understanding the concepts has always come naturally to me,” he stated.
Last year was a learning experience for Erickson and his family as they got a taste of what he referred to as the business-side of the NFL. In Cincinnati, he had some stability being there for five seasons. However, he is now on his third team in the last two years, which can be tough on a player and his family.
“It all happened so fast in a short period of time, but it is what it is. We know what we sign up for. I’m just happy I still get the opportunity to play the game I love,” he admitted.
The Commanders begin their training camp on July 26 in Ashburn, Va. There first preseason game will be at Washington’s FedEx Field on Saturday, Aug. 13, against Erickson’s former team, the Panthers.
Erickson said he signed with the team in the off-season because it gave him an opportunity to get back into a returner role with a team while also battling for playing time as a receiver. He will be competing against a group of talented young but inexperienced players for both roles.
“I don’t have a lot of expectation but I’ll be scratching and clawing (for a spot on the roster). That’s what I’ve hung my hat on my whole career. I’ve been a guy that’s on the border every year. I’ve gotten seven years in the league by fighting. For me, it’s about going in, competing and laying it all on the line. Whatever happens, happens. So much of it is out of my control, so there’s no sense in wasting energy worrying about it,” commented Erickson.