DARLINGTON – Not even a steady rain that fell throughout the day could dampen the enthusiasm of the campers or wash away the smiles of all who attended the third annual Alex Erickson Football Skills Camp at Darlington High School on Wednesday, June 19.
“I wish the weather would work with us one of these years,” said Erickson, who has seen rain during the event in each of the three years its been held. “It’s awesome to give back to the community where I got my start. This field is where I started playing football.”
More than 250 boys and girls going into grades second through eighth disregarded Mother Nature to work on their football skills along with Erickson, a former Darlington Redbirds star and current Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receiver.
Erickson graduated from Darlington High School in 2011, joined the University of Wisconsin football team as a walk-on and working hard to become the Badgers’ leading receiver 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.
Despite not being drafted, Erickson didn’t let his dream of playing professionally in the National Football League fade. Instead, he took an opportunity granted him by the Bengals and ran with it, making the team’s 53-man roster as a rookie and establishing himself as one of the top return men in the league during his first three seasons in the NFL.
The 26-year old returned to his roots on Wednesday when he and Kelsi, and their newborn son, Owen, hosted their third annual Football Skills Camp at Martens Field for an energetic group of youth athletes looking to improve their overall skills on the gridiron as well as individual position drills to become better quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and defenders.
Instructors at the camp included fourth-year NFL Bengals’ quarterback Jeff Driskel, former Wisconsin Badger teammate and Green Bay Packer wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, current Badger running back and former Redbirds’ standout Hunter Johnson along with coaches and players from the Darlington Redbirds football team.
“It’s pretty special to have those guys here. The best thing we get to do (as NFL players) is we get to meet people you would never have met otherwise. Jared and Jeff are two of those guys I’ve met along my journey and have been great, lifelong friends. They take time out of their busy schedules to be here for me. They are both young dads, like me, who just have had babies, so just for them to take the time to give back to our community, I am very grateful for that, and I think the kids are as well,” Erickson stated.
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.
“Just giving kids the opportunity to learn the game, and more importantly, have fun playing the game we all love to play and be around NFL players. They get to see that it’s all a possibility with hard work and dedication. At the end of the day, it’s about having fun and learning some new drills,” replied Erickson
Skills competitions were also held during the camp with Badger, Bengals and merchandize from Erickson’s 608.com clothing line being awarded as prizes to the winners.
Donations from camp sponsors– the Sieg Foundation, Shullsburg Auto, ReNew Monument Cleaning and the 608.com– allowed each camper to receive a t-shirt and backpack filled with goodies while allowing Erickson to donate the proceeds from the entry fees to the Redbird Touchdown Club, which provides support for the local youth and high school football programs, and well as contribute to the Erickson’s foundation, which he created with his wife to go towards helping out youth and those with special needs.
“One of the things we want to focus with our foundation is the youth and our camp is a great opportunity to do that. We want to be part of the community. This is where we got our start. We, obviously, would not be in the position we are without the people in the (Darlington) community and the surrounding area. I know we don’t live here any more, but there are still opportunities to give back to those who have given so much to us. It’s definitely important to Kelsi and I,” said Erickson.
On Thursday, June 27, the Ericksons will be hosting their second annual Hodan Community Services Golf Outing at Dodge-Point Country Club in Mineral Point.
“We want everyone to have the same opportunities to achieve their goals and achieve their potential. The best thing you can do is give someone the chance, no matter what their circumstances are. Give them the opportunity to achieve all they are trying to achieve in life,” commented Erickson.
With his Skills Camp behind him, Erickson will now turn his attention towards continuing his preparation for the upcoming Bengals’ training camp, which starts on July 27.
Erickson has installed himself as one of the top kick returners in the NFL in his first three years in the league and has been climbing up the Bengals’ depth charts as a receiver every year.
With a new season upon him and a new coaching staff taking over the team in the off-season, Erickson has set some lofty goals for himself and the team heading into 2019.
“The returning has been a big part of my career. I want to be a Pro Bowl returner this season. As a receiver, my goal is to be a starter. You got to set the bar high and give yourself something to shoot for,” said Erickson. “As a team, it’s about winning the division, then getting in the playoffs and, ultimately, winning a Super Bowl. That’s our goal. There are 31 other teams with the same goal. We are all trying to achieve that level of excellence.”