DARLINGTON – Alex Erickson’s path to the National Football League began at Martens Field. And, although his skills, determination and work ethic has taken him from starring at Darlington High School to starring in the NFL, the 24-year old has not forgotten where is roots lay.
Erickson returned home last week to host his inaugural Football Skills Camp on the same field he starred in as a prep, spending two days working an energetic group of 223 youth athletes from grades second through eighth along with former Wisconsin Badger teammates and current NFL players Joe Schobert and Joel Stave.
“It’s awesome to be able to give back to the community and the youth, and at the same time support the programs I got started in, which helped to make my dreams become a reality. The support from my sponsors– the Sieg Foundation, Shullsburg Auto and Athletes RX– and the amount of kids who signed up was humbling,” said Erickson. “It means everything to me to come back to the community of Darlington.”
Erickson has spent the summer training for his second season as a wide receiver and kick returner for the Cincinnati Bengals. In his rookie season, the former walk-on with the Badgers made the Bengals’ 53-man roster with a strong pre-season performance, and he continued to shine on special teams for the Bengals during the regular season, finishing with a league-high 810 kick return yards and posting a second-best 27.93 yards per return average.
When he was contacted by Gary Blosch, the president of the Redbird Touchdown Club, to see if he would speak at a football camp they were planning to hold over the summer, Erickson not only agreed to speak at the camp but told them he would run it as well and donate all the proceeds to the club, which provides support for the local youth and high school football programs.
Blosch had a bit of an advantage in landing the budding NFL star since he will soon become Erickson father-in-law. Erickson is set to marry his high school sweetheart, Kelsi, later this month.
“I think the camp was a great success. It’s pretty cool to have three NFL players on Darlington’s football field. The kids really seemed like they enjoyed it, and the players enjoyed interacting with the young kids,” Blosch remarked.
With players and coaches from Darlington high school football team helping out, camp attendees worked on drills for a variety of positions on each side of the ball.
Schobert, a Waukesha native and All-American linebacker at UW who was a drafted in the fourth round in 2016 by the Cleveland Browns, helped coach defensive skills; while Stave, a graduate of Whitnall High School in Greendale and star quarterback at UW who recently signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, assisted on the offensive side of the ball.
“I asked Joel and Joe to help out and they didn’t hesitate. They said when do you want us there. That’s pretty cool. That’s one of the real benefits I have received for all my years in football. You get to meet some great people, and you make lifelong friends. When my NFL career comes to end and, hopefully many years down the road, what you’ll have left is those friendships you have formed and bonds you made with former teammates and colleagues,” stated Erickson.
He also noted that the support and belief the community and surrounding area has shown him from his days as a multi-sport star with the Redbirds through his walk-on and starring days with the Badgers and on to his current trials and tribulations as a non-drafted free agent with the Bengals has been important to him.
“It never ceases to amaze me that every time I come back to the area, it’s like my first time coming back. The reception and welcome I get, it’s like I’ve been gone for six years even though it’s maybe been six months. They want the best for me whether it’s on the football field or my life in general. That’s what it’s all about,” Erickson declared.
His Skills Camp held last Wednesday and Thursday was just one way he felt he could give back to the Darlington community and the surrounding area.
“He’s a person of high character and he really cares about people,” said Darlington football coach Scott Zywicki, who put Erickson under center the third game of his freshman season and watched him go 30-12 as a starter for the Redbirds.
“It’s a commitment he made a long time ago not only to the school but to the community and surrounding area to give back wherever possible. He’s a positive role model for the kids. You couldn’t ask for a better ambassador for our community than Alex.”
During the camp, it looked at times as if he was having as much– if not more– fun than the campers themselves. Just watching him work with the kids on their touchdown celebrations showed how much he was into it along with the kids.
“It’s always fun working with kids. They have so much energy and enthusiasm. Sometimes they needed a little spark to get it going. Any time you can feed off their energy and they can feed off your energy, it makes for a great environment,” said Erickson.
He will need all the energy he can get heading into his second training camp with the Bengals as once again he will be fighting tooth and nail for a spot on the roster.
However, just like he has throughout his career, he will come into that fight prepared and willing to do whatever he can to come out on top.
And he knows he has the belief and the backing of his hometown behind him rooting him on the whole way.