Austin Ekeler is an athletic marvel.
When Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn recently dubbed Ekeler the strongest guy on the team, he wasn't just blowing smoke.
"It's not an opinion, that's a fact. We go through the offseason program with the weights and percentages. We were very surprised how strong he was. I mean, pound for pound, strongest guy on our team," Lynn told reporters.
The second-year running back's Instagram account is littered with footage of his impressive weight room exploits, and his prodigious power makes him a nightmare to tackle. Through 12 games, Ekeler's 2.69 yards after contact per carry ranked second in the NFL. Not bad for a guy who's generously listed at 5-foot-10.
The origins of Ekeler's awe-inspiring strength can be traced to Eaton (Colorado) High School. With just a shade over 500 students, it's far from the biggest high school in the Centennial State, but they do have a weight room. During Ekeler's sophomore year, he and a group of athlete buddies started lifting on a regular basis. The group soon became addicted to the ritual of pumping iron and cracking jokes.
"What made it fun for me and why I continued to do it and (how) it became a therapy for me, is because I had a good group of guys around me. My friends group, they were my teammates, my friends, and we'd go workout together. It just created a social atmosphere where when we were in the gym, we'd have fun and be able to lift at the same time," Ekeler told STACK. "That's where the want to be in the gym came from. It creates a competitive atmosphere, because we were always trying to out-lift each other, too. So that's another aspect of it."
Even better, the competition quickly bled outside athletics and into the classroom. "We had a really tight-knit group. And we had little titles. And you didn't want to be the worst in Spanish. And that was one of our titles—the worst in Spanish," Ekeler recalls with a laugh. "Sure, you wanted to do well—I've always wanted to do well in what I'm involved in—but I think that helped me out."
"My friend group—(if you're) surrounding yourself with good people with good intentions who are trying to move forward, you'll probably want to end up being the same, if you're not the person who's leading that. I encourage that a great amount. It's about who you surround yourself with. If you have that mentality, especially in high school—because it's so easy to fall into peer pressure—but if your peers are pressuring you to go forward and do better, that's what you want."
Ekeler blossomed into an All-State selection in both football and track for Eaton, and won numerous awards for his academic achievements. He did more of the same at nearby Western Colorado University, a D-II school in Gunnison, Colorado, setting careers records in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns and becoming a three-time academic all-American. That was enough to earn him a shot as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Chargers, where he defied the odds to make the final roster and had a productive rookie season. This season, he's on pace to record over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and is the X-factor on a potent Chargers offense.
Ekeler's success is a great reminder that the company you keep has a huge influence on the goals and mindset you develop.
Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images
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