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Follow The Leader: Austin Ekeler Showcasing Why He's a Captain


This isn't Austin Ekeler's first time as a team captain.

Far from it.

The Chargers running back earned that honor in 2021 and again this season, extending a tradition of sorts where Ekeler has been a captain at every level of football he has played.

And after a Week 4 win over the Texans, a game in which Ekeler found the end zone three times, Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley called attention to his leadership.

"I felt like he played like a captain today," Staley said. "Beyond Austin's performance on the field, I felt like he really led our football team on offense, just played with the energy that he's known for and just a complete performance by Austin."

Ekeler's story is well-known, having made it to the NFL after being an undrafted player out of Western State Colorado University.

The 27-year-old said he considers it a great honor to wear the "C" on his chest.

"It carries a significance with the team relying on you, your demeanor and the way you go about your work so that you continue to set a standard and hold a standard for everyone else to build off it," Ekeler said. "Feed off that same energy.

"For me specifically, I'm going to be a vocal guy," Ekeler added. "I'm going to be talking on the field, be in your ear, chirping and just making sure, 'Hey, I'm making sure you're continuing to feel that fire that's down inside you.' That's my mindset, to see what your fire is, but keep it going and keep that thing burning."

One of the most versatile offensive players in the league, Ekeler has proven his worth in multiple facets for the Bolts in recent seasons.

He turned heads in 2019 with 92 catches for 993 yards and eight scores as a running back, and then took the league by storm a season ago with 20 total touchdowns.

Ekeler found the end zone a dozen times on the ground a season ago, and added eight receiving scores, to tie for the league lead in total touchdowns with Colts running back Jonathan Taylor.

He had been shut out before Week 4 in Houston, where he simply went to work and made sure the Chargers would get a win after scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns and another through the air.

And he excelled again in Week 5, rushing for a career-high 173 yards to help the Bolts secure another road win in Cleveland.

Add it all up and Ekeler suddenly has scored five total touchdowns in five games this season, meaning he's on pace for another strong season.

Ekeler also reached 50 career touchdowns against Cleveland, with 24 of them on the ground and 26 on receptions.

"It feels good. Look, I never even really paid attention to it until it obviously started coming from the media a little bit more," Ekeler said. "I was like, 'I'll look into it.' I went back, I looked at the rankings for the Chargers touchdowns and the thing is exponentially, going down from LT [Hall of Fame RB LaDainian Tomlinson] and [TE] Antonio Gates, I was like, 'Man, absolute legends back in the day,' because it's those two and then everyone else is like miles behind them.

"It's been pretty cool. I was like, 'Sheesh, I didn't even know I was that high as far as the touchdown count,' because you don't even think about it," Ekeler continued. "You just go out there and try the play the best you can and the results kind of play themselves out.

"I'll definitely take time to appreciate that and take time to appreciate the work that has been put in and just remember that it has been because of just straight up dedication to this opportunity that all of this has happened and everything else," Ekeler added. "It's a good reminder of, 'Hey, look how far you've come. Keep going.'"

From undrafted to fifty touchdowns in the NFL, take a look back at each of Austin Ekeler's trips to the endzone as a member of the Chargers

Now, with Denver in town for a pivotal division clash, Ekeler recalled how growing up in Colorado actually helped paved the way for him to get to where he is now.

Ekeler joked that he didn't watch the NFL until his junior year of college, probably because he didn't have time to do so growing up in the small town of Eaton, which is located a little over an hour outside of Denver to the northwest.

Eaton spent the bulk of his childhood helping out on his family's 80-acre ranch, building toughness, strength and quite simply, a work ethic one needs to make it to the NFL.

"You learn how to work hard," Ekeler said. "You learn that's there's no excuses, just that you have to work hard.

"You might not get the results you want, and you might get the results that actually might not even affect you in any way, but you just have to work," Ekeler continued. "It's what you do and the environment you grow up in. There are so many responsibilities all over the place, and you might not even partake in some of those.

"I had to take care of these animals," Ekeler added. "I really didn't care about any of them but guess what? I'm out there taking care of them. There's no excuses. It taught me how to work."

The scenery around looks a bit different now. The beaches and sunshine of Southern California have replaced taking care of animals and helping with other chores around the ranch.

Ekeler's work ethic, however, has remained the same.

There's a reason why Ekeler is the youngest running back in the common draft era to reach 25 touchdown catches.

And why the Bolts offense seems to click better when he's in his groove.

All he really knows is hard work, even if the results take awhile to shine through.

"[I'm driven by] the pursuit to become a better version of myself, every single day," Ekeler said. "That is what I live by.

"I'm trying to become the best version of myself and increase my impact … and leave a wake of motivation behind myself to pull other people up," Ekeler continued. "I want to live in that uncomfortability zone, where I push myself so far that I wonder, 'Man, I don't know if I can keep going.' I love living there. I love to be on the edge of my capabilities, because that's where the most growth is.

"Everyone likes to be comfortable," Ekeler added. "But there's different perspective in how you see your comfortability level. It depends on what you're looking for in life. For me, it's not quantifiable. It's a concept I'm trying to grow into. I'm always pushing and always growing."

On most days, the Chargers are coming right along with him.

Get an inside look at Austin Ekeler getting slimed by his teammates after winning the Week 4 Nickelodeon NFL Slimetime NVP award.

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