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Five things to know about Austin Ekeler

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The Washington Commanders added leadership, experience and playmaking ability to their backfield by signing Austin Ekeler in the first week of free agency. Here are five things to know about the Commanders' newest running back.

1. He was a zero-star recruit.

It's strange to think about how some of the best players in the NFL over the last 20 years received such little attention as high school prospects. Bobby Wagner, one of the best linebackers of all time, was a two-star recruit and only got one offer from Utah State. 

Ekeler was in a similar situation. Despite being a four-year starter at Eaton High School, he was a zero-star recruit and generated hardly any interest from Division I programs.

Perhaps it was Ekeler's height; he was, after all, just 5-foot-5 as a freshman. Or maybe he just wasn't fit for teams' systems. Despite his physical appearance, it was clear that Ekeler could ball, though. He started his playing career rushing for 454 yards to go with eight touchdowns, and by the time he had wrapped up his senior season, he had amassed 5,232 yards and 71 touchdowns, including 39 in his final year.

There were also shades of his abilities as a versatile offensive weapon on top of averaging 9.2 yards per carry. He also accounted for 581 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in four seasons.

None of that amounted to much attention from scouts. Wyoming was interested in Ekeler, but that was about as far as it went. He eventually did receive offers from schools, but most of them had different plans for him.

2. Only one school wanted him to play running back.

Ekeler got four scholarship offers after being an all-conference and all-state player in Nebraska: Adams State, Chadron State, Oklahoma Panhandle State and Western State, now called Western Colorado. There was just one problem; most of those schools wanted him to play defense.

That was the case for the three of the schools that were interested in him. Some thought he would work best in the secondary, while others preferred that he sign as an athlete. Western State head coach Jas Bains was the only coach who thought he could play running back. 

So, Ekeler signed with Western State and immediately became a star for the team.

"He was the guy here," **Bains told the LA Times.** "We played as good as he played."

Western Colorado was not a good team for most of Ekeler's time with the program, but Ekeler was a spectacle that got more impressive each season. After leading the team with 1,049 yards as a freshman, he set single-season school records for total rushing yards (1,676) and all-purpose yards (2,093) during his sophomore season. He went on to lead Division II athletes in all-purpose yards as a junior and wrapped up his senior year with 1,495 yards with 15 touchdowns.

Ekeler ended his college career averaging 6.2 yards per carry with 63 total touchdowns. That's not bad for a player almost every school wanted to be on the other side of the ball.

Excitement was in the air the Washington Commanders' incoming free agents made their first trips to the facility. Check out the top photos of their arrival.

3. He went from undrafted free agent to star for the Chargers.

The 2017 NFL Draft saw 27 running backs get taken, a handful of which are no longer in the league. Ekeler was not one of the players to have his name pop up on his television screen, meaning he'd have to continue his NFL aspirations through other means.

Ekeler landed with the Chargers on a three-year deal, although there was no guarantee he would make the roster as an undrafted free agent. He made the most of his snaps during his first two seasons, although he only received 153 attempts as the primary backup for Melvin Gordon.

It wasn't until the 2019 season, which saw Gordon sit out of the first eight games due to a contract dispute, that Ekeler got more exposure. His rushing stats stayed about the same, despite getting 28 more carries, but his production as a pass-catcher more than doubled, catching 92 of his 108 targets for 993 yards.

That versatility became a calling card for Ekeler, as he saw his usage gradually increase each season. Gordon joined the Broncos in 2020, and the Chargers gave Ekeler an extension to be their primary back. Ekeler rewarded that faith by recording at least 1,000 scrimmage yards in three of his next four seasons, including a career-high of 1,637 in 2022, and led the league in total touchdowns twice.

4. He wants to help people fulfill their passions.

Ekeler's journey is full of perseverance and determination. He's had to believe in himself and make his own way to make his dreams a reality, and he wants to help others do the same.

One year after signing his multi-year extension with the Chargers, Ekeler launched the Austin Ekeler Foundation, which focuses on helping people fulfill their passions and improve their lives.

"The reason I call it the Austin Ekeler Foundation is because I envision myself helping who I used to be as a kid," **Ekeler told** "And that's someone who came from a small town – not that many resources. I had a lot of support which was great, but it was just a time in my life where I was like, 'I really don't know what's happening. I really don't have any real guidance as far as what I'm trying to do later on in life.'"

The foundation, which focuses on giving back to local communities in California, hosts football camps, provides high school football teams with new equipment and helps renovate high school gyms. For example, the gym at Long Beach Poly High School, which services more than 1,700 athletes, received state-of-the-art equipment, sound systems and flooring.

"I started a foundation to help those that may find themselves in situations similar to mine growing up," said in a statement on the foundation's website. "With your help, we can give hard-working individuals the added support they need to achieve their passions."

Click **HERE** to check out Ekeler's foundation and find more information about making a donation.

5. He has a list of impressive accolades.

Ekeler had a quiet year by his standards in 2023, mostly because of injuries, but still managed to surpass 1,000 scrimmage yards for the fourth time in his career. Even though he'll be 29 by Week 1 of the 2024 season, Ekeler is still among the better running backs playing today, and he has the records to back it up.

For starters, Ekeler is one of just four players in the past 15 years to have at least 15 total touchdowns in back-to-back seasons (he led the league both times), the others being Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara and Jonathan Taylor.

Ekeler is also in rare company when it comes to versatile scoring weapons. He and Marshall Faulk are the only two players in NFL history to have at least 10 rushing touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns in consecutive seasons. He and former Kansas City Chiefs star running back Priest Holmes are the only undrafted players to record 1,500 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns in consecutive seasons.

And Ekeler has cemented his status in Chargers' history as well. He caught a career-high 107 passes in 2022, which surpassed LaDainian Tomlinson's single-season franchise record.

Ekeler's time in Washington will likely be shorter than his tenure with the Chargers, but it's clear that the Commanders are getting a dynamic player who still has the moves to change an offense.

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