Austin Ekeler is a human highlight reel.
The Los Angeles Chargers running back packs a shocking amount of agility and power into his 5-foot-10, 200-pound frame.
He’ll break your ankles one play, burn you in a foot race on another, then truck you on the next. Ekeler might not yet be a marquee name, but his 122.7 yards from scrimmage per game currently ranks fifth in the NFL, ahead of guys like Zeke and Saquon.
Ask Ekeler how he became such a great athlete, and he won’t trace it back to some specialized training plan he religiously followed since grade school. Rather, he credits much of his athleticism to the fact he grew up constantly playing sports.
At Eaton (Colorado) High School, Ekeler was a three-sport athlete, competing in football, basketball and track. In his mind, there are few better ways to become a better football player than by pulling on your sneakers in the winter and spikes in the spring.
“I would absolutely encourage track. Not only track, but basketball, as well. I was a three-sport athlete in high school, and I think that’s one thing that helped my athleticism growing up and my development. I was always playing sports and I was always in shape. I didn’t have that dead time between high school football and track, I had basketball in-between which kept me in shape,” Ekeler told STACK.
“Track (can be particularly helpful), just because you’re working on speed and explosion. That’s a lot of what football is. It’s lower-body quick-twitch muscles, and same with basketball. I think when athletes are able to do other sports, someway, somehow, it (can) indirectly help you out in your main sport.”
The best way to get faster is to practice running fast, and there’s no better way to do that than running track.
The burst and top-end speed athletes develop through track will benefit every position on the football field. For linemen, track and field throwing events such as the shot put have tremendous carryover to their responsibilities in the trenches.
Basketball is a tremendous sport for building lateral quickness, jumping ability, vision and conditioning. The tremendous number of former college basketball players who’ve blossomed into NFL stars is living proof of the sport’s strong carryover. Doug Baldwin has said he believes pick-up basketball helped his route-running skills more than anything else.
According to Tracking Football, 59% of the players selected in the 2018 NFL Draft participated in track and field in high school, while 49% participated in basketball. Track and basketball were far and away the most popular second-sport options (baseball, which was third-most popular, had a 13% participation rate). Overall, 88.3% played multiple sports in high school.
Being a multi-sport athlete does require good time-management skills. With practice, games and homework, one has little time left for training. However, Ekeler was able to enroll in a weightlifting class at Eaton which counted as a gym credit, allowing him to perform valuable in-season workouts.
“I was able to actually take a class—it was (with) my offensive coordinator and our head basketball coach, Dean Grable, he was our PE gym teacher. We’d have weightlifting class and we’d lift two times a week in season, probably three times a week (out of season). It wasn’t anything too vigorous, because I did have sports and games to go to, so you don’t want to be too sore. But your body is going to fluctuate when you’re doing that many sports. My body weight used to fluctuate all the time between all the different sports, but the fact we were even getting in there and continuing our strength work (was huge),” Ekeler recalls.
Indeed, the bond he formed with many of his lifting buddies helped create a type of positive peer pressure inside their group which helped them push one another both as students and as athletes. Being around a group of motivated, like-minded individuals is perhaps more powerful for a young athlete than any special workout program could ever be.
Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images