Who Austin Ekeler is right now is a far cry from who he was just a mere four years ago.
Back in 2017, Ekeler was a wide-eyed and somewhat irrelevant running back prospect coming out of Western State, a Division II school in Colorado. He was on the small side for the NFL and many would have argued he was incredibly lucky to have been signed a contract as an undrafted free agent with the Chargers in the first place.
Fast-forward to 2021.
Ekeler is now a man of many faces. First and foremost, he’s one of the best dual-threat running backs in the NFL and a household name among the entire Chargers fan base. His iconic “air guitar” touchdown celebration is also one of the most-replicated and well-known celebrations across the entire league.
On top of his on-field achievements, Ekeler is also a philanthropist, an avid Twitch streamer, and most recently, a fantasy football analyst.
A lot of you may be asking yourselves how Ekeler has all of this free time, especially when the season is about to begin in just under two weeks! That’s a great question and unfortunately only something Ekeler can answer. But as far as we can tell, this guy is apparently working with 25 hours a day.
Above it all, Ekeler has stayed true to his roots and refuses to forget where he came from. During an interview with GQ Sports last year, Ekeler discussed how he spent his first million in the NFL, as well as what he did after signing his first big extension with the team. That included buying his mother a brand new truck for Christmas as a thank you for all of her support throughout the years.
Ekeler’s good deeds didn’t just stop with his family and those closest to him. In January 2021, he donated an entire state-of-the-art workout facility to Santa Barbara High School. The idea was brought to Ekeler by a family friend whose children had attended SBHS. After hearing about the necessity for a new facility, Ek couldn’t wait to lend a helping hand. Through his namesake non-profit, the Austin Ekeler Foundation, the job was done with haste.
“I know how important it is to have opportunities to better yourself available to students,” Ekeler said via a press release. “I’m excited to provide thousands of students with the chance to improve their wellness, fitness and nutrition so they can set themselves up to reach their goals. I can’t wait to unveil the new gym in a few months and I’m so thankful for everyone who’s come together to help make this happen!”
Overall, Ekeler and his foundation’s mission is “to help create opportunities for people to fulfill their passions and ultimately their lives.”
“I started a foundation to help people. Through the Austin Ekeler Foundation, I seek to help those that may find themselves in situations similar to mine growing up. I recognize that there are hardworking individuals with natural talents and an undeniable passion to better themselves, but may have limited financial resources, educational opportunities, exposure, or networking capabilities. My goal is to provide opportunities to those in need by bringing reusable resources to communities across the nation that can be utilized by a large number of people for many years to come.
If there’s one thing that’s definitely close to Ekeler’s heart, it’s his love for health and fitness. During the pandemic, he and his girlfriend posted numerous at-home workout videos to help keep his fan base active and moving.
Now as much as Ekeler loves his gym time, he’s also incredibly passionate about something that’s quite sedentary in contrast: video games.
Among that first million spent in the league, Ekeler took $10,000 of his pay check and spent it on an entire gaming and streaming setup for his popular Twitch stream. His love of streaming and the ability to interact with so many fans off the field motivated him to create his own eSports group, Gridiron Gaming Group.
According to the groups official website, GGG wants to “bridge the gap” between fans and some of their favorite athletes.
“Streaming platforms such as Twitch allow you to connect with streamers across the globe like never before. Our members establish sound relationships with their community by answering their chat questions in real time, inviting their fans to play games alongside them, running signed memorabilia giveaways, and much more.”
But Ekeler didn’t just create GGG for the fans and the fans, alone. He built the platform to give fellow professional athletes a place to explore a new medium. He’s giving them an opportunity to build an identity that doesn’t have to be tied to the game of football. In a day and age where more and more former athletes are speaking out about post-playing life and the mental struggles that come with it, what he’s doing is actually incredibly valuable.
Chargers running back @AustinEkeler is forming a community beyond football through Twitch https://t.co/1mMMhBP0c9— DA Athlete Marketing (@daathletemktg) July 28, 2021
Per a spokesperson for Gridiron Gaming Group, Ekeler has also hosted numerous fundraisers through their platform with companies such as Anheuser-Busch, The Jimmy Fund, and Cxmmunity, a group that is helping support eSports among HBCUs.
If Ekeler wasn’t already busy with his non-profit, his gaming group, and his host of other off-field activities, you can go ahead and add “fantasy football analyst” to his sizable list of commitments.
Recently, Ekeler sat down with Michael LoRe of Forbes Sports to discuss his latest venture as an analyst with Yahoo Fantasy Football. Starting on Sept. 8, Ekeler will be hosting “Ekeler’s Edge,” a weekly segment in which he’ll offer advice on himself and his own fantasy prospects this year on top of giving out tips that stem from his first-hand experience as a NFL player.
In the end, all of this, everything that Ekeler strives to touch and explore is for his fans. The donations, the plethora of platforms he uses to bridge the communication gap, the wealth of time he gives to those around him, and the energy he brings to each and every Sunday inside SoFi Stadium. It’s all just a really complicated and time-consuming way of giving thanks to everyone who ever rooted for him, whether it was back in tiny Eaton, Colorado, while at Western State, or in the NFL.
“I’m very passionate about connecting with my community whether it’s through Twitch streams, my foundation or Gridiron Gaming Group. I like to give back because it’s the community that’s made the platform so big—I’m talking about the NFL platform—that’s allowed me to have the lifestyle I have today, and it’s like my way of saying ‘Thank you.’”