From Eaton to NFL, these small-town boys made it big
December 20, 2019
Austin Ekeler is ripping up the 2019 NFL season on the San Diego Chargers. Ekeler got his chance to shine when starting running back Melvin Gordan suffered an MCL injury last year during a regular season game. In the first game of the season, Austin racked up three outstanding touchdowns, making coaches and fans take notice. But coming out of nowhere is nothing new to this incredibly talented and hardworking athlete.
Most people might not know it, but, Austin James Ekeler graduated from Eaton High School in 2012, an average sized 2A school located in rural Northern Colorado. Anybody who knew him will tell you Austin was an all-around great person throughout high school. “He was a very phenomenal athlete and a very kind person,” said former English teacher and basketball coach Amy Ross, “You wouldn’t know that he was such a good athlete because he was so humble.” Throughout high school, Austin got involved in many things. He was a three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball, and track and field. In fact, in 2011, Ekeler took state in the boys 4×100 relay along with Tony Ball, Chad Foos, and Gunnar Haynes, and he set school records for long jump at 22’ 8.00”. It’s this speed and athleticism that allows him to excel in his football career. In high school football, Ekeler had an outstanding total of 4393 rushing yards on 461 carries, averaging 129.2 rushing yards per game and 9.5 yards per carry. Also he had 581 receiving yards on 33 receptions, averaging 17.6 yards per catch. In total Austin attained 70 rushing touchdowns and 80 receiving touchdowns in his high school career. Football coach, basketball coach and P.E. teacher, Dean Grable said, “Austin had the best work ethic I’ve ever seen. He never took a rep off on warm ups and sets. Just from the way he worked you knew he was something special.” Going on his third year in the NFL, Ekeler leads the Chargers in rushing yards, and is second in receiving yards. He has 321 rushing yards on 84 carries and 530 receiving yards on 55 receptions after nine games played. In addition to these stats, Ekeler has a total of eight touchdowns, with three being rushing and five receiving.
As a kid, Austin’s mom Suzanne Ekeler said he was very mellow and quiet. “He loved competition. He competed whether it was sports, board games, video games, shooting a Nerf ball through a hoop. He loves competition!” she said. Throughout Austin’s life, football was his ultimate passion Suzanne said. She also added that he was always a good role model and older brother for his younger brother Wyette. “The boys have always gotten along well, even being six years apart. They hung out together all the time. Austin’s work ethic has shown Wyette what it takes to be successful at the next level.” When Austin was a senior in high school, his senior quote was ‘Diamonds form under pressure’ Suzanne explained what it’s like having a son in the NFL. “It’s pretty amazing to see Austin out there living his dream and doing well at what he loves.” As a mom, Suzanne is very supportive of Austin as she’s able to go to just about every game. Suzanne said, “Typically I’m traveling by myself. I will fly in Sunday morning, drive to the game, watch the game, take Austin out for dinner, then fly home that same night.”
Going from a small 2A school in Colorado to being in the NFL teaches you to appreciate the little things, Austin said, “Back in Eaton, it’s a smaller school, you don’t have all of the best equipment, you kind of have to work with what you got and get by with that and now it’s to the point where you have everything you could imagine. It’s just a special moment because you don’t take things for granted.” Austin also added that his biggest challenge was to overcome himself. “Throughout this entire journey it’s always been focusing on myself and trying to be the best that I can be in the situation and let the results play out from that. Many times it’s been pushing myself and trying to up the bar, seeing how far I can take the bar.” As a kid Austin tried to play as many sports as he could and stay active and involved all year around. “Playing different sports kind of helps you build some coordination and build chemistry between teammates,” he said. Looking back on his high school days, Austin started focusing on football his junior and senior year. Austin said, “Junior year came and I was starting on the football team, so then I was like ‘now I’m going to start focusing on this sport, it’s what I love to do.’ I started going to more camps over the summer and working hard in the offseason.” Austin’s said his best memory from high school football was his entire senior year. “It was special to me because of the group that I grew up with. We were together from kindergarten to graduation, we were like a family on the team; we were super close. I go back and watch those high school games and it makes me get emotional; I’ll never forget it.” With the Chargers playing the Raiders November 11, this game means something to Austin as he’s playing against a former high school teammate, Trent Sieg. Austin said, “He’s one of those guys I grew up with, we’re basically best friends and now to see him on another national team and we’re playing each other is pretty special to me. Everytime I see him at meetings I’m like, ‘hey that’s my boy.’”
Austin persevered and overcame many challenges with coming from a small 2A school in Colorado to making it to the NFL. He learned to appreciate the little things in life and take nothing for granted; to work with what you got and stay motivated.
In a small town of just over 4,000 people, many might not expect to see amazing athletes go pro. Most of the time, pro players come from big cities and schools that are the size of Eaton’s whole town. Eaton High School haas two players in the NFL this year from the small town of Eaton, Colorado, Trent Sieg and Austin Ekeler. Trent Sieg a 2012 Eaton High School graduate is now the long snapper for the Oakland Raiders and has been with the team for two years now. He was signed by the Baltimore Ravens after his college career at Colorado State University. Sieg went through many challenges during his high school career, but he said exposure was his biggest challenge. Sieg said, “The biggest challenge coming from a small town was probably to actually gain interest
from college coaches. Small schools aren’t recruited very heavily by bigger schools and it
can limit the opportunity a little bit,” Sieg said. Sieg graduated from Eaton High School in the same year as Austin Ekeler, the other Eaton graduate that is having a successful career in the NFL.
Long snapping is the most underrated position in football. When a team has to punt the football a long snapper must snap the football 13-15 yards straight back, flawlessly. A bad snap can result in things like turnovers and even points lost. On a punt, the long snapper would snap the ball 13-15 yards. This is a very difficult task considering there are six or seven people on the other team running to try to block the punt, then the punting team has to sprint down the field to tackle the returner. Sieg said, “I have been long snapping since middle school. My dad made me learn it because it is a good skill to have on your resume to get recruited. Then in college, I started to focus on it as my main position.” On a field goal, a 7-8 yard snap is needed, but the result of a bad snap could result in losing an opportunity for three points. Long snapping is a very difficult job Sieg said, “The most difficult part about the job is just how consistent you need to be on every rep. The punter’s job depends a lot on how easy you make it for him, so you want to do virtually the same thing every time.”
EHS, a big part of Sieg’s career is still a big part of his life today–his high school sweetheart, Carly Sieg. They got together at the end of their high school careers and all of college and later got married. Sieg said, “I started dating her senior year in high school, but we were friends long before that.” He wasn’t only a long snapper in high school, Sieg was an All-Colorado linebacker in 2012. He also played tight end on the offensive side. Sieg said he enjoyed his time at Eaton, he uses many of the skills he learned along the way to this day.
Sieg said, “I think coming from Eaton actually played a big role in where I am. Eaton is where I learned to work hard and expect big things of myself. I also learned that I needed to do a
little extra to get a chance to go to the next level.”Hard work and dedication are nothing new to Eaton athletes, Sieg’s favorite memory demonstrates Eaton’s hard work, he said, “When we scored 18 points in under 2 minutes to come from behind and beat Brush. I don’t think I will ever forget that.” Sieg left his mark on Eaton high school where he will be the athlete that made the NFL. The task is nearly impossible, fewer that two percent of athletes make it to the pros at any sport. Even attending college for athletics is a difficult task, only seven percent of athletes are able to play college sports.
Sieg is not alone in the NFL, one of his best friends from high school who graduated with him, Austin Ekeler, also plays in the league for the Los Angeles Chargers. Sieg will face off against Ekeler on November 7. “I’m excited to see him. He is one of my best friends, and I could not be more proud of the career he has been having. It is just crazy to look back at how far we have both come from the small town of Eaton,” Sieg said. Sieg and Ekeler stayed in Colorado to attend college. Sieg walked on at the Colorado State University, while Ekeler attended Western Colorado University. Sieg said, “I was recruited to CSU as a walk-on long snapper, and once I got there, I was able to hone my skills enough to be fortunate enough to become the starting long snapper the next year.” Sieg said his favorite memory from his college career “was beating Utah State my redshirt freshman year. We won on a last-second field goal, and it boosted us up to being ranked one of the top 25 teams in the country.” Sieg led an outstanding college career which led to a career in the NFL. During his time in Eaton, he played on the offensive and defensive side. His career on offensive was outstanding, he had a total of 513 receiving yards, and averaged 17 yards per reception. In his 30 catches, he ended with six touchdowns.
Trent Sieg was not only a phenomenal athlete at Eaton High School. Through hard work and dedication to the sport, Sieg was able to go above and beyond and leave his mark on Eaton High School, Colorado State, and now the NFL.
Mitch Unrein, another EHS graduate led the way for all four players into the NFL. Unrein said, “Coming from Eaton you have to have that edge because people think you don’t have that talent coming from such a small town.” The Super Bowl contender graduated in 2005 and went on to play at the University of Wyoming. “They offered me to walk on, so I did because I had a relationship with a couple of the coaches.”
He was first picked up by the Houston Texans and when he was cut he was taken in by his hometown team, the Denver Broncos. As one of the hardest hitters his coach Bill Mondt said he’d ever seen. Unrein said, “When I got on the field it was my time to let loose, and I found a nack to hit people.” Unrein helped propel his 2014 Bronco team to the Superbowl led by quarterback Peyton Manning.
Earlier in that season during a trick play, this offensive lineman caught a Manning pass on the goaline for his one NFL touchdown. Unrein said, “If you would have told me that when I got to the NFL that I was going to catch a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning, I would have told you that you were lying.” Unrein went on to play for the Chicago Bears for one season and finished his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He made the decision to retire in March this year after sustaining an injury at Tampa Bay.
“It’s always a dream as a kid to play in the NFL, but it didn’t sound possible until college up at Wyoming where I saw some guys getting some looks, and it really hit home as something that I could really do. I put my nose to the grindstone and said this is something I really want to do, so I tried my hardest and it worked out.”
Unrein said, “Just because you’re from a small school doesn’t mean you can’t do big things.”
Seth Lobato, a former student-athlete from Eaton High School, is happy to have been apart of such a great community. He said, “Eaton was always a tight knot community that was very supportive and really had an interest in athletics.
People would often strike up conversation, offer kind words and good luck to my teammates and I when we’d be around town.” Seth graduated in 2007 where he played basketball and football. Throughout high school basketball, Seth averaged 16.6 points per game on a total of 80 games. He said his best memory from high school was winning the 2007 State Championship in basketball, but on the football side, his best memory was beating Faith Christian in 2007 with a game winning field goal in the playoffs.
He said, “We were big-time underdogs and they were the reigning state champs and undefeated up to that point.” After finishing high school, Seth went on to play quarterback with the University of Northern Colorado Bears. Seth Lobato, was then drafted into the NFL as a quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts in 2014. He finished his NFL career on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015.
Seth said he is happy to see all the success his fellow Reds, Austin Ekeler and Trent Sieg, are having. “I’m pulling for them every week. I know they’re hard working guys and know the grind that it takes to compete at that level,” he said. “They are thriving and I hope they continue to have an impact on their team’s success.” Seth sees both Austin and Trent as exceptional, good people. He said, “It’s easy to support the hometown guys when they’re such likable and high character people.”