Originally published Jan. 21, 2021 in The Press-Enterprise.

By Gilbert Manzano

Austin Ekeler’s height and weight on the Los Angeles Chargers’ roster sheet can be deceiving. He stands at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, but he doesn’t play the role of an undersized running back.

Ekeler is known as the strongest pound-for-pound Charger. The YouTube videos of him doing one-arm pull-ups and Instagram pictures of his ripped physique support that claim.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler believes in giving back to communities and is showing that through his foundation helping with a new gym for Santa Barbara High. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

But Ekeler doesn’t spend hours in the weight room because he wants to show off his muscles. He needed to outwork the competition because of his stature, and in the process of building the perfect NFL body, Ekeler learned there were other advantages to being in the gym.

“I didn’t realize how much it was going to help me,” Ekeler said in a phone interview with Southern California News Group on Wednesday. “It really taught me to work hard. It taught me how to socialize. It’s just an atmosphere that it can carry over to your life after high school and after athletics.”

Ekeler’s outgoing personality has helped him create connections that will allow him to make an impact on communities and help young athletes.

The Austin Ekeler Foundation announced Thursday plans to provide a new gym for Santa Barbara High School. The foundation, with donations from The Hutton Parker Foundation, Sonos and Perform Better, will install sound systems, flooring and physical education and weightlifting equipment.

Ekeler said he wanted to help after learning Santa Barbara High School, which was established in 1875, lacked resources to provide better wellness and fitness programs for approximately 2,200 students. The new gym is scheduled to open in March and will be available for all students and the 12 athletic programs.

But Ekeler doesn’t want the gym to be for the sole purpose of building muscles. He understands everyone is on a different path.

“It’s going to be for a wide variety of people from athletes to non-athletes,” Ekeler said. “So just have to keep that in mind. … It’s not all big weights. It’s more so for education. There are some (muscle) gains to be made, for sure, but gotta keep in mind the freshmen that come in that are 14 years old.”

Ekeler had a unique path before becoming a star player for the Chargers and a sought-after player in fantasy football. Ekeler played college football at Western Colorado University and went undrafted in 2017.

He earned a roster spot with the Chargers as a special-teams contributor and worked his way into the running back rotation. He had a breakout 2019 season and was rewarded with a four-year, $24.5 million contract extension.But Ekeler remains the same sociable person. He keeps in constant contact with Chargers fans and his fantasy football managers on social media and through his video game streaming site.

Ekeler said many of his fantasy football managers have donated winnings from their fantasy seasons to his foundation.

The dynamic running back said he’ll continue to build relationships to help others. Providing funding for a new high school gym is just the start.

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