Cincinnati Bengals rookie wide receiver and returner Alex Erickson is expected to make his NFL debut Sunday after earning an unlikely roster spot as an undrafted college free agent.
But this isn’t the first time Erickson has overcome long odds. Despite being a star quarterback in high school, as well as three-time all-state player in basketball, Erickson’s 6-foot, 195-pound frame didn’t attract any Division I scholarship offers.
He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin and waited until his sophomore season to try to walk on to the football team. Erickson not only made the team, he played in 40 games with 28 starts and earned first team All-Big Ten honors as a senior.
After going undrafted in May, Erickson overcame long odds again to beat out veteran Brandon Tate by catching seven passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns in addition to averaging 30.8 yards on six punt returns, including an 80-yard touchdown.
Erickson talked about his experience as an underdog for this week’s Bengals High 5:
Q: How did you find out you had made the 53-man roster?
A: Coach Lewis called me and told me. I was excited. It was obviously good to hear that, and I’m excited to have more opportunities to compete and prove myself. My family was in town, so I was going to meet them when he called me. It was cool to be able to share that with them. There was a lot of emotion there. They were obviously excited for me, and they’re excited to be Bengals fans. We watched Wisconsin beat LSU, so it was a really good Saturday.
Q: That had to be a fun to watch your alma mater pull off that upset. What’s your favorite sports memory from a game you weren’t playing?
A: One of the most fun moments I’ve had was when Wisconsin made the Final Four (in 2015). That was a pretty exciting time. It was really cool to see because I knew a lot of those guys, so you feel part of the program, too, when you’re at Wisconsin. That was a pretty special moment.
Q: Did you ever consider walking on to the basketball team instead of the football team at Wisconsin?
A: No, not really. I knew coach (Bo) Ryan. I joked around about it with him, but no I never really considered it.
Q: How did that experience of walking on at Wisconsin prepare you for the longshot battle of making the Bengals roster as an undrafted college free agent?
A: When I came in I had never played the receiver position before, so I had so much to learn there. It was a tough transition, but I think just the mindset of you have to earn everything you get and you have to come to work every single day and prove yourself every single day really set that mentality for me, and it’s something I’ve carried with me throughout.
Q: Andy Dalton has a pretty nice shot. Have you challenged him to a game of H-O-R-S-E yet?
A: No, I haven’t. I haven’t gotten around to that. I’m sure we will in the offseason or when we get some free time. I’ve seen him shoot before. I don’t know if he knows I can shoot, too. We’ll have to duel it out one of these days.