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Austin Ekeler’s underdog story is complete . . . almost

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Austin Ekeler sat down at a conference table, before the new house and the swollen bank account, before the online workouts and the videoconference playbook sessions, before he swapped his supporting role for a feature one and his No. 30 Chargers jersey for an N95 mask. It was early 2020, before his world changed, and before the world changed. He was meeting with general manager Tom Telesco, pondering the same notion that has dominated the best and strangest year of his life.

How did I end up here?

“We really want you,” Telesco told him. The GM saw Ekeler as a key piece to the franchise’s rapid rebuild after a 5–11 season, adding another layer of resonance to one of the most improbable stories in recent NFL history. The one about the undersized running back, overlooked by every Division I college program, then ignored even by nearby D-II schools, who wasn’t invited to the combine; who crashed another school’s pro day; who went undrafted when 27 backs—27!—heard their names called. And the one about the kid who never knew his biological father and wished he had never met his stepdad.

That man in that meeting had never planned on playing in the NFL. He only hoped—he knew the odds. Even when Ekeler made the Chargers as a special teamer in 2017, he wondered just how long he might stick; in fact, he went back to college after that first season. He knew he needed to finish his degree in energy management, because he needed something to fall back on. He figured he might latch on with Noble Energy, the hydrocarbon exploration company that he had interned with.

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