So many kids grow up in the United States dreaming of playing their favorite sport at the highest level. In college football, there aren’t many levels higher than the Pac-12 Conference and the University of Oregon.
So when St. Charles native and college football kicker Alec Eickert decided he wanted to step up his level of competition, he made the switch from the 2,000-student, NAIA-member Taylor University in Indiana to the 24,000-student, perennial Pac-12 title contender Oregon Ducks.
Or, as he put it, he’s following the dream.
“My previous school, Taylor University, was a phenomenal university. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about that. Academically, it was awesome, but unfortunately, athletically, it just wasn’t what I was looking for,” Eickert said. “I was playing football and track over there, and I knew I wanted to pursue football at a higher level at a big-time school. So that was my reason for leaving. Honestly, just following the dream.”
After spending two years at Taylor, Eickert made the cross-country move to Eugene, Oregon. He said he has absolutely loved the experience so far, one that has delivered exactly what he was looking for.
“I love it,” he said. “High-level competition pushes me to get better every single day, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. I knew coming in here, regardless of really where I stood athletically and on the depth chart and whatnot, I knew the experience within itself was going to be exactly what I wanted. So far being over here has been awesome. It’s been a phenomenal experience, and I can’t wait for the season to get going.”
Switching schools, however, is nothing new for Eickert. While he said there are many differences between living in the Midwest and living in the Pacific Northwest, he’s had experience acclimating. He spent his first three years of high school at St. Charles North before transferring to Aurora Christian for his final year of high school.
Although attending four schools in five years might seem like a whirlwind of new places for some, Eickert said he loves the change and the new challenges.
“It definitely wasn’t easy moving 40 hours away. But it’s been a great process,” Eickert said. “Being around this program makes the transition extremely easy. All the guys within this program help to make the transition easy, they make this place feel like home. Transferring before definitely made the situation easier. Every time I’ve transferred, it’s kind of been into a new environment. … But I’ve loved coming to it, I love change and the opportunities that come with it. So I feel very confident with my decision.”
Eickert certainly is digging what he referred to as the “chill vibe” of living in Oregon, although he also said he misses Portillo’s and Chicago food. But when it comes to being at a top-flight college football program, he thinks he couldn’t have asked for anything better.
The Ducks are about as good as it gets – a third-ranked team in this season’s preseason Associated Press rankings – and Eickert said it shows.
“It’s special. And you can tell there’s definitely a different vibe out here that they have a top-notch program,” he said. “The coaches are on top of absolutely everything, and just everyone on staff over here – from the equipment managers to technology guys, media relations, player personnel – every single person has such a great bond within the program. You can totally tell that together, we’re one big family, and that’s just a great feeling to have. … The vibes out here, nothing but good stuff.”
Eickert won’t be playing this year, sitting out as a transfer due to NCAA rules. But he’s still preparing for the upcoming season, which starts Saturday. He might not get to participate in 2014 game action at a filled-to-capacity Autzen Stadium – which seats 54,000 people – but he has an important role, and he’s going to play it to the best of his ability.
“Just help my team out as much as I can right now, just to contribute in positive ways and overall make the team better,” Eickert said. “Due to my transfer, I’m ineligible my first year, so I’ll take care of all scout-team duties this year. And then the following year, I’ll be eligible to compete for depth chart spots along with starting positions. But as for now, every single person on this team plays a very unique role, and the coaches make it very clear to us, they make sure we know what our role is and why we’re here and make sure that we fulfill that role.
“And so honestly, just being around this team and understanding the high goals we’ve set for ourselves, every day I come to practice, I make sure that mentally I’m prepared and physically I do what needs to be done.”
• Vinnie Duber writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. If you have a column suggestion on a local athlete competing in college, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.