Checking in with Eric Decker, Part I
If you're short and slow like me, you're probably deeply envious of guys like Eric Decker. An athletic achievement for us is getting through 18 holes without Advil, or shoveling snow without pulling a muscle. Then there's Decker, a junior wide receiver for Minnesota who last season racked up 909 receiving yards and nine touchdowns as one of the only bright spots on a 1-11 team. After being peppered with requests from Golden Gophers baseball coaches to play for their team, Decker decided, eh, what the heck. He wound up starting 42 games in left field, hitting .329 with 28 RBI. At last month's Major League Baseball draft, the Milwaukee Brewers selected Decker in the 39th round. He had no plans to sign and didn't, wanting to gauge his skills on the gridiron this fall and help Minnesota back to respectability. NFL scouts will be watching. So will the rest of the Big Ten.
Obviously jealous of über-athletes like Decker, I wanted to dislike the guy. But after chatting with him this week, I just can't do it. Here's the first part of our discussion.
A lot of guys rule out playing two sports before college, and once they get there, it's usually totally out of the question. Did playing baseball go more smoothly than you thought it would, playing in the spring and now getting back into football?
Eric Decker: Baseball went real well and I enjoyed it. I knew I had a little catching up to do when I got here in the summer. It took me a few weeks to get back in shape and get my weight back where I wanted it to be. Now things are off and rolling. I feel good where I'm at, and I'm definitely comfortable with the progress I've made the last three months.
Can you pull it off again?
ED: Definitely. My baseball experience I really enjoyed. It's kind of a different environment, different atmosphere. Going into baseball season, I expected to hopefully help the team out in certain roles. I got the opportunity to get a starting role and hit No. 2 in the batting order. I surprised myself, just how well things went.
Can you use your football skills in the outfield?
ED: Some of that stuff transitions over. Just baserunning a little bit, hand-eye coordination. But some things, the mentality or the attitude you have between both sports is so different. In baseball, you can't get fired up or get that emotional rush, where in football you let it bust, let it all roll out. In baseball, if you have that built up, that's when you struggle at the plate. It was something that was tough for me to handle in the first three weeks of baseball.
Baseball is a lot looser atmosphere, isn't it?
ED: It's so laid-back. Those guys definitely helped me get into that baseball mind-set. I was definitely struggling. I couldn't hit the curveball right away, and I was like, 'God, what the hell's going on. I don't know if this is for me.' And they were like, 'Hey, just relax, go up and do what you do.' It definitely helped.
How surprised were you when you got drafted?
ED: It's real exciting. It's quite an honor, just being my first year and stuff. Being drafted was also something I didn't really look into much because I told people I wasn't going to sign if they drafted me. They're calling you, 'When would you sign? How much you want?' I was like, 'You know what, don't even think about drafting me because I'm not going to sign.' Milwaukee took me and I was really grateful, but at the same time I was like, 'I told you what I was going to do, but thank you, I guess.'
Do anticipate having to choose one sport at some point, or is it pretty open-ended in terms of what you do after college?
ED: Definitely open-ended. I want another year to see where I'm at with both levels, see where I have more potential in what field. When that time comes, I'll decide. I love both sports and I'm definitely honored to be able to participate in both. When that time comes, I'll hopefully make the right decision.
Your football and baseball coaches have compared you to Ed McCaffrey and Kirk Gibson. Which one of those do like better?
ED: Growing up, I always was an Ed McCaffrey fan. Being a slot receiver and being fast and tough -- he'd catch the ball over the middle -- he was someone I always idolized. I know I'm not going to run by anybody or run a 4.3, so definitely doing the dirty work inside at the receiver position was something I looked at him for. Kirk Gibson, he's just a tough, nasty dude who was a great ballplayer. I didn't really watch him much, but everything about him definitely is what I'm trying to be.
Did you expect to be elected a team captain, or was that a surprise?
ED: It was a little surprising. I didn't get the opportunity to go to spring practice because I was playing baseball, but it's definitely an honor and a privilege. It's something I was looking forward to, something I wanted to reach. And we have a pretty young offense where, being a junior, I knew I was a leader.
So you weren't even with the team and you get elected. That's got to be a great feeling.
ED: It was really cool because coach (Tim) Brewster called me. I think it was toward the end of May, before guys took off to go home for a couple weeks in the summer, and I was still playing baseball at the time. I didn't know what was going on. I thought maybe it was just an end-of-spring-practice thing, this is what the summer's going to look like and stuff, but they elected captains and I was one of them, so that was really surprising.
Does that role become even more important after the year you guys had in 2007?
ED: Definitely. People look at the leadership of the team and what you can do to overcome what happened last year. I'm real excited and optimistic about this upcoming year because there were a bunch of games where we were a couple plays away from winning. Doing the right things will definitely get us over that hump. Hopefully winning some of those nonconference games will boost our confidence.