One word truly captures the essence of Eric Decker’s athletics career: opportunity.
The Cold Spring, Minn., native said his work ethic is the reason he earned the chance to play at the University of Minnesota and now in the National Football League.
Decker returned to campus Sunday as the New York Jets took on the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium.
The wide receiver had six catches for a season-high 89 yards in the Jets’ 30-24 overtime loss.
Backup quarterback Michael Vick said Decker is a pivotal player on New York’s roster.
“[Decker has] a great deal of leadership. He’s an experienced player who’s played in the league,” Vick said. “He knows how to win.”
Despite the homecoming, Decker said returning to Minnesota was a business trip.
He always envisioned himself being a professional athlete.
“I have memories when I was a young kid, probably 5 or 6 years old, when I’d be catching footballs in the living room pretending like they were Super Bowl gamewinners,” Decker said.
At Rocori High School, Decker earned all-conference honors in football, basketball and baseball.
Despite the awards, Decker didn’t receive much attention from college coaches.
Then he got a call from Glen Mason, Minnesota’s football coach at the time.
“He invited me to a day of camp at Minnesota,” Decker said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t get that phone call from Glen Mason with a scholarship to come to the ‘U.’”
Decker enrolled at the University in 2005. He redshirted his first season, and the time spent off the field benefited him down the road, he said.
Around his redshirt sophomore season, he began to think playing in the NFL might become a reality.
In four seasons, he became one of the best receivers in Gophers history. He still holds the all-time record for total receptions with 227 and receiving yards with 3,119.
On top of football, Decker joined the baseball team as an outfielder.
In two seasons, he hit .324 with 53 runs batted in.
“I love baseball and still love baseball. I always get the itch when the spring rolls around,” Decker said.
Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 and again by the Minnesota Twins the following year, he had the option to pursue a career in baseball.
Instead, he stuck with football, which had an uncertain future when he suffered a Lisfranc sprain during his senior year, shortening his season to eight games.
Still, the Denver Broncos drafted Decker 87th overall in the third round.
Decker said he enjoyed his time in Denver, especially with Peyton Manning as quarterback.
“I think he’s the best quarterback in the game,” Decker said. “He really helped me as a professional in my preparation for games.”
Decker and former Gophers teammate Marcus Sherels, a defensive back for the Vikings, reunited on Sunday.
Sherels, the Vikings’ punt return specialist, didn’t square off against Decker on the field, but the two saw each other after.
“It was good seeing him,” Sherels said. “He’s such a good player.”