CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern football alum Erik Austell lines up for the West team in the prestigious East-West Shrine Game, the nation's longest-running college football all-star game, this Saturday. Kickoff for the 92nd annual contest at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., is set for 3 p.m. and will be televised on NFL Network.
More information on the East-West Shrine Game can be found here.
Austell, a left tackle at CSU, earned All-American honors from the Associated Press, STATS FCS and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) in 2016. The senior captain was an integral part of the nucleus that powered CSU to 35 wins, two Big South Conference championships and two playoff berths over the last four years. He started 39 games and was a two-time All-Big South pick (2015 & 2016) during that time.
The Charleston Southern sports information staff sat down with Austell prior to Saturday's kickoff to check in on the process leading up to the East-West Shrine Game, as well as getting ready for a potential trip to the NFL Combine.
How has training been going since the end of the 2016 season?
Training has been going great. I'm out at EXOS in San Diego. The staff out there is incredible. From the nutrition to physical therapy to training its top notch and I'm benefitting greatly from it.
Who have you been working out with and how has it helped you as you continue to develop and progress toward your goal of playing in the NFL?
Like I said the staff is awesome. Roy Holmes and Brent Callaway are the coaches out there. Roy is the strength guy and Brent is the speed guy. For position work, all of the linemen have been working with Hudson Houck who coached in the NFL for 30 years, spending a lot of the time with the Cowboys when they were extremely successful in the 90s. It's been awesome learning from him and absorbing as much as I can.
What's your training regimen like and what have you been doing to prepare for the future?
Most of the time, I get over to EXOS around 9 a.m. I'm staying right across the street in a hotel. We have two 90-minute sessions a day and those are broken up into lifting and running. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we workout with Coach Houck in-between those sessions. It's a little bit of a grind but with all of the nutrition and massages we get, they really take care of our bodies.
To be recognized as one of the top players in the country and to make the roster of the East-West Shrine Game is pretty incredible. It had to have been a big honor to receive that call. How did you find out that you had been selected?
It's a huge honor not to only represent CSU in this game but all of FCS. There's only a handful of FCS guys out here and to be one of them is great. I actually found out from a text from my agent. He let me know last Sunday night that some things were in the works and I might get in. Monday morning I had a text on my phone saying I was in and then by Tuesday the whole trip was set up.
What have the practices been like and what have you been learning?
The practices have been great. The coaches and players are awesome. My position coach is Hank Fraley who is currently an assistant offensive line coach with the Vikings and he played for 11 years coming from an FCS school. So it's really cool to learn from his experiences to apply them
I've been learning what I will have to do going forward. The practices have been very fast-paced. They have been kind of long but everything goes by so fast you can't tell how long you're out there.
Looking at the coaching staff, there's a good blend of coaches from nine different teams that have been working with your squad. What has the coaching staff been like and what have you learned from them in the time you've been around them?
Probably the biggest thing I've learned from our offensive line coach is that you have to be versatile to succeed in the NFL. Especially coming from a small school, I have to be able to play all three inside positions to maximize my chances to stay on a team.
The game is on Saturday at 3 p.m. Will members of your family be able to be in attendance at the game?
Yes, just about my whole family will be able to come. My wife, Taylor, is flying down with her dad. Both of my parents are coming. My high school coach and some family that lives in Florida are also coming. So it will be great to see everyone. They've been nothing but supportive. Taylor through this whole process has been awesome. She's really been rock solid through me being away training which can be tough.
How's the connection with your teammates on the West Team like and did you know anyone on the squad prior to your time there?
The guys are pretty cool. A couple of guys on the team I have been training with out in San Diego and there have been a couple I have played against throughout my college career and know mutually through other players so the camaraderie has been great.
Following the East-West Shrine Game, what are the next steps for you? What are you focusing on and preparing for next?
Well after the game, I'm going to spend time with my family. I'm really looking forward to that. After that, Sunday I'm back out to San Diego until the combine if I get invited. Through this week I've had some weak spots exposed and some areas where I really need to improve. So I'll keep training hard and improve my technique to get ready for the big jump.
Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans/friends/family here at CSU, and how can they continue to support and encourage you as you continue your preparations for the NFL?
Everyone back at CSU has been really supportive. I get texts from the guys all the time and talk to Coach Giardina a good bit. It's always good keeping in touch with them because without them I wouldn't be in the position I am today.
About the East-West Shrine Game
More than 90 players from last year's East-West Shrine Game signed with professional teams last spring, with over 70 making final NFL rosters. On average, more than 265 East-West Shrine game alumni are on NFL rosters each year. Since the game's inception, 72 former players have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Created by the Shriners in 1925, the game is driven by the desire to support Shriners Hospitals for Children in its mission to help children in need of expert medical care. More than one million children have benefited Shriners Hospitals' unique way of providing hope and healing, regardless of the families' ability to pay for services. Austell and all players and coaches involved will visit the local Shriners Hospitals for Children during game week.