Ben Ericksen, the 2008 CNI All-Suburban Football Player of the Year, should have the confidence that anything is possible. He started to hear those words from his mom, Leslee, while he was still in elementary school.
But then, you could understand why he might doubt them. In 2005, just before Ben’s eighth-grade graduation, Leslee died of breast cancer.
At the top of the list of Ben’s memories of Leslee, who never saw him play high school football, is her best advice.
“My mom used to tell me ‘You can always do anything as long as you put your mind to it,’ ” Ben said. “I kind of base all my goals off of that. You can never have too high goals, because if you always try hard, you can always reach them. That’s what my mom always said.”
Reaching goals seldom is easy, and it has been no different for Ben. With continued encouragement and support from his Greendale High School coaches, he went from being a mop-up quarterback as a freshman to a pretty good wide receiver in 2007, his junior year.
As a senior, Ericksen broke out in a big way. During the regular season, he caught 49 passes for 935 yards and 16 touchdowns to rank among the state leaders and establish school records in each category. It was appropriate he wore No. 7, because when he got his hands on the ball, Greendale often had seven more points on the scoreboard seconds later. When you do the math, he scored almost once in every three passes he caught.
The math involved with voting for the CNI All-Suburban Football Team worked out in Ericksen’s favor. A vote by the CNI sports staff made him the second consecutive Greendale player to win the Player of the Year award, following Mike Hennessy.
No small part of that was the work of fellow senior Chris Ridgway, who had a terrific season in his first as the starting quarterback. Ericksen’s speed, willingness to battle defensive backs for balls that might be knocked down or intercepted, and his desire to score whenever he got his hands on the ball helped make him one of three finalists for the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award.
His coach, Rob Stoltz, is proud of what Ericksen has accomplished.
“He worked his tail off, to get a lot stronger, to get a lot faster,” Stoltz said. “He’s really started to learn, year by year over the last three years, how to compete and how to get the most out of himself. He has a lot of confidence in himself without being arrogant.”
Surprise does not begin to tell Ben’s reaction when his mother died. Ben said her cancer was diagnosed when he was in fifth grade.
“When I found out my mom passed away, it really shocked me. I didn’t think that was going to happen because she was getting better, she was getting really good,” Ben said. “She just didn’t wake up one morning, which sucked.”
Ben and his brother, Nick (who is a year older), and dad, Lee, lived with Lee’s parents for a time. Leslee and Lee had divorced when Ben was much younger. Ben lives with Lee and Cathy, who married after Leslee passed away.
Ben said it was difficult adjusting to a new mom.
“I look at Cathy not as a stepmom; I look at her now as a mom to me,” Ben said. “At Thanksgiving, I’m just glad I have someone there to talk to and everything. Now that I’m more mature, I can talk to Cathy, and she’s really a mother figure in my life, too.”
Future in focus
Ericksen’s college plans are very much open. A sprinter on the Greendale track team, he said he ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at a University of Wisconsin camp last summer, a time that ranked the fastest among some 150 participants. He said he has sent his highlights to more than 40 schools.
“My main focus is to work hard, and hopefully, anything can happen,” Ericksen said. “I’m just going to roll with it and see what happens.
“My coach told me, ‘Wherever you go, you’re going to make them proud.’
“He told me I was the best receiver he’s ever seen. He told me that. He said he wasn’t kidding around; he was serious.”
Wherever Ericksen goes, he will take the words of his mom with him and more. He no doubt will continue to keep a picture of her in his locker and pray in her memory before games while keeping positive.
“She was the one who said, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something,’ ” Ericksen said.
What Ben needs to remember is that he is young, healthy, has a lot of talent. Combined with his work ethic, it would appear anything is possible.
Just like Leslee said.
Jerry Karpowicz can be reached at (262) 446-6628.
No. 7’s favorites
School Subject: English
Athlete: Don Beebe
Quarterback: Brett Favre
Non-football activity: listening to music
Movie: Forrest Gump