Sept. 22, 2005
By André Bayard
Every student who has graced the halls of Seattle's Catholic, all-male O'Dea High School knows the four important virtues that, according to the school's mission statement, form the foundation of a man:
"We are committed to the education of young men: academically, spiritually, socially and physically."
For four years at O'Dea, Washington senior fullback Ty Eriks was confronted with this mission statement on a daily basis -- on a wall in the main hallway, on the student handbook, on school flyers. By signing his name in his student handbook, Eriks promised to accept the school's mission as his own, to become an educated man -- academically, spiritually, socially and physically.
If they could see him now, O'Dea's founders would be proud of the educated man Ty Eriks has become.
Eriks graduated from O'Dea with a 4.0 grade-point-average, and has maintained a team-leading 3.7 GPA entering his senior year at Washington. He has been honored with Pac-10 All-Academic honors in each of the past three seasons, and has his sights set on a professional career -- if not in football, than in the field of neurobiology, the study of the brain.
"Initially I was interested in dentistry," says Eriks, who knew upon enrolling at Washington that he wanted to work in medicine. "Then I kind of went in a different direction. I thought that dentistry wouldn't keep my attention in the medical field, so I decided to take another way."
Being a neurobiologist challenges one to be accurate and delicate -- traits not normally associated with a football fullback -- but it's a challenge Eriks is eager to accept.
"I'm interested in biology in general, but neurobiology was a good way to focus on one particular subject," he says. "There is a lot of stuff you can learn about, like brain nerves, the spinal cord -- things you normally don't think about. Learning new stuff like that is always interesting to me. Now that I am in the major, and getting more in-depth with it, it is becoming more of a challenge -- which just makes me like it even more."
Eriks continues to make time to practice his religion. He regularly attends church, prays nightly, and regularly reads his Bible. At O'Dea, going to church, saying prayer, and reading the Bible was a common ritual. Students are required to take religion courses, learning more and more as each year progresses. It was at O'Dea where Eriks first embraced his spirituality.
"O'Dea was actually the only way I got into becoming Catholic," Eriks says. "I didn't grow up that way. I went to church on Easter, Christmas, and those types of religious holidays, but never on a consistent basis. O'Dea was my way into that."
One of Eriks' fondest memories of O'Dea is of the Encounter Retreat, a four-day, spiritual excursion away from the city, to help students learn about themselves, their peers, and their relationship with God. It is one of O'Dea's most meaningful events, and one Eriks will not soon forget.
"It was a lot of fun," he says. "It was an opportunity to not only reflect on your own life, but to connect yourself spiritually to God. It was life-changing in the sense it boosted my faith a little bit more. It was something that definitely helped me out in that realm."
Eriks' friendly personality and personable demeanor allow him to blend with all kinds of groups at Washington. While at O'Dea, he was a member of the Irish' football and track and field teams, participated in the campus ministry and rebuilt houses in Mexico as a part of the Esperanza program. At Washington, Eriks has continued his social involvement, joining the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity in addition to his participation on the football team.
"Football has helped me get out there and meet people," he says. "I have always been a very social guy, but coming to a big school like Washington can be overwhelming. But becoming friends with people on the football team, and building stronger friendships with my frat brothers, both made the school not seem as big."
In addition to time spent between school, football and his fraternity, Eriks also donates his time to numerous community service causes, visiting patients at Children's Hospital, and speaking to area youth as a part of the Washington Speaker's Bureau.
"I like to go out and meet people out in the community," he says.
The previous three virtues are the private Ty Eriks. This the Ty Eriks that Husky fans know, the one making his presence felt as a running back, safety, linebacker, defensive end, or fullback -- all positions Eriks has played in his five years at Washington.
Again, Eriks largely credits the O'Dea program for his success.
"It was a strong program there," he says. "We lifted a lot, and did everything we needed to do. It definitely helped me get to where I am right now."
Eriks captained O'Dea to a third-place state finish in 2000 -- the team's fourth-consecutive state tournament appearance -- and finished his career having never lost a regular-season game. The hard work and discipline demanded in the O'Dea system set Eriks up for success at Washington, where the expectations are even higher, and the demands even greater.
"There is a lot more time commitment than high school," he says. "At O'Dea we lifted in-season, and off-season was only optional. I'm glad I lifted off-season, because at UW, lifting on and off-season is mandatory. We do it all the time."
At fullback -- a position that requires you to power run through the opposing defense or to help block for the quarterback and other running backs -- the physical side of Eriks' personality have been emphasized even more. Whatever position he has been asked to play, Eriks has done so with grace and humility, applying the lessons learned in his years at O'Dea to find success on the football field.
An O'Dea Man
Academically, spiritually, socially and physically, Eriks fulfills all the expectations of an O'Dea man. One man who is particularly proud of Eriks is his high school football coach, Monte Kohler.
"Ty was a great O'Dea man," Kohler says. "He worked hard on the field and in the classroom, and is a young man of character. He was great to coach -- he loved to play, loved to compete, and was very unselfish as a player. He made his teammates better by being a leader through hard work."
Through O'Dea's mission, and the strength of his own personal character, Eriks has prepared himself well for life.
"Ty will be successful at whatever he does because he is not afraid to take on a challenge," Kohler says. "He is not afraid to work hard. He believes in himself and his abilities both on and off the field. He has great focus on what he wants to accomplish and he is not afraid to go to work to reach that goal."
The sky is the limit for Eriks, and with O'Dea's strong foundation, the sky is only an arm's reach away.