Decker: Minnesota has ‘a piece of my heart’

Eric Decker hasn’t been back to Minnesota for two years, but his return trip will involve playing against the team he loved as a kid and against a former college teammate.

It will be a long-awaited homecoming for New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, who is a Minnesota native. He played football for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers for five years and then entered the NFL draft in 2010 and was drafted in the third round by the Denver Broncos.

It has been about two years since Decker has returned to his home state, and it has been even longer since he has been to his old campus where this weekend’s game against the Minnesota Vikings will be held.

“I came back in February two years ago for a wedding,” Decker said. “Otherwise last year having a kid, moving to a new team, all those things made it hard to come back, so even just being on campus I think it’s been maybe three years since I’ve been back to campus, so it will be nice to step back on the turf I got to spend five years with.”

Revisiting his former college can bring back many memories, but for Decker they all seem to be good. His team may not have had the best records year in and year out, as his collegiate career overlapped a time when the Golden Gophers were struggling, but it was still a dream come true.

“Loved it, obviously being a native Minnesotan,” Decker said. “Happy Glen Mason gave me the scholarship because I don’t think I’d be sitting in the position I am if it wasn’t for him, and playing for the Gophers. I would probably be playing at St. Johns, a Division III school, and who knows where I would be, but I love the University of Minnesota, always proud to be a Golden Gopher. … Minnesota will always have a piece of my heart.

“I think it’s more exciting than anything just to come back home to campus. I don’t get back too often, so it will be nice to see some familiar faces and talk to the coaching staff – football coaching staff – friends, family, everyone’s coming to the game.”

Coming back to play a home state, having your friends and family is always the norm, but when Decker hasn’t been home for two years, the demand for tickets is going to be greater.

Decker said he didn’t buy any tickets for the game, but instead made everyone go to Stub-Hub to buy tickets. However, his head coach, Rex Ryan, still thinks it will be an expensive trip for the wide receiver.

“I’m sure it will be a great thrill for him,” Ryan said. “It will probably cost him a lot of money with tickets and things, but I think any time you go back and you’re going home, that’s always a big deal and sometimes they say, well, it can be overstated. I think it’s understated. I think it’s a huge thing that when you go home you want to do well. I know he’ll be excited about this.”

Decker is not usually a player that needs to have extra motivation to play at a high level. Ryan describes him as a great guy and a hard worker, and the same complements emanated when talking to his college teammates.

“Oh, man, I’ll tell you what, I think the world of him,” Ryan said. “He had some hamstring issues for a few games in there, but he’s a tough guy, he’s obviously a big red zone threat, but he’s a good receiver, I love his competitiveness, and I know our season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to, that’s for sure, but Decker’s been – I love the way he competes – I think he’s a very talented player.”

“He’s a good player, great person; he’s a good friend of mine,” said Decker’s college teammate Marcus Sherels, now a cornerback for the Vikings. “I was with the receiving corps with him for two years and then I went to (defensive back), so I was with him for four years, but he’s a good guy.”

Decker and Sherels played together for four years, and then both of them went on to play in the NFL. The two players have a lot of respect for one another, and even though they have not talked to one another this year, they are sure to meet up at some point Sunday.

“I’m sure pregame or for sure postgame we’ll find one another and definitely catch up,” Decker said. “He’s a guy that I’ve got so much respect for, definitely a good friend, but being a non-scholarship kid in college, earning a scholarship, getting to the NFL working his way to being a returner and a corner, it’s amazing what determination can get you. He’s definitely an example of that, so it will be good to see him. “

Decker is from Cold Spring, Minn., and even when he is living somewhere else in the country and building a home in new cities, Minnesota is still a special place for him, even if it means trying to beat his favorite childhood team.

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