Same city, different team.
Erik Krommenhoek knows he is in for a battle, but the payoff is huge. He is keenly aware odds are stacked against him, yet a dream can be fulfilled. He admits his job in pro football is tenuous right now; however, a job in medicine can wait.
“Same city, different team” was Krommenhoek’s first Instagram post as a pro. The 2022 NFL draft had come and gone without his name getting called. However, he quickly inked a deal with the Chargers, his favorite football team as a kid, as an undrafted free agent.
The former USC standout has a jersey, so he has a chance, and the recent graduate has decided to use all of this as fuel while also keeping things simple.
“That was something I just sort of came up,” Krommenhoek said of the social media mention during a break in off-season drills at team headquarters. “I am very comfortable being in LA, and very thankful. I have a lot of family, so that has helped make the transition a smooth one.
“At the same time, football is still football. The exception is that the players here are a lot better. Here it is the best of the best. It’s a big challenge, and I am excited about it. I am ready for it.
“I am also super happy to be here and playing for an organization I grew up watching and going to their games. Now I have to do what I can to make myself super valuable.”
When Travon Walker was the first player selected in the 2022 NFL draft by Jacksonville, the youngster out of Georgia was all smiles on national television. Meanwhile, Krommenhoek — a gifted tight end originally from Northern California — was watching on TV with family at his house. He did not expect his name to be called in the early rounds, let alone night one. He wasn’t overly confident he would get chosen late either.
“Everyone naturally wants to get drafted. I had a decent idea of things as you stay in touch with your agent. I had several friends, teammates, get drafted, so I was happy for them. It was cool to watch them get picked.”
At Heritage Hall, only three Trojans were drafted: Drake London (No. 8 overall to the Falcons), Drake Jackson (61st/49ers) and Keantay Ingram (201st/Cardinals). For the Trojan Family, it was a disappointing end to an abysmal season. The slow draft process also cost USC from catching rival Notre Dame off the field — USC is second behind Notre Dame’s 522 for most NFL draft picks. Ingram was USC’s 519th all-time NFL draftee.
Surely Krommenhoek, who wore No. 84 at USC and was given No. 84 by the Chargers, would like to have been No. 520. Not necessarily, he admitted.
“There was some disappointment, but also a lot of excitement. You know even if you don’t get drafted you still might have the chance to put on that jersey and go play in the NFL. You can get over the disappointment pretty quick. You can also hold on to it, carry it with you, and try and use it to your advantage once you are here.”
With the Chargers, Krommenhoek looks to impress on special teams and catching the ball. At USC, Krommenhoek had 39 catches for 335 yards and three touchdowns. He appeared in 57 total games, including 22 starts, over a five-year period.
Away from the LA Memorial Coliseum, the 6-5, 245-pounder excelled as well. Krommenhoek, 23, was a Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention and Marks Scholar Athlete. He finished his studies at USC with a B.S. in human biology.
“My family sparked an interest in medicine, and my parents are very academically focused. They have always challenged me to be as good off the field as on the field. That is one of the things that drew me to USC — what it offers beyond the football field.
“I took it seriously, and I studied hard for it. I earned the degree while also playing football. Honestly, I don’t know exactly what that job will entail after football is over.”
Now Krommenhoek, whose family had Chargers season tickets for close to 50 years when the team was in San Diego, is in unfamiliar territory in the NFL. One of 14 players signed by the Chargers upon the completion of the draft, one of the other players is a tight end, and any rookie trying to crack an NFL roster is going to have immense challenges.
Teams can carry up to 90 players. Offseason squad workouts are over now, and training camp starts in late July. Krommenhoek could be cut at any time. No reason, no penalty. The Chargers can simply decide they want a different player.
When you go undrafted, the odds are not in your favor to call SoFi Stadium home. He joins several former college teammates as USC’s undrafted free agent list features Isaac Taylor-Stuart/Cowboys, Chris Steele/Steelers, Isaiah Pola-Mao/Raiders and Kana’i Mauga/Broncos.
By the end of training camp, the Chargers will be down to 53 players. There’s a deadline at the end of camp, and after every team sets its 53, there’s a practice squad free-for-all. Each team gets 16 players, but they don’t necessarily have to be guys who were in their camp.
Even then there are no guarantees. A player could make a practice squad and lose their job a week later. Or a different team could sign a player off the practice squad and add them to its main roster. Undrafted rookies also don’t have the luxury of receiving guaranteed money.
Krommenhoek used to receive Chargers playoff tickets as a Christmas present. Now this in this new life: Welcome to the Business of Football.
Krommenhoek additionally has one other (rather large) challenge on his plate. He is the lone USC Trojan playing for the Chargers. The team employs two UCLA Bruins in Joshua Kelley and Otito Ogbonnia. Both of Krommenhoek’s parents are Bruins, so he is used to being outnumbered there.
Same city, different team… right?
“My family is pretty split between the two schools. I considered UCLA during the recruiting process,” admitted Krommenhoek, “and I remember sitting down with my parents and we discussed the pros and cons. The decision to go to USC was a better fit for me. I had an awesome time there.
“Playing in that program helps me here.”