LEMONT, Ill. – At 6’3”, 210 pounds, Al Kunickis is built like an old-school running back.
“Guys like Earl Campbell, Walter Payton, where they just punish people when they’re carrying the football,” remarked Lemont Head Coach Bret Kooi. “That’s how he carries the ball.”
“When he’s busting through the line and pushing people over, it’s like a train coming through,” noted Al’s dad Albert. “It’s very hard to stop him.”
Nothing has stopped the Lemont junior from excelling on the field despite being built unlike his teammates.
“I just practice, practice. A lot of the time, I’m working on different things that kids with two hands can do easily such as catching and stuff like that. I just worked on it and everything became natural.”
Al was born without his right hand.
“The doctors didn’t know,” explained his dad. “We found out at the 20-week ultrasound. At that point, nobody knew. The doctors couldn’t figure it out. It was just one of those anomalies.”
Being born different, didn’t make any difference to Al. He never wanted to wear a prosthetic and always pushed himself to succeed, whether it was sports or everyday activities.
“One of the biggest challenges was actually when he was trying to tie his shoe for the first time,” added Albert. “When he finally figured out how to do it with one hand, it was unbelievable. Then you realize, ‘Ok. He’s going to have no problems whatsoever.”
Al joined the Lemont Hornets youth football team in 5th grade, where he caught the eye of coach Bret Kooi.
“To be honest with you, he could play. That’s what I said right away is ‘this guy can play.’ On top of it, when you see him with his certain situation – how he makes it work – he still, to this day, blows my mind.”
He can run, block, catch and he’s the team’s kicker, too – with quite the leg.
“Me and my dad came out a couple times. I tried 60 and hit the crossbar. So, maybe 59 if I really tried.”
Proving he belongs has not always been easy. But, Al’s abilities earned his opponent’s respect.
“Freshman year after a game, we started walking to the locker room and another kid from the other team sprinted over and goes ‘Yo 26, hell of a game. Keep playing. I see a lot in you in the future.’ I said, ‘Whoa that’s cool. I appreciate it, man.’ That’s always stuck with me.”
Al and his coach believe there’s more football in his future.
“Hopefully D-I football at a big university. After that, NFL hopefully. That’s the goal.”
“I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t go on play college ball somewhere. I really will,” added Coach Kooi. “I think somebody’s going to give him a chance because they are going to see what I saw. They’re going to be pleasantly surprised when he gets at that next level and is playing in their program. They’re going to say they have a pretty special football player.”
Because it’s not about what he lacks – but rather, what he has, that matters most.