[Photo courtesy of University of Idaho Athletic Communications]
Each time Idaho’s Austin Rehkow trotted onto the field this season to attempt an extra point, field goal or to punt, he did so in the company of his youngest brother.
Of course, 11-year-old Cameron did not literally accompany Austin as he prepared to kick. However, the young man was very much a presence thanks to the orange bracelet on Austin’s left wrist. It features Cameron’s initials and serves as a symbol of inspiration. Cameron was diagnosed with leukemia in April and the color orange is synonymous with the disease.
“I was able to have him kind of on the field with me at all times,” said Rehkow, the oldest of Kim and Freddie’s four boys. “Whether it was a good kick or a bad kick I would glance at the bracelet with a clear mind and just really enjoy being out there because I know how fortunate I am. I also wanted to make him proud.”
As a Lou Groza Award and Ray Guy Award semifinalist this season, not to mention setting the Sun Belt Conference single-season records for most points by a kicker (120) and successful field goals (26), it is safe to say Rehkow accomplished just that.
Cameron is currently in the fifth phase of his illness and receives treatment roughly once per month. Rehkow said it is a longer phase than the first four, but it is less taxing physically. As a result, Cameron has showed many positive signs with respect to being the little brother that big brother has always known.
“We are starting to see a little bit more of the old Cameron, a little more smiley most of the time and being able to walk around a little bit better,” he said. “That is so awesome because after seeing him essentially at the lowest of lows, to see him able to enjoy some things like going back to school for a couple hours here and there, is awesome. He will keep fighting and he is going to beat it.”
The family plan was for Cameron to attend senior day at the Kibbie Dome on December 3 versus Georgia State. An infection prevented that from happening, though a pact between brothers is one that hopefully will allow Cameron to again attend one of Austin’s games before too long.
“We have this little deal,” Rehkow revealed. “He is going to keep fighting his tail off to beat cancer and I will do everything in my power to make sure there is another game for him to go to.”
That’s what Rehkow is working on. The Veradale, Wash. native participated in the East-West Shrine Game and was invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis Feb. 28-March 6.
The hope is such showcase opportunities provide a solid look at a player who in 2013 led the nation and set an NCAA freshman record with an average of 47.8 yards per punt when Idaho was an independent. Rehkow duplicated that average the following season when he set a conference record in the Vandals’ first season of Sun Belt affiliation.
“It allowed me to be in this position where hopefully I am able to continue on with my career, and hopefully at the highest level,” he said of his time at Idaho, where in 2014 he was Ray Guy Award finalist. “If not, I have my education paid for and I will be able to fall back on that. I am not going to let football define me, but it is a big part of who I am.”
Football has indeed been a big part of who Rehkow is. He was a punter, kicker and receiver in high school before his right leg assaulted school and conference record books the past four years. His career in Moscow was capped with an Idaho Potato Bowl win over Colorado State. It was a memorable way to go out as the Vandals had not been to a bowl since 2009 and to have his class, the first one under coach Paul Petrino, end on a victorious note made everything about Rehkow’s football career to date all the more sweet.
The exercise science major feels fortunate for what football has meant to him, especially the many moments this past season when his effort gave a boost to Cameron’s spirits.
“I know that I was blessed with my abilities and it is only right that I go out and try to make the most of them,” he said. “In being able to do so I have met some really great people and made some really great friends through football. It has really shaped me from a character standpoint because you build football skills through hard work and build communication skills because you are constantly interacting with people. I am just so grateful for the opportunities I still have to play, especially with Cameron. One thing I know is that he is always watching my games and I am doing everything I can to make sure he is cheering me on instead of asking me after a game why I missed a kick or what happened with a punt.”
Rehkow was chuckling as he expressed how Cameron can play the role of critic. Here’s hoping the brothers will continue to enjoy countless laughs together.