Last October, Austin Rehkow earned national acclaim by kicking a 67-yard field goal as a senior at Central Valley High School.
This fall, Rehkow spanned a few more yards, leaving his home in Spokane Valley to join the football program at the University of Idaho on a full scholarship. The freshman was the starting punter and field goal kicker for the Vandals in all 12 games of the 2013 campaign, leading the team in points with 56.
While Rehkow earned a number of honors in 2013, including being named the Ray Guy National Punter of the Week for a game in which he averaged over 51 yards a kick, it was a distinction last week that put his first college football season in a different category.
Rehkow was one of 26 players acknowledged as a first team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation on Dec. 12, joining the likes of A.J. McCarron of Alabama, Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona and Stanford’s Trent Murphy. The 2013 list of honorees is the latest in the award’s 123-year history.
“I’m incredibly honored to be named to the first team,” Rehkow said. “I was surprised when I heard about it. I wasn’t sure I’d be nationally recognized.”
Rehkow’s average of 47.8 yards per punt led college football in 2013. The number also broke Idaho’s single season mark of 47.4 yards. He had no punts blocked during the year while his longest attempt soared 65 yards.
Since the All-American team was announced, the congratulatory texts, calls and emails of have been pouring in. Rehkow was also named to the Sporting News All-Freshman team last week.
“I’ve heard from a lot of friends and family,” Rehkow said.
As part of the honor, Rehkow will be invited to attend three days of festivities in New Haven, Connecticut, Jan. 9-11. The All-American squad is scheduled to visit the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, the Veterans Administration Hospital and other medical facilities where players will sign autographs and chat with patients. The weekend – which includes several receptions and a football clinic – will conclude with the National Awards Dinner at Yale University.
Despite being named to three straight All-Greater Spokane League teams while at Central Valley, Rehkow was not recruited like a future All-American coming out of high school. Idaho and Eastern Washington University were the only two schools to offer him a full scholarship. Oregon, BYU and Washington State called but never put themselves in the running. While far from bitter, Rehkow said he went into the season with a slight chip on his shoulder.
“That was my mentality – I just wanted to prove that I could compete at any level,” he said.
Idaho also signed Rehkow knowing that there was a very real possibility the program would lose its star kicker for two years to a full-time LDS mission. Austin’s parents, Freddie and Kim and his three younger brothers live in the Belle Terre Ward of the Spokane East Stake.
Rehkow now attends a student ward in Moscow but was able to make the 85-mile trip back to Spokane Valley a few times during the season.
“It’s been an adjustment living away from home for the first time, doing my own laundry and stuff like that,” Austin said. “I definitely miss home-cooked meals but overall it’s going pretty well.”
As for the carryover from his record setting kick last year, Rehkow said he still hears from people who saw the highlight on programs like ESPN SportsCenter, Good Morning America or the Today Show.
“I do run into people who heard about it, which is pretty cool, but I also don’t want to live in the past,” he said.
The All-American also doesn’t plan to let any accolades stall his efforts to become a better player. He hopes to improve upon a field goal percentage that saw him convert 10 of 17 attempts while hitting 26 of 27 point after touchdown kicks. His longest field goal this year was 41 yards.
“I want to stay humble about everything and keep improving,” he said.
Rehkow is also looking forward to being part of a rebuilding process at Idaho. The Vandals competed as an independent this season, going 1-11 over the course of a rigorous schedule that included bowl bound teams like the University of Mississippi, Fresno State, Northern Illinois and Washington State. Next year, they will begin play in the Sun Belt Conference.
“Right now, it’s just a matter of turning the program around,” Rehkow said. “We want to win games and get ourselves to a bowl.”
While the Vandals’ next regular season game may be nearly a year away, Rehkow is not sitting idle. He recently joined Idaho’s varsity basketball squad as a walk-on guard. While at Central Valley, Rehkow was a high scoring outside threat who was part of a state runner-up team as a junior.
Despite a trajectory that could see him in the professional ranks one day, Rehkow is not looking too far ahead. He has already received some advice from fellow Central Valley and Idaho graduate Mike Hollis who kicked for eight seasons in the NFL.
“For right now, I’m just trying to get better,” Austin said. “I think I do have the capability to get there one day – I just need to keep working.”