It’s that rare DODDS athlete who makes it onto an NCAA Division I football team, but that’s what two of our Kadena graduates, Aaron Ahner (class of 2011) and Gabe Ahner (class of 2012) have done – they’re part of the University of Louisville’s football team, which plays in the Big East, a Bowl Championship Series conference.
UL officials confirmed the Ahners’ addition to the team as walk-ons in an e-mail to Stripes received Tuesday. Aaron and Gabe are working with the Cardinals’ scout defensive team, which helps prepare the offense for their upcoming opponents. They were added to the team on Aug. 20, and according to the coaching staff, “both Gabe and Aaron are working hard and doing their best to help the team,” associate sports information director Rocco Gasparro said in an e-mail.
“We’re not just a bit excited, but we were really excited about this opportunity; who wouldn’t be?” Aaron said via e-mail received Tuesday.
It took hours, days, weeks, months of sending off video clips, “a lot of nights staying up talking to the folks at UL,” Aaron said, making many arrangements over the phone and “not knowing if we were always getting the right information.”
Getting admitted to UL as students followed, a process that Aaron, who transferred from Division III Dubuque (Iowa) called “nerve wracking.”
Then came a meeting of about 15 walk-ons with the coaching staff on Aug. 17, where they filled out some paperwork, took their vitals and were told to wait in the meeting room. Of the 15, three names were called, including Aaron’s and Gabe’s.
“This is so amazing,” Gabe said. “My whole family is just in shock (at) the news.”
The Ahner brothers, lifelong residents of Okinawa, helped coach Sergio Mendoza and the Kadena Panthers to Far East Division I championships in 2009 and 2010.
They’ve joined a Cardinals squad that thus far is unbeaten in two games, having beaten Kentucky and Arkansas State and is ranked No. 19 by The Associated Press media poll and No. 20 in the coaches’ poll.
Many DODDS athletes have made teams in lower NCAA tiers as well as the NAIA. Former Seoul American basketball star Nino Etienne won an NAIA national championship with Texas Wesleyan. Ex Yokota football star Mike Chamberlain was part of two NAIA national title teams with Carroll College in Montana.
The last DODDS Pacific football player to go Division I was believed to be Wesly Mallard, who attended Seoul American for two years, walked on and played at Oregon and led them to a BCS bowl in 2001. Mallard was then drafted in the sixth round by the New York Giants and played seven seasons for five teams as a backup linebacker and special-teams player.
“We believe anybody can play Division I sports,” Aaron said. “It just takes a lot of heart and dedication to be outstanding overall and, most of all, prayers.”
One of Aaron’s Kadena coaches, wrestling’s Steve Schrock, once remarked of his football kicking ability: “We’re going to see him kicking on Sundays.”
Perhaps the NFL is the Ahner’s next destination?
“To be in the NFL is every football player’s dream, but only a very select few can be a part of it,” Aaron said. “If it’s God’s destiny for us to play in the NFL, it would be such a blessing.”