Kubasaki's Haecherl crossed Pacific to chase Division I college football dream
January 13, 2005
From one side of the Pacific to the other, high school junior Paul Haecherl has been on an unusual mission.
During the fall Haecherl wore the purple and gold football uniform of Puyallup High School in Washington state and was the only junior to start. As a left tackle, he helped the Vikings to a No. 4 state ranking and was named first-team All-South Puget Sound League.
He spent those football-season months separated from his family on Okinawa, he said, only because “I want to play Division I college football.”
Now, Haecherl is back wearing the green-and-white wrestling uniform of the Kubasaki Dragons. He returned because of finances — “It got to be too much, where my father and mother were providing for two households” — and “unfinished business”: getting Far East wrestling tournament gold.
“I finished third in my freshman year, second in my sophomore year,” he said. “To win gold is the goal.”
The goal of playing college football was the reason behind the move to Washington, where he could get noticed by college coaches and scouts, even if that meant being separated from his family, being a stranger at school, and facing far tougher football.
Still, he said, “I knew what I had to do to succeed in the future.
“The only other way to be seen if you play [in Okinawa] is if you go to one of those expensive football camps.”
Puyallup High coach Tom Ingles says Haecherl already has at least one Division I program, Arizona, interested in him.
That didn’t make it any easier on him or his family.
“It stunk,” said Haecherl’s father, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Paul Haecherl, “but sacrifices have to be made.”
That meant having Haecherl stay with two aunts in a Puyallup apartment — which meant leaving his father, mother, and three brothers for the first time. Even though e-mail and phone calls, particularly after Friday night games, helped keep him in touch with his family, the separation “was heartbreaking,” he said. “I’d never been without them before.”
Assigned to Camp Foster, Paul Haecherl plans to retire to Washington in the spring, when the younger Haecherl will re-enroll at Puyallup.
He won’t again face the challenge of being the new guy in school.
“I didn’t know anybody,” Haecherl said. Fortunately, senior football player Michael Au “approached me, took me in, introduced me around. I’m grateful to him.”
That didn’t ease cracking the Vikings’ roster, let alone the starting lineup. Puyallup has 1,600 students in grades 10-12, and has produced such NFL players as Brock and Damon Huard and Billy Joe Hobert.
“There’s 80 players on the team,” Haecherl said. “That was intimidating. That first day walking on the practice field, I was scared out of my mind. I was the smallest lineman. I didn’t think I had a chance. I beat out eight seniors. That wasn’t easy.”
Haecherl said Puyallup’s competitive levels differ sharply from the Kubasaki Samurai, for which he played as a freshman and sophomore.
“The competition is better, the pace is much quicker, your reaction is quicker and everybody is twice as big. You have to fight for your starting position. Here, technically, you have tryouts but if you go out, you’re on the team. There, you get cut. I was lucky to start.”
But playing two seasons at Kubasaki helped Haecherl “learn discipline and how to be coached. It gave me my start in football.”
Whatever skills he gained on Okinawa certainly helped, said Ingles.
“He was a walk-on into a program that was pretty solid, and he ... started and was an all-league selection, which doesn’t happen often. We were very pleased to get him. He has good feet, runs well, has a good frame and can carry quite a bit of weight aggressively.”
Haecherl did have some adjustment problems, Ingles said.
“He was pretty raw and was amazed at how complicated things were, the plays, the adjustments you have to make on defense.” At middle linebacker, for instance, “he had trouble with some of the reads we make defensively.”
Although Haecherl’s absence proved a “huge loss” for the Samurai, said Fred Bales, Kubasaki athletic director and Samurai coach, “he has a chance to play Division I football; I hope his dream is realized.”
Haecherl “certainly has that opportunity ahead of him,” Bales said. “He has Division I size, which you can’t coach.”
Whether Haecherl will achieve his Division I dream will depend, in part, on how he performs his senior season at Puyallup, Ingles said.
“He has the ability to play multiple positions in the offensive line,” the Puyallup coach said. “We’re planning to play him at outside linebacker, so he’ll get some looks at a variety of positions.”
Haecherl continues to look toward again donning Puyallup’s purple-and-gold uniform and resuming his Division I quest.
“I’ve started a new life over there and kind of forgot the one here,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going back.”