Life-changing moments often come when least expected. Senior Austin Rehkow’s defining moment came on a chilly October night nearly four years ago.
As a former member of the Central Valley High School football team in Spokane, Austin spent his time as the program’s kicker and punter. On this particular night, his team was locked in a seesaw battle with Shadle Park, trailing 55-52 in the final minute of play.
With three seconds on the clock, Central Valley coach Rick Giampetri elected to kick a field goal to tie the game. But this was no ordinary field goal. This was a 67-yard attempt, 4 yards further than the National Football League record.
Austin’s parents, Freddie and Kim Rehkow, remember the moment vividly.
“As he walked out there, my wife turned to me and said, ‘There’s no way they’re going to make him kick that, are they?’’’ Freddie said. “I told her they couldn’t throw it that far, so they might as well try it.”
Austin said he had a different mindset when Giampetri called his number.
“A selfish part of me wanted to try it, so I told my coach I would make it,” he said. “When I went out there, it didn’t seem as long as it had before. It was one of those moments where you know it’s a long kick, but it didn’t seem too outrageous.”
The crowd watched in disbelief as Austin lined up and delivered a booming kick as time expired.
“It seemed like it was in slow motion with just how long of a kick it was,” Kim said. “We were all waiting on the referee for a few moments. The entire time we couldn’t tell if it went over the bar or under.”
When the official finally raised his arms, members of the Central Valley team broke out in celebration, but Austin did not have time to enjoy his accomplishment.
“None of that really processed because we still had to go to overtime,” he said. “I was playing receiver and safety at the time, so I was thinking about how we need to go back out there and win this game.”
Central Valley eventually stole a 62-55 overtime victory from Shadle Park. Later that night, the calls began to pour in.
“It started with a phone call at 2 a.m. from Good Morning America, they wanted to put him on to start the day,” Freddie said. “The Ellen DeGeneres Show called him, along with all of these newspapers and television stations.”
Austin said he was surprised by the flood of interest he received after video of his kick was posted on YouTube.
“I don’t think I was even able to go to class for more than five minutes before I was pulled out for another interview,” Austin said.
Despite the positive exposure from media outlets, Freddie said the experience proved to be surprisingly difficult for his son.
“The crazy part is that he is not the kind of person who wants attention, so it was a little overwhelming in a sense,” he said. “As much as he appreciated it, he didn’t want to just be remembered as the kid who kicked a 67-yard field goal. And that’s kind of what drove him to Idaho.”
The path to Moscow
Austin’s journey to the college field began on the soccer pitch. His skill set had an immediate impact on peers when he joined the local youth soccer league.
“I kind of had a big leg in soccer,” Austin said. “Kids would run out of the way when I shot it at them.”
After noticing his son’s kicking abilities, Freddie decided to experiment one night while the two waited outside the school gym for basketball practice.
“We had a football and one of those plastic tees,” Freddie said. “I told him he had been kicking a soccer ball for so long, so why not try a football?”
The results surprised the pair, as 13-year-old Austin began booting field goals from 40 yards out. Freddie reached out to Spokane Shock kicker Taylor Rowan to teach Austin the specific fundamentals.
“You kind of pick and choose the things that work well for you,” Austin said. “There are so many people that tell you there’s only one way to do certain things, when that’s not the case.”
Despite a powerful leg, Austin earned very little attention from college scouts. He received only one offer before his record-breaking kick: a partial scholarship from Eastern Washington.
After video of the 67-yard field goal went viral online, Austin heard from coaches throughout the Northwest.
“Oregon offered him a walk-on spot, but we knew at the time that the team hardly ever punted or kicked,” Freddie said.
After several weeks of consideration, Austin turned down the original offer from Eastern Washington in favor of Idaho. He said he was excited to hear from the Vandal football program, but felt unsure of what to expect when former head coach Robb Akey left the program.
“I didn’t get to know Coach Petrino until after New Year’s, which was when he was hired and I came in for my official visit,” Austin said. “He must have liked what he saw, and I liked my trip to the university. He was gracious enough to offer me a scholarship, which was a big deal for me.”
Both Freddie and Kim said they were happy with Austin’s decision to come to Moscow.
“He’s far enough that he has his own space,” Freddie said. “But he’s a family guy, he loves being able to come home, especially to visit with his brothers.”
Austin said one of the benefits to playing at Idaho is his family’s ability to attend home games.
“I have an awesome family that has been able to support me all four years here,” he said. “I don’t think my dad has missed a home game, and my mother and brothers have been to just about every home game as well. Just to have them be a part of it all and see them is a huge blessing.”
After watching Austin’s success in the Kibbie Dome, his three brothers began to follow in his footsteps. Ryan Rehkow, a senior at Central Valley, recently committed to BYU after earning Class 4A All-State First-Team honors as a punter. Ryan also recorded field goals of 52 and 57 yards as the team’s place-kicker.
“He’s going to be better than I am,” Austin said. “It’s cool to kind of trail blaze the path and see them pick up on it.”
Reflecting on a career
Now in his fourth year with the Vandal football team, Austin has developed into the top kicking prospect in the Sun Belt Conference. The senior has tallied 50 field goals and 103 extra points through three-and-a-half years of play.
Austin’s accomplishments placed him on the watch list for the Lou Groza Award, which is presented to the best collegiate place-kicker in the nation at the conclusion of the season.
“It was just a lot of practice,” Freddie said. “People don’t understand how much time he puts in to get where he’s at.”
Over the course of his collegiate career, Austin has kicked at venues across the nation, ranging from Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to USC’s Memorial Coliseum.
“One of my most memorable kicks was at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the third quarter,” Austin said. “You’ve got the SEC crowd, the lights on at night, and to knock it through was a surreal experience.”
Austin said his favorite performance was his freshman homecoming game in 2013. He converted four field goals attempts, including a 25-yard kick with 6:16 left in the game to seal a 26-24 victory over Temple.
“It wasn’t really a game-winner at home, but it ultimately ended up being a big part of it,” Austin said. “The first one is going to be the one that sticks with you forever.”
On Saturday, Austin will walk on the Kibbie Dome turf for the final homecoming game of his collegiate career.
“It’s going to be bittersweet,” Austin said. “Homecoming has always meant a big crowd, and as seniors you want to leave a mark on the program. Obviously we want to win a bowl game this year, but to walk out of here 4-0 on Homecoming Week would be incredible.”
Josh Grissom can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @GoshJrissom