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Former Cougar represents St. Louis Rams, Bothell at Pro Bowl
Bothell High School graduate Johnny Hekker's football talent was discovered by his friend when he was playing during recess for fun in fifth grade.
"He told me I was pretty good and should consider going on his dad's team next year, so I gave it a shot," said Hekker, 24. "I started to love it as I played on that team and kept going with it."
Hekker's passion for football brought him to playing quarterback in high school, a quarterback and punter at Oregon State University and now a punter for the St. Louis Rams. Hekker set punting records and was selected to the Pro Bowl this year in Hawaii.
"The Pro Bowl was incredible," Hekker said. "It was a huge honor to represent my team, family, friends and the city of Bothell out there. I hope I was able to bring pride to the community I grew up in."
Hekker used the bonus he received for making it to Pro Bowl to fly his family in Hawaii so they could watch him play.
"It made me feel so proud to see them in the stands watching while I was playing," Hekker said. "They've always been a huge support system for me and I was so happy having them there with me."
Family and friends describe Hekker as a friendly, humble and hard-working person.
"He set all these records this year and has done so well, but hasn't let his success go to his head like so many young players can do," said Lura Dunn, family friend.
Hekker set an NFL record with a net yardage of 44.2 yards per punt. Hekker’s efforts led to his selection to the Pro Bowl, the first Rams punter to be named to the NFL’s All-Star competition since Dale Hatcher in 1985.
Hekker and his coverage team saved their best work for the end of the year. In a culmination of the strides made by the Rams’ young special teams units, opposing teams combined for negative 2 yards on punt returns during the season’s final three weeks.
Hekker credits his success to his football coaches at Bothell High School.
"My coaches in high school were probably the best coaches I've ever played for," he said. "Coach (Tom) Bainter was a great man and taught me to be a stand-up citizen outside of football. He instilled a belief in me that I could do whatever I set my mind to and encouraged me to strive to be the best I could be."
It was Bainter that encouraged Hekker to try out to be a punter for Oregon State.
"I tried out as a walk on and Coach Bainter kept telling me I could do it and made me believe in myself," Hekker said.
Hekker hopes to have a long career with the Rams, breaking new records and eventually winning a Super Bowl.
"I want to be considered one the best punters," he said. "I want people to look up to me, like kids in high school, and think, 'I want to be a great punter like Hekker.'"
Hekker says it's a combination of support from his family and a competitive spirit that pushes him forward.
"I am a huge competitor down to the core of me and I hate to lose," he said. "But it's also my belief in something bigger, a strong faith in God that has kept me strong in tough times and pushed me forward because I feel like I'm playing for something greater."
Hekker wanted to thank the Bothell community for their continued support.
"I am so grateful for all Bothell has done for me and for encouraging me when I was a young student athlete," Hekker said. "I owe a lot to that community and I hope I'm making all of them proud."