Bothell High football head coach Tom Bainter exclaimed, “Bothell is in the Super Bowl!” according to the school’s athletic director Yonni Mills.
Come 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 3, Cougar graduate Johnny Hekker, 28, will line up as the punter for the Los Angeles Rams as they face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. Both squads won their respective NFC and AFC divisional championships in overtime on Jan. 20 to make it to the football promised land.
In classic Hekker form against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game — since he was a star quarterback at Bothell and the Reporter’s male athlete of the year in 2008 — the 6-foot-5 punter faked his kick and threw a 12-yard fourth-down pass to kickstart a scoring drive, which resulted in a field goal and cut the Saints’ lead to 13-3. The Rams won, 26-23, in overtime on a 57-yard field by Greg Zuerlein, a kick which Hekker received from center and held for the kicker.
“He’s cool under pressure,” said mom Joy Hekker of Johnny, who handled the slightly off-kilter snap to set up Zuerlein at the end. She noted that her son has snagged a variety of snaps, including some over his head that he’s grabbed with his long arms.
On her son punching his ticket to the Super Bowl, mom added: “It is cool. Kind of surreal. (Thinking back to pee-wee Cougars) You think, ‘Did I even see this in our future?’”
Joy was sick with the flu on game day and watched the NFC championship contest at home in Monroe with her husband, Bob. There was a family viewing party in the area, but mom and dad stayed home to witness the drama unfold.
A shot of adrenaline from watching that final field goal helped her get healthy quicker, she said with a laugh.
When the Rams lined up for the kick, “We were literally holding onto each others’ hands and leaning forward,” said Joy, noting that after New Orleans called a time out to ice Zuerlein, the Hekkers received a phone call from a friend in North Carolina.
Since the West Coast is on a few-minutes delay from the East Coast, the friend offered congratulations for what the Hekkers didn’t know of yet. “We said, ‘Get off the phone, don’t ruin it for us!’ It was screaming, mayhem and craziness in our house,” Joy said. “He’s our new spoiler alert.”
Bob, Joy and Johnny’s four older brothers — Joel, Judah, Tim and Zach, who also played football at Bothell — are all headed to Atlanta for the big game.
It was Zach — the Johnny look-alike and “crazy fan,” Joy said — who told his parents, “‘Hey, Johnny’s got something special,’” mom added. “We need to support him and allow him to go to all these combines and find a way.” Speaking of Zach, he often gets stopped to sign autographs.
On being selected to play with the Rams, Hekker told the Reporter in 2012: “It’s an amazing miracle — I couldn’t be more blessed.” (Hekker wasn’t available for a current interview with the Reporter at press time.)
Oregon State graduate and star Hekker, who is known for his booming punts (NFL longest, 78 yards; average, 46.9 yards) and for throwing those fourth-down passes at times, has notched four Pro Bowl nods and four First Team All-Pro selections.
On the Beaver front, Hekker beat out fellow walk-on Ryan Allen for the punter job at OSU and Allen transferred to Louisiana Tech. Allen now plays for the Patriots and it will be a scenario of dueling punters from OSU at the Super Bowl.
Mills is thrilled and proud of Hekker as he heads toward the Super Bowl. On Bainter’s comment, she added: “I think that is very true and speaks to how well Johnny has represented Bothell High School and the Bothell community from high school through college into the NFL and now to the Super Bowl. I am and have been a Johnny Hekker fan for many years.”
Bainter noted that Hekker called him when he took his free-agent offer to play with the Rams over the Buffalo Bills. While at a coaches’ retreat, Bainter put Hekker on speaker phone so he could tell everyone the good news.
Going 1-0 each week is something Bainter and his coaches preached to the Cougars and it clearly made an impact on Hekker.
“One of the things that was cool for us is for him to come back to say, ‘the 1-0 mentality is what I use to get where I’m at,’” said Bainter, adding that 1-0 doesn’t just apply to winning and losing, but what athletes do each day to make themselves better in terms of mental focus, preparation and practicing their skills.
At Bothell, Hekker led the Cougars to a 4A state final appearance from his quarterback position in 2007. As a senior in 2007, the 4A KingCo first-team selection threw for 55 touchdowns and passed for nearly 2,000 yards.
“It’s the family-like atmosphere,” Hekker told the Reporter in 2008 about the stellar Bothell program. “Everybody wants to give 110 percent for each other, just because they know the guy next to him is giving his all.”
During his senior year, the track and field stadium and basketball court were also places where he thrived on the regular. He qualified for the 4A state track and field meet in the triple jump, and averaged 12.6 points per game and snagged a team-leading 181 rebounds in the hoops realm.
Football is king in the Hekker household, in both Los Angeles and in Washington — and across other parts of the country.
During the 2017 season, Joy and Bob cruised their RV — emblazoned with a 6-foot Rams insignia — across the states for six away games.
This season, Zach traveled to New Orleans for the NFC championship tilt and attended many other games as well. All the brothers and Bob nailed a sports trifecta in October 2018 when they attended a Rams home game, a USC football contest and a Dodgers World Series game over a two-day stretch in LA.
There’s one more game to go. The biggest game of all.
Hekker’s Twitter page reads: “I think we ain’t done yet!”
Correction: In the Feb. 1 print version of this story, it should note that in 2006, Cody Atkinson was the Cougars’ starting quarterback and took the team to the state final.