The Juanita Rebels have a history rich with quality Running Backs. Kurt Steck led the Rebels to two state championships in the 80’s, Kevin Griffin (Ohio State) and Jon Eide (Stanford) played major D1 football in the mid 90’s, while Keegan Tachell broke records left and right in the late 90’s. The story of Austin Knerr will make any historian forget just how great of a tradition the Rebels have.
“Austin arrived 6 days after his due date,” Karen Knerr (Austin’s Mom) told NEI. “During those 6 days he either had a fetal stroke or lack of oxygen to his brain, there was no trauma, or indication of this during the last week of my pregnancy.
“Austin was a happy and healthy baby, the symptoms of a developmental delay started around the age of 1, he was late to walk and by the age of 2 he was not talking.”
He would attend speech and physical therapy sessions, and when the time came, he went into Kindergarten just like everyone else. Austin was held back for a second year of Kindergarten and at the age of eight was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.
“His diagnosis changed nothing, other than giving us a label to explain why he walked and talked differently,” Knerr said.
Just like any other teen Austin enjoys the great things in life. “He loves X-Box, but only plays sports games, Fifa, Madden, and NCAA are his favorites”, Knerr noted. “He loves to eat, he is on a first name basis with the Kingsgate Baskin Robbins, Little Caesars, McDonalds and Donut Shop.”
Austin is very independent. He works part-time at Arena Sports and will occasionally find himself volunteering at the local food bank. When the active teen does have free time, he enjoys following the Seattle Mariners, the Boston Red Sox, University of Washington Football, LeBron and the Miami Heat, and the Seattle Seahawks.
A few years back Austin was given the opportunity to help out the Juanita Football team by being the water boy, and thus the legend of Austin Knerr began to take off. When he wasn’t helping the players rehydrate, he began waving to the crowd to help get the fans into the game and even joined in the push-ups done after a Juanita touchdown.
Karen Knerr is a reading teacher at Robert Frost Elementary, which eventually feeds Juanita through Kamiakin Middle School, and call tell you of many different stories involving youth football players at her school.
“One Autumn day, usually mid season, a young boy wearing a junior Rebel shirt will quietly raise their hand and ask ‘Mrs. Knerr, are you Austin’s mom?’ Every time I say ‘yes I am’ with the same proud smile knowing that boy’s life is changed forever. He had Austin’s mom for a reading teacher,” she said.
Austin’s father, Brian Knerr, has been coaching football for the past 12 seasons, the last six at Juanita, his Alma Mater. He was part of back-to-back state championship teams in 1984 and 1985, starting on both the offensive and defensive lines. I’ve spoken with Brian on a few occasions about those teams, both of which he is very proud of, but the sparkle in his eye when telling me about the possibility of Austin getting to play was next to none.
The entire Knerr family has the same exuberance about the situation. Austin’s sister, Allie, is a sophomore at Juanita and says, “I am so happy Austin got to wear the Juanita jersey and be on the field. He is such a Rebel at heart. I know what it is like to suit up for a Rebel swim meet or track meet, the pride is real and I am happy he got to feel that too.”
Juanita Football players take a lot of pride in being part of Austin’s life, especially senior captain Landyn Milburn. “I am a peer tutor for the special education class and have Austin in my 5th period,” Milburn said. “He always has a smile on his face and loves talking about football.
“He’s been at every game and every practice all three years of my high school days and to get him to play on senior night couldn’t of been a more perfect time and opportunity. I know he loved that and it made all of us come together and realize how special the game of football really is!”
The Knerr family would like to thank the Interlake Saints’ coaches and players, the WIAA and Lake Washington School District for allowing Austin to play. They would also like to thank to every student, and adult who showed up to cheer and tweeted about it after.
Karen Knerr finishes, “The chant from the stands ‘we want Austin’, the kids and adults sporting a red 85 on their cheek, the 30 push ups his sister did on the spirit board in the stands after his run to the endzone, the players piling on top of him, the senior players who shared senior night with him. It all meant so much.”