Acknowledging that some luck and karma likely had as much to do with his success as perseverance and a killer work ethic, Green Bay fullback and current free agent John Kuhn pushed the "student" in student-athlete when he spoke to a crowd of high school sports all-stars at the inaugural GameTimePA.com Athletes of the Year Awards Thursday evening.
A crowd of about 350, including more than 110 student-athletes, gathered at the Wyndham Garden York in West Manchester Township to hear from one of York County's favorite sons and find out just the identity of the athletes of the year.
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Kuhn recalled his own high school years when he got the chance to attend the venerable York Sports Night and hear from greats like Cal Ripken Jr.
He wondered which one of the athletes in the crowd possibly could be the keynote speaker at the awards banquet 15 years from now.
But, he said, for most of the young people in the room, "the student part is going to take you farther in life."
He noted that he still has a chemistry degree from Shippensburg University to fall back on if need be.
Kuhn, who was welcomed to the dais with the familiar chorus of "Kuuuuhnnn," said when he was playing high school football for Dover, few Division I schools came sniffing around with anything more than the offer of a shot at being a walk-on.
Shippensburg topped that, he said, with a promise that he could play football and, emphasis on "and," get a college degree.
And, it was while he was playing for the Red Raiders that luck came into play.
At a game against IUP, a Pittsburgh Steelers scout, who actually was in attendance to scope out a player on the opposing team, got a good look at Kuhn.
"I never said I was going to be a professional football player," he told the crowd.
But from that first look-over by an NFL scout, he said other teams began showing interest. And, after not getting drafted and then being cut three times before the season started for three years, Kuhn got picked up by the Green Bay Packers.
There was a joke in there about the timing of the Packers' call and Kuhn's then-girlfriend's distaste for the Packers' "horrible" uniforms.
But, Kuhn said he finally did make it as a professional football player, not "by accident," but because of a lot of hard work and taking all of the advice he could get.
Back on his home turf last night, Kuhn proudly stated that "I still bleed York blood" and roots for all of the York County high school teams.
He also explained how he became a chemistry major at Ship, confessing to his Dover High School chemistry teacher, Bertha Spahr, who was in attendance, that his football coaches needed him to declare a major so they could schedule practices around his class times.
"I didn't know I was going to be a chemistry major, Mrs. Spahr," Kuhn said. "The coach asked, 'What did you like in high school?'
"I said I liked chemistry, and the coach said, 'OK, you're a chem major.'"
But along the shout-out to Spahr, Kuhn told the students that he recognized at the high school level that to succeed anywhere from that point, "I needed to do extra to be good at my sport.
"I also needed to be good in the classroom to get to college."
Retired as of the end of the 2007 school year, Spahr said during the dinner and before Kuhn got up to speak that she was surprised when she walked into the event solo to be immediately escorted to the VIP room.
"I don't know how he knew I was coming; I only bought one ticket," Spahr said. "But, he knew I was coming."
Smiling broadly when she spoke about Kuhn, Spahr said she closely followed his career but had not spoken to him in person since he graduated from high school. Having taught thousands of students in 42 years, Spahr could not pin the year that Kuhn graduated but recalled him as "a very good student."
"I haven't missed a game," Spahr said, admitting that but for being a fan of Kuhn, she is not that big on pro football.
She did, however, say that she had brought her green and white shirt that is emblazoned with Kuhn's name on the back and also reads "From PA to Green Bay" with her "on the off chance" she could get close enough to Kuhn to ask him to sign it.
He did, in the VIP room, also writing to Spahr, "Thank you for the education."
Spahr said she also asked Kuhn about Green Bay and what his immediate future might hold.
"He's 34, 35 years old and that's getting up there for a football player," Spahr said.
With almost a conspiratorial whisper, Spahr added, "I think he wants to play at least one more year."
Spahr said Kuhn "doesn't look or behave any differently" then he did when he was a Dover High School student.
"All of this fame under his belt and he's still the same," she said.