Lemont running back Albert Kunickis makes the doubters pay

Kunickis, a 6-3, 210-pound junior, was born with a right arm that ends at the elbow.

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Lemont’s Albert Kunickis completing drills in practice.

Lemont’s Albert Kunickis completing drills in practice.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Albert Kunickis’ favorite football player is recently retired Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

What about the future Hall of Famer resonates with the Lemont junior? 

“I like how he’s 5-10, 5-11, everyone doubted him his whole career,” Kunickis said, “‘Oh, you’re too short to play quarterback.’ He overcame that and he’s obviously one of the greatest passers in NFL history.”

Kunickis, who is a starting running back and kicker for the Indians, also faced skeptics when he started playing youth football seven years ago. Coincidentally, he was inspired to do so after watching a typically dazzling performance by Brees.

Then, opposing players were hard on Kunickis, who was like them except for one thing: he was born with a right arm that ends at the elbow.

“They called me names, teased me for it,” Kunickis said. “They tried to get under my skin. (But) it wouldn’t bother me. Just kind of laughed it off.

“Me and my brother would always pick on each other, so we’re used to it.”

Kunckis’ family and teammates never saw him as limited in any way.

“It’s amazing to see him do everything,” said Kunickis’ father, also named Albert. “He always wants to be the best. ... He works hard and has to prove himself.”

Lemont coach Bret Kooi is one of the people Kunickis has won over.

“I’m one of those old-time guys,” Kooi said. “I thought, ’Somebody’s going to try to take advantage of that.’ He’s done nothing but prove me wrong.”

Teammate Jason Berger, a senior cornerback, has seen his friend develop into one of the Indians’ best players.

Lemont’s Albert Kunickis completing drills in practice.

Lemont’s Albert Kunickis completing drills in practice.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

“His work ethic is definitely incredible,” Berger said. “We don’t treat him any differently. He wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Berger said opponents “probably underestimate” Kunickis, something that he never does when the team is scrimmaging.

“When I’m in practice and he’s coming full speed at me, it’s a little scary,” Berger said, “He’s a big kid.”

Indeed. Kunickis took advantage of the extended pandemic break to add around 20 pounds and he’s now 6-3, 210.

He also worked on becoming a more versatile player.

“I struggled catching (a football) earlier,” Kunickis said. “And my speed — I worked on that countless hours with my dad.”

The mechanics of catching a pass have become second nature now.

“I usually use my chest as an advantage,” he said. “I used to catch it and bring my knee up (to cradle the ball). I don’t do that anymore obviously. I think my hand is bigger (too).”

Kunickis also has a big leg. He’s kicked 55-yard field goals in practice and just missed from 60.

But it’s his size and physicality as a back that makes him a candidate to play football after high school.

“A hundred percent, I feel I can get there if I keep working,” he said.

And he can be an inspiration for others.

“Kids see me, I perform well, they think, ‘Oh, I can do anything I want to do with two hands if this kid can do it with one hand,’” he said.

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