If Owen Miller was the Butch Cassidy of this year’s Aitkin Gobbler football team, there is no doubt that Austin Price was The Sundance Kid.
The pair led what opponents feared, the “Hole in the Line” gang, taking the Gobblers through a season of pandemic and restricted fan participation.
It has been a long trip for the “Kid,” who completed his four-year career with more than 2,000 yards rushing, 18 touchdowns and a per-carry average of 5.35.
Football seemed an easy distraction for the cancer survivor, and this year was something special for the senior.
“We decided early that what we got was all we were going to get, so we stayed in shape and worked out so we would be ready when and if the time came,” the senior explained. “We went 100% all the time to make sure were ready for games, whether they came in the fall or in the spring.”
Price’s story has been told before. He was diagnosed with Birkitt’s Lymphoma when he was just 4 years old, and after spending eight months in chemotherapy and becoming a favorite at Children’s Minnesota, the family got good news.
Price now returns for yearly check-ups to make sure there are no long-term effects from the chemotherapy. He doesn’t think about it a lot anymore but it still does cross his mind from time to time.
“Cancer Night is one of those times when I think about it a little more, and of course the yearly testing is a little stressful, more so for my parents I think,” Price explained. “Kids bring it up once in a while when they have someone going through cancer, but my case was a long time ago, so I really don’t remember a lot about what I went through.”
Aitkin football coach Alan Hills knows how special a player the young man is.
“Austin is a rare four-year varsity player and three-year feature running back,” Hills said. “He has a tireless work ethic and that has made him stronger and faster each year.
“It’s been really fun watching him turn himself into a great running back,” the coach added. “Each year he improved his ability to read blocks and find that extra yard while still being a physical runner who is more than willing to run you over.”
Behind every great football player there are always parents who love watching their kid perform. Austin knows how important that is with his parents, Heidi and Jason.
“My parents were extremely excited every game day,” Austin said. “They called me two or three times during the day making sure I was ready to go.
“I think they might have been more excited than I was,” he added. “It was fun to see.”
Heidi was part of a Gobbler volleyball dynasty back in the day, so she knows about competing every time out.
“This year’s team was completely on the same page. Every player got along, we were all friends and always had a good time out there,” Austin said.
Heidi is also happy about what sports has taught her son over the years.
“One of the biggest questions we have as parents is: will our children succeed and how will their success be measured?” Heidi explained. “For us, watching Austin evolve as an athlete on the football field was amazing, but he gained much more than that through his high school football career. He learned to respect and trust his coaches and teammates, and gained a football family that has taught him much more than the game itself.
“We are ever so grateful for the opportunity that Austin has been given, to be a part of Aitkin football and all that it stands for,” she added.
Although Austin put up some great stats Hills knew that wasn’t as important as winning was to his running back.
“He is a team-first kind of guy and you will never hear him complain about a lack of carries or, in the case of C-I last year, too many carries in a game, 37,” Hills said. “He’s one of the many guys who have made this program what it is today and we are definitely going to miss him.”
Along with his offensive statistics Austin added 92 tackles to his career resume so he sure didn’t mind taking or giving a good hit.
Price is so much more than a football player, as well. Whether he goes to college for business or moves into his father’s business, he will be a success.
After all, he’s already lived a life of survival, and even for the “Sundance Kid,” that’s pretty cool.