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Born without right forearm, NU’s Kunickis beats odds, inspires coaches & teammates

EVANSTON, Ill. — Albert Kunickis has known from a young age to take ownership, work hard and not play the victim in whatever hand life deals.

That can-do attitude in life has earned the southwest suburban Lemont native the respect and admiration of his teammates and coaches at Northwestern University, where he’ll soon be a junior.

“Just attack it,” he said of his approach to life. “Attack your weaknesses that you possess and honestly just try to flourish.”

Born to Diana and Albert Jr., Albert Kunickis III entered the world without a right hand or forearm. As a child, he remembers being the last to be picked on neighborhood teams. But mom and dad instilled in him not to have a victim’s mentality.

“There were a lot of times in grade school, we’d be playing backyard sports at recess or whatever and we’d be picking teams, and I would be the last one to get selected. It would kind of burn a little bit,” he recalled one recent day during a sit-down interview at the bucolic Big 10 school on the shores of Lake Michigan in between finals in organic chemistry and molecular biology.

In what would become his “I’ll show them” kind of way, he scored three touchdowns in his first-ever pee wee football game. Years later, in his senior year at Lemont High School, he had no fumbles and no drops, scoring 22 rushing touchdowns and two more receiving with more than 160 touches. Endless hours of practice with his dad sharpened his skills, leading to a preferred walk-on offer to play from the Northwestern Wildcats.

A torn right ACL sidelined him his freshman year season, but after extensive rehab he made his collegiate debut against the University of Texas at El Paso in September 2023 under new coach David Braun, who has quickly come to appreciate the 6 foot, 3 inch and 225-pound fast and bruising young man with an apex predator, wildcat-in-the-jungle attitude.

“He has that and then some,” Braun said. “He just wants to get better. What I have seen out of him since he came back from fall camp, what he was able to do this off-season and what he’s been able to do this spring ball, gives a lot of promise and optimism for his future with the program.”

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Braun said that whether Kunickis plays 1,000 steps or zero moving forward, he’ll have a positive impact on the football team. Kunickis said he’ll continue grinding away, knowing nothing else but his drive and his unstoppable spirit.

“I’m feeling great. The team, we’ve been working. We’ve been working, so we all feel good. I feel good as well. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life, and I’m only going to improve that,” he said.

Already at his young age, Kunickis has become a role model to kids and has gained the respect of some NFL greats, too. When former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees heard about the young athlete, he sent him a signed jersey.

“Who dat!” the former No. 9 penned. “Keep inspiring others.”

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Now, it’s all all eyes on the season ahead and the goals Kunickis has set for himself. The Wildcats kick off their season in late August in a smaller, temporary football stadium with a game against Miami of Ohio. Kunickis hopes to earn a spot as a regular, play in the Rose Bowl and then in the National Football League.

“That’d be awesome,” he said.

Still, when he’s done with football, no matter where it leads, the mechanical engineer-to-be said he wants to give back to those who may follow in his footsteps.

“I want to make prosthetic devices for athletes in my situation,” he said.

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