When freshman running back Chad Kackert signed on with the UNH football team 3,000 miles away from his Simi Valley, Calif., home last year, his mother came up with a plan.
She would drive the 46 hours to New Hampshire in her Volkswagen bus with Chad's black Labrador and her Maltese and set up housekeeping at the Hickory Pond Inn in Durham.
Then she would attend every home and away game. For several games, the rest of the family, Chad's father and sister, would join her.
"I figured as long as I had the opportunity I wanted to see all of his games," says Bette Kackert, who could work on her laptop just as easily in New Hampshire as California. "I'm not just a Chad fan," she adds. "I'm really connected into everything the Wildcats are about."
What the Wildcats were about was playing a rousing, no-huddle offense that drew record crowds, including 13,000 at Homecoming, proving that Bette Kackert was not the only fan anxious to watch UNH football.
The season began with a shocking 34-17 upset victory over Northwestern. While three losses mid-season gave UNH a low seed going into post-season play, the team broke a record by becoming the first Atlantic 10 team in conference history to make it to the NCAA quarterfinals for the third straight season. (They were defeated 24-17 by third-seeded UMass.)
Quarterback Ricky Santos '08 and wide receiver David Ball '07 again broke records and raked in awards. "They both put us on the map," says coach Sean McDonnell '78.
By the regular season's end, Santos had passed for 29 touchdowns and led the conference with 12 rushing touchdowns. He also surpassed the 3,000-yard passing mark for the third straight time.
Ball made headlines for breaking several NCAA records for receiving, including the I-AA record for touchdown receptions in a career. With 58, he passed NFL legend Jerry Rice, who caught 50 while a student at Mississippi Valley State. Ball finished second in NCAA records with 4,655 receiving yards and tied Rice's record of 23 100-yard receiving games. He also ranked second, with 28 games, among I-AA players catching at least one touchdown pass per game.
Ball took home the Harry Agganis/Harold Zimman Award for most outstanding New England college football senior, and both Ball and Santos were selected for the Walter Camp Football Foundation 2006 All-America team.
"What has made it so nice is that these two kids are great examples of people who have shown that by working very hard you can achieve something that might have seemed impossible," McDonnell says. "They were able to prove that you don't have to be the most highly recruited player to become a great player."Return to UNH Magazine Campus Currents