About two decades ago, coach Jack Harbaugh arrived at Tates Creek High School in Lexington, Ky. As he walked into the room of an assistant football coach, he was greeted by a teenager named
Little did Harbaugh know, his son would be recruiting the same player some 20 years later.
Although he fell short in his quest to recruit Akers into a Hilltopper at WKU, Harbaugh put in some early leg work for his son, Jim. Akers ultimately ended up at the University of Louisville before embarking on his NFL career, which included eight years playing for Jack’s other son, John, who was a special teams coach in Philadelphia.
Jump to the summer of 2011 and Akers is looking for work. As he perused the league for opportunities after 12 stellar seasons with the Eagles, it was almost natural to join forces with a Harbaugh.
“When I was looking at different teams, it really came down to knowing the Harbaugh family,” Akers said. “I never really lost contact with Jack after that.”
The simple gesture of a handwritten letter, penned nearly a decade ago, still lives strong in Akers’ mind. Perhaps it serves as the best symbol of the relationship between his family and the Harbaughs.
After Jack Harbaugh won the 2002 Division II National Championship at WKU, Akers’ father-in-law sent him a congratulatory note. The response was priceless.
“My father-in-law still has the letter that Jack wrote back on with that national championship stationary,” Akers said. “Handwritten letter just thanking him for his support. Those are the type of things that go with the family.”
A marriage more than 20 years in the making, perhaps Akers and the 49ers were destined for each other. With a new head coach, new staff and a roster makeover, the 49ers were also looking for a fresh start this season. So they turned to a 36-year-old kicker, who’s turned out to be one of the team’s top free-agent acquisitions.
But Akers also had pre-existing ties with other members of the organization, including special teams coordinator Brad Seely. Akers got his first taste of the NFL in 1997 during training camp with the Carolina Panthers, when Seely was there in the same capacity.
Thousands of kicks later, and Akers can still recall those first NFL practice sessions. Together with Seely and fellow lefty kicker John Kasay, Akers laid the foundation for his accomplished career.
“Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Brad,” Akers said. “I have a lot of gratitude that he spent time with me as an undrafted free agent rookie to work on technique and stuff. … He helped me to develop the techniques that I still use today.”
Not only is Akers having success this year, he’s having fun. He’s made a league-high 28 attempts (in 33 tries), including a perfect 6-of-6 mark from 50 yards or beyond. But it’s the close-knit mood in the locker room that has won Akers over.
“It’s been a rejuvenation, that’s for sure,” Akers said.
The camaraderie starts with his fellow specialists, punter
It’s the small things that make all the difference in football. Did you know that Jennings actually prefers a left footer, because his snaps will naturally hook towards the holder’s body instead of tailing away? But it’s not like Jennings went to general manager Trent Baalke demanded another left footed kicker during the offseason.
“The long snapper sorts it out, yeah,” Jennings said sarcastically.
The camaraderie extends throughout the locker room, from the starters to the scout team.
By chance, Akers’ locker is sandwiched between a pair of 24-year-old rookie quarterbacks,
So when Tolzien, the team’s third-stringer, was added as a late signee in training camp, he received quite the welcome from his new neighbor.
“I remember the first day I got here,” Tolzien said. “He introduced himself and said, ‘Any questions you have, let me know.’ As a rookie, you’re saying, ‘Wow, this is David Akers and look at how he went out of his way.’
“You kind of store it away and you say, ‘God willing, if I’m in that position one day, that you can do the same thing.’ That’s what makes a great locker room; you got guys like that.”
Being a family man himself, Akers has enjoyed the family feel at team headquarters.
And his teammates have enjoyed the points he’s put on the board, all 108 of them. Heading into Sunday’s home matchup with St. Louis, Akers is on pace to eclipse Jerry Rice’s single-season franchise record of 138 points by year’s end.
“I jokingly say, ‘Some people think the Eagles success was Donovan McNabb and some people think it was (Andy) Reid,’” Jennings said. “But I think we got the guy.”
One guy can only do so much by himself. Without help along the way, Akers knows he never would have been able to carve out the career he has. But there’s still one thing Akers is yet to touch throughout his 12-plus years in the league: the Lombardi Trophy.
That’s why he continues to work to have a chance to win one in February. Perhaps, celebrating shoulder-to-shoulder with his new family.
“Again, with the line, ‘Who’s got it better than us?,’” Akers said. “The philosophy is: You enjoy what you have, don’t look at what you don’t have and thank the people who got you to where you are.
“Whether it’s the coaches, family, friends, teammates that have helped me along the line and pushed me, kicked me in the rear, supported me and helped pick me up – that is the importance of the people that I believe God brings into your life.”