TIGARD — For Fletcher Ahl, maybe it all started back when he was in third grade.
He attended a youth football camp that summer.
Craig Ruecker, then the brand new varsity football head coach at Tigard High School, spoke to the youngsters at the camp.
"He told us that, one day, we'd get to play for the varsity, and see how special it is," Ahl, a 2019 Tigard High School graduate, said as he sat in the football stadium at Tigard, thinking back to those days. "He encouraged all of the kids at the camp to come out to the Tigard High School football games, so we could see how much it meant to the community, and how special it was to be part of it."
Ahl was hooked.
He went to watch the Tigard High School football games, year after year.
"For me, the two most memorable games were when we played Aloha, and Thomas Tyner, (a 36-34 Aloha win in 2012), there were so many people there, and the triple overtime playoff game against Jesuit (a 42-41 Tiger quarterfinal win in 2014)," Ahl said. "Watching those gave me something to work for, my friends, too."
Well, Ahl put in the work. And, this past school year, as a Tigard High School senior, he reaped the rewards.
During the football season, Ahl was an offensive, defensive and special teams standout for the Tiger squad that reached the quarterfinal round of the Class 6A state playoffs. But that's not all. During the spring, Ahl was a hard-hitting, big-armed outfielder for the Tigard baseball club that reached the second round of the state playoffs.
"This was one of those years that you work for, for a long time," Ahl said with a smile. "It definitely was fun. I'm sad it's over, but I told myself that I have no regrets, and that's a good feeling. It ended on a good note, and I feel like I left it all out there."
Ahl, during his senior year at Tigard, picked up plenty of honors, both on the football gridiron and the baseball diamond. Now, he's got another honor, as he's been named the Times' Athlete of the Year from Tigard High School. The honor goes to the top senior-class athlete, as seen by the Times, at the school for the 2018-2019 school year.
"He's a great kid," said Ruecker, who retired as Tigard football coach following the 2018 season. "Fletcher Ahl was one of those dream kids to coach. And, one of the things I'm most proud of him for, is that as good as he was playing football and baseball, he is even a better person."
"Fletcher was a coach's dream," Tigard baseball coach Tom Campbell said. "He worked extremely hard everyday of the season, and was always driven to improve as a player with each practice. As good as a player he is, he's an even better person. Fletcher will certainly be missed by our coaches and players."
"This year was really special to me," Ahl said. "I'm really thankful that people cared about what me and my teammates worked so hard for."
On the football field, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Ahl did a lot of things for the Tigers — A LOT.
On offense, he started the season at tight end, moved to a fullback/H-back spot midway through the season, and then finished up back at tight end.
On defense, Ahl was an outside linebacker that had a knack for causing havoc in the opposition's backfield. In addition, Ahl also served as the Tigers' punter.
"Coach (Ruecker) made us all versatile," Ahl said. "That was cool."
Ahl shined at whatever position he played at. On offense, despite missing a pair of games due to injury, he had 14 receptions for 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns. On defense, Ahl was in on 34 total tackles, including nine tackles for losses. He tied for the team lead with five quarterback sacks, while also having a fumble recovery. Ahl also averaged 38.5 yards a punt.
Ahl was a second-team All-Three Rivers League pick on offense at fullback, he was a second-team selection at outside linebacker on defense and he was an honorable-mention pick at punter.
But all of those honors didn't come without a lot of hard work.
"As a freshman, and a JV player, Fletcher was a wide receiver and a defensive back," Ruecker said. "He's very coachable, and, at the start of his junior season, we told him that he was going to be a good-sized young man, and he wasn't going to be able to play at wide receiver and defensive back at the varsity level, so we were moving him to tight end and linebacker. He spent his junior year being a back-up, while working hard to learn how to be a tight end and linebacker. Then, as a senior, he blossomed into being one of the best tight ends in the league, maybe one of the top five in the state, while also being outstanding at outside linebacker."
Doing all of that, Ahl helped the Tigers go 4-1 in Three Rivers League play, good enough for second place in the league standings, while going 10-2 on the season.
"All of the wins were pretty special," Ahl said. "Your senior season only happens one time, so they all meant a lot to me. It was nice, at the end of the season, to win at West Linn (23-21 on Oct. 19) and at Tualatin (27-14 on Oct. 26) — it's always nice to beat your rivals."
Ahl had a huge game for the Tigers in their 62-27 win over Oregon City in a game played Oct. 5. In that contest, he had four catches for 113 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown reception from sophomore quarterback Drew Carter.
"We never ran that play in practice," Ahl said of the TD pass play. "Coach Ruecker notices everything. He watches the JV and freshman games, and he saw this coverage that Oregon City runs. Before the game, he pulled me and Drew Carter aside and said, 'if they run this coverage, then you run this pattern.' It was a weird kind of post pattern, but we did it, and it worked."
But it was more than just the big plays, and all of the victories, that made Tigard football special for Ahl.
"We're all best friends. All of the kids on the team are my brothers," Ahl said. "In the summer, we'd spend so much time together, and we'd hang out outside of football. Football is a great tradition here at Tigard. I'll always remember playing here, and I'll remember being a fan, too. Hopefully, it will keep going."
While playing football at Tigard meant a lot to Ahl, so did his time playing for the Tiger baseball team.
"Playing baseball at Tigard was really special," the left-hander said. "I love playing two sports. It keeps you going. I had a different group of friends on the baseball team, but I love them just as much."
As was the case with football, Ahl's baseball roots at Tigard also go way back.
"We've played together for a long time," he said. "And we've improved a lot since middle school. We put in a lot of work in the wintertime."
As a junior, Ahl played in left field and at first base for the Tigers. This year, he anchored Tigard's outfield, seeing time in both center field and right field, in addition to his familiar spot in left.
"I like being comfortable in all the places," he said. "I had a great time playing in the outfield this year."
He also had a great time at the plate for the Tigers in his senior season, as he helped lead Tigard to a 12-6 mark in Three Rivers League play, good enough for second place in the league standings, and an overall record of 18-11.
"Fletcher was our quiet leader, and he was the perfect teammate," Campbell said. "He was tremendously composed as a competitor. He helped his teammates become better players, and kept an even keel regardless of how things were going for him or the team."
For the season, Ahl hit for a .366 batting average, with 30 hits in 80 at-bats. He had five doubles, four triples and three home runs, while scoring 24 runs and driving in 19.
Ahl was a unanimous first-team All-Three Rivers League selection as an outfielder, while also earning honorable-mention Class 6A All-State accolades.
Ahl also helped the Tigers finish the season strong, getting series wins over fellow TRL title contenders West Linn, Tualatin and Lake Oswego to finish league play.
"We brought the right attitude," Ahl said.
In Tigard's final game against Tualatin, with the series tied at 1-1, the Tigers exploded for a 19-3 victory in a game played at Tigard High School. Ahl went 2 for 4 at the plate in that game, with a triple, three runs scored and two RBIs.
"Once again, it feels good to beat your rivals in your last game against them," Ahl said.
Ahl also belted a home run in an 11-1 win over Lake Oswego in the Tigers' final regular season game.
Then, in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs, Ahl helped ignite a 7-6 come-from-behind win over South Medford.
In that contest, South Medford jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning. In the bottom of the frame, Ahl hit a one-out single, moved all the way to third base on a wild pitch, and then scored on another wild pitch. For Tigard, which was shut out in first round playoff losses to Centennial and Sprague the prior two years, it was the team's first state playoff run since 2015.
"I think that got us going," Ahl said.
While playing at Tigard, Ahl got to play for one of the state's winningest football coaches in Ruecker, and one of the state's winningest baseball coaches in Campbell.
"They are two of the most special coaches around," Ahl said. "They just keep going and going, and I've learned so much from each of them. They're definitely special, and I'll remember them forever. And coach Ruecker's wife, Miss Beverly, is just as incredible as he is. She's made so much food for us."
During his junior year, Ahl was on the field for the Tigard baseball team for Campbell's 700th career coaching victory, coming in a 5-4 win at West Linn. This past fall, Ahl was on the field for the Tigard football team for Ruecker's 300th career coaching win, coming in a 58-14 home victory over Barlow. Ahl was the only Tiger player to compete in both of those milestone wins.
"Those are some of my favorite memories," Ahl said. "Those are such huge milestones."
There's more to Ahl's athletic achievements than what meets the eye. In addition to the opposition in the opposite dugout, or on the other sidelines, Ahl has also had to deal with Type 1 diabetes.
Ahl was diagnosed with diabetes while he was in seventh grade. Every day, he measures his blood sugar and injects himself with insulin four or five times, maintaining safe glucose levels.
"It's just something I deal with," Ahl said. "It's not something that I'm afraid of, you just have to keep on top of it."
Ahl, during football season, got help with that from Ruecker, who also has Type 1 diabetes.
"Coach Ruecker and his wife have helped me a lot," Ahl said. "And, one day during practice, his blood-sugar level went down, so I gave him my Gatorade. It's a two-way deal. We had each other's back."
Whether he's on the football field, or the baseball diamond, Ahl knows he has plenty of support in the grandstands, with his parents Darrell and Tina Ahl.
"My parents never miss a game," Fletcher Ahl said. "They even take time off work to watch me play. That's really special for me. They're the two people I always play for, and I can't imagine them not being there. They've given me so much extra support."
Ahl also gets plenty of support from his older brother Tanner, a 2014 Tigard High School graduate and former Tiger tennis standout.
"He comes to all of my games that he could," Fletcher Ahl said. "He gave me a competitive edge, and I'm so thankful for that. We used to play sports against each other all the time, and he taught me how to be competitive and put up a good fight."
Ahl also has support, in the form of a role model, in his former Tigard High School teammate Brett Thomas.
Thomas, a 2017 Tigard graduate who now plays baseball at Whitworth University in Spokane, was a left-handed outfielder for the Tigers, just like Ahl.
"He was similar to me, and I always looked up to him, both in football and baseball," Ahl said of Thomas. "He's such a good athlete, and I watched how he played. I wanted to be like him, and he's why I wore No. 14 for baseball."
Off to Eugene
While Ahl's scholastic football and baseball careers may be coming to a close, he's following another path he's always longed for — attending the University of Oregon.
"That's a dream I've had ever since I was a little kid," he said. "I can't believe it's finally here."
Like with football, Ahl's dreams of going to Oregon started early.
"Ever since my first year playing football, in third grade, I remember watching the Ducks play, and always wanting to go there," he said.
While at the University of Oregon, Fletcher Ahl will follow in his older brother's footsteps and serve as the manager of the school's women's tennis team.
"That will take up a lot of my time, but it's cool to still be involved in sports," Ahl said.
And, like with Tigard High School football and baseball, it's likely a safe bet that Ahl will give it his all.
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