Nowadays, playing recreational sports as an Indian kid is not that uncommon at all.
Kartik Akkihal has always played sports as a little kid. Four vs. Four soccer, flag football, and almost every Indian American’s favorite sport, basketball.
Akkihal always dreamed about walking into the DRK Texas Memorial Stadium field as a Longhorns player. That dream finally came true.
In high school, the former Longhorns wide receiver played some snaps at quarterback. However, he was mostly a wide receiver and at times a tight end. He even lettered in track before lettering in football.
Little did Akkihal know at that time he represented only 1.76% of Division I athletes during the 2020 season, according to the NCAA’s Race and Gender Demographics Database.
At 6-foot-2 192 pounds, Kartik Akkihal tied his cleats onto the Longhorns squad as a freshman in 2018.
Akkihal’s start in football made him realize the lack of a role that football played in the Asian community. He didn’t see players that looked like him on his high school’s field or many at Texas.
“It’s always been like that, I did not feel anything by just being the only Asian kid on the football field on my team or my opponents”
It’s not about the lack of interest from first or second generation Americans in athletics like football. It is more so about the way South Asian communities tend to look at sports in general.
“Some kids in the community do not have the opportunity to get into sports, they are not able to do anything but focus on academics and studying”
Kartik Akkihal echoes the same message many understand, it all starts at home and in the community. Luckily for Akkihal, his parents were supportive to him as a child. He was a multi-sport athlete in high school and played for the Longhorns in college.
Akkihal says there has to be more representation in the community. It’s not necessarily about meeting a quota of diverse athletes, it’s to be good enough.
The Asian community prides itself on being the best at what they do and they have a passion for it. However, it is structured in a way that it is purely academically driven.
What many in the Asian-American community fail to understand that is you can still be studious and participate in athletics — it’s what Akkihal has been doing since he was a kid.
“The way we can get the community to open up more to it is by seeing others do it. They see what I have done, getting the good grades that I’ve had and being successful in sports. Now they are asking how can their children be like me, asking questions on how to get started, what to do.”
These are all talking points to get the buy-in of Asian American communities and especially the South Asian community in America.
While he was not recruited out of Vandergrift high school, Akkihal was convinced by his now WR coach. Former Longhorns wide receiver Mike Adams convinced Akkihal that he can play college football.
“He came during my senior year of high school and told me that I could play football at the next level, and I started to think about it.”
Donning number 82, Akkihal appeared in a handful of games his junior year before taking a back seat to the coaching change his final year as a Longhorn. College football not only taught him about practice and preparation in skills, but a valuable lesson in different leadership styles
Kartik Akkihal was present during Tom Herman’s last three years at Texas and Steve Sarkisian’s’ first year at Texas. Akkihal noted that Sarkisian is more of a technician and explains concepts well to players, whereas Herman was more of a disciplinarian.
Different styles resonate with different people and it was a great learning experience for Akkihal.
Akkihal’s biggest inspiration was not someone like him, instead it was the 2005-2009 Texas Longhorns football team.
An Austin native, Kartik Akkihal admired the way Vince Young and Colt McCoy led those teams and wanted to be a part of Texas’ rich college football history.
“I loved the longhorns and wanted to play for Texas, why would you not play for the best team down the street”
Akkihal was nurtured as a kid to have a healthy balance of school and sports by his parents. His father, from Dharwad, and his mother from Kerela, both from India had a kid growing up in Austin who also played college football.
Soon enough, Kartik Akkihal hopes there will be more people like him in college and the NFL.
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