The moment DeForest Buckner was spotted ocn campus at Punahou School in Honolulu, football coach Kale Ane took particular notice.
“It was a great situation to see someone 6-foot-7 walking onto our campus,” Ane said. “I didn’t care what sport he was playing, I knew he was going to play football. So I was really happy.”
Ane, 65, played center for seven NFL seasons, mostly with the Kansas City Chiefs. Over the course of Buckner’s high school and college football experiences, Ane encouraged Buckner to set challenging goals for himself.
“He really opened that whole side of the game to me and about life in general,” Buckner said. “I was thinking small -- not that big -- and I thank him for that every day.”
Buckner chose to honor Ane for the Fourth Annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards because of the profound influence he has experienced from the long-time coach.
“He’s a very calm man,” Buckner said. “It was easy to have a conversation with him. He’s really open and genuine. In his presence, I felt very comfortable.
“I formed a bond with him quickly.”
Buckner remembers Ane took an interest in him even before he played his first snap of varsity football. Then-USC coach Pete Carroll came to the high school to visit linebacker Manti Te’o on a recruiting visit. Ane did not want Carroll to leave until he also got a chance to meet Buckner.
“I was a freshman and hadn’t played varsity ball, yet,” Buckner said. “And coach Kale was telling them, ‘This is one of our young guys. He’s going to be somebody one day. I just want you to get to know him real quick.’
“Coach saw the potential in me and wanted to get my name out there.”
Ane said he could tell that Buckner had vast potential – despite weighing a mere 200 pounds on his tall frame.
“You want to challenge your top athletes, and he was definitely one of our top athletes,” Ane said. “He had the potential to be a standout Division I player, and perhaps further than that.
“His work ethic allowed him to have those kinds of dreams and goals. We talked about where you want to go, and if you got hurt, how would you be treated? Does the system fit what you’re doing and are you happy? We had a few talks.”
Buckner accepted a full-ride scholarship to Oregon, where he played four seasons and graduated with a degree in criminology. The 49ers selected him with the No. 7 overall pick of the 2016 Draft, and he has developed into one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL.