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Acker ready for action on Niners' roster


Former Grant High football star brings defensive IQ to pros

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF TINA ACKER - Cornerback Kenneth Acker (middle) celebrates his Southern Methodist football career after a game with his father, Karl Sr. (left), and older brother, Karl Jr. The 2014 NFL draft kept Kenneth Acker and his family on pins and needles. Now the San Francisco 49ers training camp is doing the same thing.

Acker, a former Grant High star, is competing with a host of other defensive backs for precious spots on the Niners’ 53-man regular-season roster.

By all accounts, the Southern Methodist gridiron prospect is solidly in the 49ers’ mix, after being selected 180th overall (sixth round) in the draft.

That May moment created one of many time capsules in the Acker family video vault. Kenneth, mother Tina, father Karl Acker Sr., brother Karl Jr., and Karl Jr.’s 18-month-old daughter Peyton-Marie embraced, tears streaming down their faces as Peyton-Marie then began running around the room and climbing on Acker’s back.

“She knew something was up,” his mom says.

The NFL, you see, has been a dream and a goal for most of Acker’s 22 years.

“He never wanted to do anything else,” the senior Acker says.

In third grade, Acker planned to play his first season of Grant youth football and join his brother, who is one year older. However, just before the opening game, their father had to inform Acker that insurance wouldn’t cover a third-grader playing fourth-grade football. Acker was devastated.

“He broke down and poured his tears out,” Tina Acker says.

Dad gave Acker his first pair of shoulder pads, though, and assured him that, “One day, you can play.”

Acker recalls that he would go to practice that season, sit on the sidelines and “throw the ball by myself. I wanted to be out there so bad.”

The experience, however, made him realize even at that young age that football was not just a game to him, but was meant to be a passion for a long, long time.

“I knew from Day One,” he says. “And when I want something, I’m going to go for it.”

To make up for lost time, once he was old enough, Acker played CYO football games on Saturday morning and Grant youth games on Saturday night.

And, after practicing so much with his brother — who also went on to star for Grant in football and track and field — Acker was more than ready to dominate his own age group.

“I never wanted to lose. I always strived to be just as good as my brother,” Acker says. “I competed with him every day.”

Both Acker and his dad say Karl Jr. could have been the first in the family to go pro, had injuries not kept him from maintaining a football career. Karl Jr. walked onto the team at high-profile LSU, but stepped away after separating his rotator cuff. Football was never his only option, though, and after earning a degree in sports management, along with a minor in business, Karl Jr. began working on obtaining an appraisal license and becoming an appraiser for Multnomah County.

“He’s such a strong student, we encouraged him to pour energy into academics,” the senior Acker says.

Acker, who is getting ready for the NFL preseason, says he has received nothing but love from his brother.

“My brother is my best friend in many ways. He’s proud to see me make it,” Acker says.

Tina Acker, principal at Vernon K-8 School, has been photographing and videotaping the boys’ athletic endeavors for years. She was there for Acker’s breathtaking punt-return jaunt around the field in a Grant-Central Catholic state playoff game, a play on which he evaded seemingly the entire Rams defense.

The play was good enough for ESPN’s highlight reel, but not good enough to make the elder Acker’s pantheon of his son’s best.

“He’s made some plays that would top that 10 times over that haven’t been seen,” he says.

Tina Acker continued to shoot Grant football and basketball games for two years after Acker graduated because she felt such a strong connection with his schoolmates.

“That’s what made it meaningful, the relationships,” she says.

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF TINA ACKER - A family gathering in New Orleans featured (from left) dad Karl Acker Sr., grandfather Hildred Acker, Kenneth Acker, mom Tina Acker and Karl Acker Jr.Among NFL scouts, the consensus is that the 6-0, 195-pound Acker has intriguing ball skills, good speed (4.5 in the 40-yard dash) and more, but needs to add strength and improve in press coverage as a potential pro cornerback.

Karl Sr. says the criticisms are misguided. He says his son didn’t have the opportunity to prove his press prowess in college because SMU’s zone scheme didn’t enlist cornerbacks to press receivers very often.

Acker says every aspect of his game needs improvement and “if I were a perfect player there would be no point to playing.”

Karl Sr. adds that Acker’s football IQ will make him an invaluable asset.

“They say football is a chess game — it’s pieces in a space,” he adds. “His football IQ is so high, knowing his surroundings and being able to predict routes. He’s not guessing, he’s pretty sure, and better than 90 percent of the time, he’s right.”

Reports from the 49ers’ camp indicate that Acker’s play has been predictably up and down, but that he has showed that he does bring positive things to the table. The 49ers, who went into the draft seeking to bolster their depth in the secondary, also chose DBs in round one, four and five. Acker has college experience as a punt and kick returner, though, and his ability to contribute on special teams could help him land a roster spot, or at least a place on the practice squad.

Make no mistake, though — Acker, 22, still has loftier dreams and goals.

“My goal is to make the team, then get a starting spot, make the Pro Bowl, win the Super Bowl and then get into the Hall of Fame,” he says.

His dad says Acker was brought up to dream big.

“He was raised with it. It’s a culture for us,” he says. “We set high goals for ourselves and for them.”