Chiawana grad cuts an imposing figure on the football field and in the classroom

Chiawana High 2019 graduate AJ Vongphachanh

Graduate AJ Vongphachanh offers this advice to his fellow Chiawana High School students.
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Graduate AJ Vongphachanh offers this advice to his fellow Chiawana High School students.

At 6 feet, 3 inches tall, AJ Vongphachanh is an imposing figure.

He carried that stature onto the football field where he earned top marks from coaches and scouts. He wrapped up his senior year at Chiawana High School as one of the top pass rushers in the state.

“I think my position is the best,” he said. “You get to sack the quarterback and make big plays, and when you make a big play and everyone is super excited, it just gives you some adrenaline.”

His position is just one of the things he loves about football. He enjoys the early morning workouts, the afternoon practices and spending time watching recordings of his plays. Probably the most important to him is the time he spends hanging out with his teammates.

“A lot of these guys you’ve played with awhile, and being able to wake up in the morning and lift (weights) and practice every day, it usually builds strong relationships with those guys,” he said. “That’s what makes it fun.”

His love for all of the aspects of the game and his commitment to football led him to be courted by eight colleges.

Chiawana graduate AJ Vongphachanh, a football standout at the high school in Pasco, is headed to Utah State on a football scholarship to pursue an engineering degree. Watch a video at: Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

He is an outstanding football player and a great leader, said Chiawana’s Athletic Director John Cazier.

“God gave him some obvious gifts in speed, strength and size, but those gifts were not wasted,” he said. “He worked for four years to improve upon them, and did it together with his teammates, helping build the program and build his team.”

A great student

He cuts as impressive figure in the classroom as well. He graduated Saturday with a 3.7 grade-point average, and is on his way to college to pursue a degree in engineering.

He credits his mom pushing him to have something other than his athletic talents to fall back on.

“She always wanted to make sure that I had good grades so I was able to go other places and do the things I wanted to do,” he said. “There was always a chance that football wouldn’t work out, and if I didn’t get good grades she wouldn’t allow me to play.”

While Vongphachanh found success in football, he started off playing baseball. At the time, his mother thought the elementary school student was too young to be on the football field.

From a young age

But it turned out that his baseball coach also coached for the Grid Kids football program. The association provides children between the ages of 5 and 13 years old to play football. The coach was able to convince Vongphachanh’s mother to let him play.

“My mom was on edge at first; she didn’t want me to get hurt, but it all worked out good,” he said.

He continued to play both sports through middle school and most of high school. While he likes baseball, he found he loved being able to make big plays and the attention he got while playing football. He even started preparing for his high school career while he was still in middle school. He would walk from McLoughlin Middle School to Chiawana after school to use the weight room.

It didn’t take him long to start getting courted by colleges. In fact, it was some of the conversations he had during his sophomore year with current Utah State defensive coach Justin Ena that set the stage for his next move. Ena was at the University of Utah at the time, and found Vongphachanh impressive.

“He could never get the entire University of Utah staff on board with me, so when he switched to Utah State, he just ended up offering me (a scholarship) on the spot,” he said.

In the end, it boiled down to a choice between Colorado State and Utah State, and while he liked Fort Collins, Colo., he liked his relationship with the coaches at Utah State better.

He finished his last season earning the Mid-Columbia Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award and was picked for the 4-A All-State team.

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Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.