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Tom and Karen Aho, with their 15 children; 12 became football players for Dassel-Cokato.

COKATO - There's an easy-to-miss road a couple of hundred yards from Hwy. 12 that leads to two homes. The second is a good-sized brown house with lawn sprawling in both directions.

There is a portable basketball hoop along the driveway, and a sign on a fence that reads, "Home of a Charger Football Player."

The sign was not weathered, indicating that Karen and Tom Aho have changed it frequently over the past 24 years.

The Ahos are the parents of 15, with three daughters interspersed among a dozen sons who have played football for Dassel-Cokato High School. Starting with Steve in 1989 and ending this season with Seth, Tom and Karen have had a son playing varsity football for the Chargers for 24 consecutive autumns.

"I'd say we've missed less than a handful of games," Tom said. "I'm such a high school football fan that when we've been eliminated, I look at the playoff schedule and find another game in the area to go to. And then I go to the Prep Bowl, with whoever wants to go along."

Tom looked around the den where several of his sons were gathered and asked who was in for this year's Prep Bowl. There were a couple of joiners. And there was a possibility Tom's invitation wasn't heard by all, since there were grandkids clattering about the room.

An article in the local newspaper, the Enterprise Dispatch, was what made the Twin Cities media aware of the Aho family football story. The article published three weeks ago mentioned Tom and Karen's 47 grandchildren.

"It's now 48," Karen said. "Our son Steve and his wife had a baby last weekend."

The calmness of Grandpa Tom, sitting back in his favorite chair, was amazing considering the clamor.

Karen was more antsy than her husband -- wanting to make certain that she made it to the football field early enough to stake out the traditional Aho location in the last row in front of the press box for Tuesday night's Class 4A playoff game.

The Chargers and son Seth, a receiver on a run-heavy team, were playing host to New Ulm.

"We're 2-6 but we feel like we're a better team than that," Seth said. "We lost three or four close games to good teams."

Karen's early departure did not stir Tom from his chair. He was getting a few more minutes of relaxation after working a shift at the Dura Supreme cabinet factory in Howard Lake.

Tom, now 67, was working the day job and also running a herd of dairy cows on the family farm in 1992. Karen had a coupon for a stay at a hotel with a pool in St. Cloud, so they loaded up the kids to take advantage.

Only Lorna, the second of 15, stayed home. An electrical fire started, Lorna escaped by getting out on the roof, and the farmhouse was left uninhabitable.

"I already leased the land, so I sold the cows and we moved to town," Tom said.

Two decades later, they are watching the last hours of the football legacy: first quarterback Steve, followed by fullback James, receiver Carl, tight end Bill, Nate (the family's lone lineman), safety Joel, receiver Ben, cornerback Todd, receiver/D-backs Doug and Josh, running back Brian, and finally Seth, the lanky receiver.

The girls are Lorna, Melissa and Erin, a sophomore at Dassel-Cokato High. The Ahos are 15 singles; no twins in the bunch.

On Tuesday, there was pregame concern over a pair of important injuries to the Chargers: elusive runner Aaron Haataja was out because of a concussion, and 6-4, 270-pound tackle Justin Gahnz was out because of a broken foot suffered in a fall from a deer stand.

The concern was short-lived. Seth Aho caught a third-down pass from quarterback Dane Anderson, his cousin and classmate, to keep the Chargers' first touchdown drive going. After that, Dassel-Cokato pounded away with backs Reid Nelson and Dalton Asplin.

The final was 53-8, and now the Chargers play at powerhouse Hutchinson on Saturday night. As with his 11 brothers, the odds are strong Seth will complete his football career without making it out of this rugged section.

Win or lose, Karen will not be deterred. "I don't worry about the score; I cheer for our good plays," she said.

And healthy grandkids. Carl and wife Janet have their 10th due in a few weeks.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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