Seaton Kukla

School: Upper Dublin



Favorite athlete: Jason Kelce     

Favorite team: Eagles, Phillies, Sixers

Favorite memory competing in sports: Beating Wissahickon on their Silent Night.

Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: Getting dunked on by my own teammate in a game.

Music on playlist: Classic rock, mostly Grateful Dead.

Future plans: Play basketball in college and study history.

Words to live by: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” – Mark Twain

One goal before turning 30: Have a job that I love.

One thing people don’t know about me: I love to sing.

By Craig Ostroff

There are athletes who tend to flip the proverbial switch when they step onto the athletic fields. Former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch famously popularized the term “Beast Mode” to describe those to reach a level of peak intensity.

For as competitive as he is on the hardwood, Upper Dublin senior Seaton Kukla doesn’t quite subscribe to this method. In fact, part of the reason why he’s been so successful this season has been because he is thoroughly enjoying his time on the basketball court.

“When we’d practice, I’d be in a good mood,” Kukla said. “When we scrimmaged over the summer, I was playing really well and I played happy. I want to be in a good mood. There are people who think you’ve got to lock in. But you can be serious and be in a good mindset and have fun. I think it’s okay to be goofy and smile and laugh, that’s when you’re playing your best.”

It took a very serious detour during the preseason for Kukla to arrive at this mindset.

Not long after the school year started, Kukla tested positive for Covid. But what was supposed to be a week or so of quarantine and rest became a frightening three-month ordeal.

“I was home all week from school with Covid and I woke up one day and my arm swelled up like a balloon and was red,” Kukla said. “I wasn’t sure if it was Covid or something else unrelated. I figured it was probably just fine, so I didn’t tell anyone for a couple days. But it didn’t go away and my arm started to hurt. I told my mom and we went to the hospital to get it looked at.”

He was seen by a doctor who prescribed blood thinners, but another doctor saw him before he left and insisted Kukla go down to CHOP immediately.

“It was really scary,” he said. “I’d been living with it for a week, I didn’t think I’d need to be hospitalized for it.”

A blood clot had formed, which led to ATOS (arterial thoracic outlet syndrome), a squeezed artery between the collarbone and ribs.

“Every time I raised my right arm above my shoulder, the vein would get pinched between the first rib and my collarbone,” Kukla said.

Two surgeries were required for the blood clot, then two weeks later, Kukla was back in the hospital to have the highest rib on his right side removed. This would resolve the ATOS, but it also required Kukla to be on blood thinners through October and November. And as his senior basketball season rapidly approached, Kukla found himself unable to practice.

“It sucks, it really does,” Kukla said of the inactivity. “It’s funny … you work out every day in the summer, I went to this park by my house, there’s no shade, you’re playing on cement and it’s 95 degrees out and you just want a week off to relax. But then you’re off for three months where all I want to do is be out there playing.”

A week before the season began, Kukla was cleared to start practicing and playing. But as a senior, a captain, and the only returning player with significant varsity playing time who was not also still playing football, Kukla put a mountain of pressure on himself. And it showed.

“I’d had a really good junior year, so going into my senior year, I wanted to average more points, more rebounds, more assists,” said Kukla, a Second-Team All-League selection as a junior. “A lot of the other contributing guys from last year were on the football team or were playing soccer, so I came in with the mindset of, ‘I’m the only guy here from last year, I really need to step it up and lead this team.’

“Coming out of three months of not playing, not really in shape yet, I hadn’t shot a basketball in forever, it wasn’t what I should have been doing. I should have set the bar lower. I shouldn’t have put that all on myself.”

Additionally, it had been so long since the 6-foot-5, 205-pound forward/center had gotten physical on the court, he was a little too aggressive in his first games back.

“I really missed contact and hitting people, you  weren’t allowed to with the blood thinners,” Kukla said. “But it got me into foul trouble.”

After a poor performance in an early game, Cardinals coach Derek Brooks sat down with Kukla for a quick heart-to-heart.

“He wasn’t playing bad in December, but he wanted to play better than he was, and he was really being hard on himself,” Brooks said. “We had a talk with him after the game. I reminded him that two months earlier - we’d be ecstatic knowing you were playing, let’s not take for granted how amazing it is to be out here. It’s always important to be grateful for the opportunity you have. He came back two games later with an absolutely awesome game, and he hasn’t looked back since.”

Neither has the team. As of Jan. 24, the Cardinals were riding an 11-game winning streak. They had not lost a game in calendar year 2023 and they held five opponents to fewer than 40 points. While the return of the fall sports athletes to the basketball team have been important to the team’s run, Kukla’s play and his leadership have also been integral.

“Seaton has been huge for us,” Brooks said. “We have a lot of multisport athletes on our team, but he is strictly basketball, and he’s been as committed as you can get. He attends every single thing, even when he wasn’t able to practice, he was going to everything he could.

“He’s a kid who leads by example, acts the right way, does the right things. We have eight rotation guys, and he’s the only basketball-only guy returning with significant varsity experience. He was our catalyst. Everyone came back, he had the experience and everyone followed his lead.”

The Cardinals came into the season with sky high expectations, expectations that are within their reach despite the team’s 3-4 start. They entered the week fourth in the PIAA District 1 Class 5A rankings.

“I think we really realized we had something special after the Tennent game,” Kukla said of a dominating 73-49 victory over William Tennent on Jan. 6. “We went in there and played phenomenal, played phenomenal defense. We had beaten the teams below us, but that was the first really good team we beat. It really sparked us. With the football guys getting back, everything is clicking at the right time.”

And while Kukla is quick to credit the likes of D.J. Cerisier and sophomore Ryan Mulroy—both of whom are just as likely as Kukla to lead the scoring on any given night—there’s no denying what Kukla provides on both ends of the court.

“Offensively, he’s extremely versatile,” said the Cards’ first-year head coach. “When I first got the job at Upper Dublin and we saw Seaton, ‘Man, offensively we can do so much with him.’ He can score inside, he can stretch it out and hit the 3. When I got the job, we started preparing knowing that if there was a big guy, we can use Seaton as a shooter. If there’s a smaller player on him, we could post him up. He’s done a really good job playing wherever we ask him. He understands what we’re doing. We only have to tell him once, it’s nice to have a player like that. We count on him to understand high-level stuff.

“Defensively, he’s a good rim protector, he’s done a really good job of curtailing those foul troubles he had early in the season. He’s really improved defensively as the season has gone along.”

While his athletic abilities are without question, Brooks points to Kukla’s maturity and bravery in the face of such a daunting offseason as proof that he’s also the unquestioned leader of this squad.

“The rest of the team, they see all the work he puts in, but because the season started so quickly, I don’t think we really talked about it enough, how remarkable it was for him to come back from that. We eased him in practice-wise, then it was ‘all systems go.’ Once that happened, we forgot about everything he went through, but to be 17, 18 years old and having to have three surgeries, get a rib removed, having no idea if you’ll ever be able to play again … that’s scary. That’s got to take a big mental toll on you.

“But Seaton comes out and he’s not bothered by anything and he doesn’t let it show. He just knew he wanted to be there for his team. He’s all about the team.”

Come next year, Kukla will be there for a different team. He recently committed to attend and play basketball at Juniata College in central Pennsylvania.

“I’ve been talking with the coaches since the summer,” Kukla said. “I visited a couple times, I’ve been to a couple of their games. I did some more research on the school and after being on the campus and talking to a guidance counselor, I was set.

“It was always part of the plan to play in college. I was worried about going to college and not having anything to do, not being a part of anything, having too much free time. I wanted to be a part of something, and I’m fortunate enough to be playing at the level where I can play in college, so I wanted to do that.”

And while Kukla will undoubtedly become a force on the floor for the Eagles, he’s got some unfinished business to attend to with his teammates. The Cardinals have high hopes that they can make this postseason one for the record books.

“I would love for this season to end with a deep state playoff run,” Kukla said. “I’ve never been to the state playoffs. I’ve only played three games in Districts. So I’d just like to go as far as we can go.”