February 28, 2012

Kafentzis on BYU

He's just 15 years old, but he is already on a track to becoming perhaps the most highly recruited player in the history of Utah high school football.

As a freshman, Jordan High quarterback Austin Kafentzis nearly led the Beetdiggers to the state title game in 2011. He rolled up an astonishing 4,565 yards of total offense and 45 touchdowns as a ninth grader playing in Utah's highest classification. His total offense number represents the third best season in state history at the 5-A level.

He completed 212 of 366 passes for 3,188 yards and 23 touchdowns while rushing 210 times for 1,377 yards and 22 scores. He also set the Utah high school record for quarterbacks by rushing for 297 yards in a single game. For his outstanding play he was honored as the National Freshman of the Year by Max Preps last month.

"For something to happen like that as a freshman you have to be really gifted," says Jordan head coach Eric Kjar. "He's not like any other freshman I've had come through here -- with his quickness and speed, and just his confidence level to be able to play at the 5-A level."

Kjar (pronounced "Care") knows a thing or two about coaching quarterbacks. His last two QBs at Jordan, Alex Hart and McCoy Hill, moved on to Utah State and BYU respectively. Hill is second all-time in single-season total offense after playing just one year under Kjar's tutelage.

Kafentzis is more than just following in the footsteps of Hart and Hill. He has already received recruiting attention from programs like Alabama, Florida State, USC, UCLA, Boise State and Washington to name just a few.

Since he's just a freshman those programs are just sending him letters currently, or have called his father Kyle, who serves as the defensive coordinator for the Beetdiggers.

The local coaches from BYU and Utah are lucky. They've already had the chance to see Austin up close and personal after he and his father made unofficial trips to both campuses. In fact, Austin says that Utah coach Kyle Wittingham offered him a scholarship while on campus just a couple of weeks ago.

It's all pretty heady stuff for a youngster who doesn't even own a driver's license yet.

"I just have to continue to get better and I'll worry about that stuff when I'm a senior," says Austin. "But right now I just want to win a state championship like we should have done last year and get a ring. Then maybe I'll worry about that in a couple of years. I'll let my dad and my coach worry about stuff for now."

"All that stuff, he knows it doesn't mean anything unless he actually goes out there and produces," says his dad Kyle. "He knows that and he knows that it takes a lot of hard work. He has that rare combination of the want and the physical ability. "

"The best thing about Austin is that he doesn't care about his stats or any of that stuff," says Kjar. "He doesn't worry about who is recruiting him. He just loves to play football and he gets after it. He loves to be out there. He's really working on his strength and speed and is focused on winning a state championship next year.

"He's got good intangibles too. He's confident and he doesn't get too emotional, he just stays calm and pretty even. And he does a pretty good job of keeping his eyes down field."

Jordan (10-3) came within four points of knocking off Chase Hansen and the Lone Peak Knights in the state semifinals this past season, dropping a 45-41 decision to the eventual state champions. The results of that game may have been different had Kafentzis not been knocked out of the game late in the first quarter with a broken collarbone.

"I thought we did phenomenal (overall on the season)… the game against Lone Peak, I thought we could have gotten that game. I think physically we were the best team in the state," says Austin.

Kafentzis is a long way away from making any kind of decision as to where he will play his college ball. Right now he is focused on preparing for a run at that state title in 2012 with a team that returns its top six players along the offensive line in B.J. Cavendar, Zach Larsen, Tyshon Mosely, Ian Moes, Aaron Rupena and Spencer Totsch.

Austin credits that group for a good deal of his success 2011. They are also a big reason why he has been able to demonstrate an uncanny presence in the pocket for such a young player.

"I think I got sacked four times all year… and I have them all back this year. I'm pretty excited about that. We have crazy-good linemen so why not just let them block for you in the pocket instead of running around trying to do everything yourself?"

"What really sticks out about him is his ability to stand in there in the pocket," says Kjar.

"He threw the ball 366 times this year and 362 times he threw it from the pocket," Kyle explains. Kyle also says that not one of his 1,377 rushing yards came on scrambles, but rather on called running plays for the quarterback.

Both his dad and Austin also credit his ability in the stand in the pocket, read defenses and make the right decisions to the coaching he has received under Kjar.

"I've got buddies in the NFL that have worked out with (Kjar) and said, 'Wow he should be coaching at another level,'" says Kyle.

"It's not just a pre-snap read, coach Kjar teaches a post-snap read and to progress through four routes and then go to your checks downs, which is incredible for a high school coach to be teaching that."

Kyle knows good coaching and good football when he sees it. The elder Kafentzis has a number of coaching contacts both in college and in the pros. He was also a standout defensive back at the University of Hawaii under Dick Tomey in the 1980's and had a short stint in the NFL with the Chicago Bears under Mike Ditka.

Three of Austin's uncles also played in the NFL. So, football is very much in the blood of Kafentzis family. In fact, between his father, uncles and cousins, Kyle says the family has earned a total of 32 letters at the collegiate level.

"Everyone in my family, all the boys, play football, we all love it," Austin explains.

"His dad played at the next level. His uncles did," says Kyle. "He had three uncles that played a little bit in the NFL. I got a little bit of time in the NFL; but he has way more ability than any of us did."

"My dad has been there and he knows what you have to do to get there. He tells me all the mistakes he made and makes sure I don't make them," the younger Kafentzis says.

Although Austin is not LDS, he says that fact will not deter him from taking a good look at BYU when the time comes to pick a school. If fact, BYU was the first campus he and his father visited, back last summer during Bronco Mendenhall's Junior Day, prior to Austin putting up big numbers this past fall.

"BYU has put out some of the greatest quarterbacks, as we all know. And they have a great offense and their program is way good. And even though I'm Catholic, I would go there. I wouldn't mind obeying all the rules they have."

"We went down there in the summer last year just for one day of camp and we went on the field and saw all their jerseys and saw all the names. I went out for the Washington game two years ago where they brought out the quarterbacks and I saw all of them. It was sweet. To be in that group would be awesome and a dream come true."

Kafentzis also says that he has a lot of respect for several future Cougars.

"I know some people that are going down there and they're great people, like some kids from Alta. I just like the program there. They're an upgraded school for sure that has been successful and it's definitely a good school to go to."

Whatever school he decides on in the future will depend a great deal on the level of coaching that he believes the school will provide him.

"It's going to be a hard decision. I want to find a program like coach Kjar's. He's a good coach; he'll teach me and bring me to the next level. I've just got to find one of those guys in college that is a good quarterback coach and loves teaching."

For right now though, the 15 year old is staying focused on developing himself and his game. A big part of that is getting stronger physically. As a freshman he already holds the school records in the hang clean, power clean and squat for quarterbacks at Jordan. However, his personal best of 275 pounds in the bench press is still 60 pounds short of the school record. Luckily, he still has another three years to shoot for that one.

All of that dedication and training in the weight room has literal transformed Austin's body. As an eighth grader he weighed 145 pounds. Today he checks in at 6-1, 190. That's nearly 20 pounds heavier than when he started the 2011 football season.

Between now and his sophomore season Kafentzis will also be working on tuning his game and refining his mechanics.

"What were really trying to do is tighten up his throwing motion," Kjar says. "He's got a good throwing motion right now, but we're just trying to really make it as tight as we can."

It will be intriguing to watch this phenom develop over the next three years. And no doubt the BYU coaching staff will be keeping a close eye on the situation as well.

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