5A high school football: 'Air Jordan' has well-deserved reputation
Ben Brewer, Deseret News
SANDY — When top-ranked Jordan takes the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday in pursuit of its first state championship since 1994, it'll be decked head-to-toe in maroon. Although the Beetdiggers' apparel is officially sponsored by Russell Athletic, the student body painting the stands with a maroon-out will witness "Air Jordan" on the field.
Dating back to 2005, Jordan High has thrown for 233 passing touchdowns and accumulated enough passing yards (23,968) to stretch from Beetdigger Boulevard in Sandy to EnergySolutions Arena downtown, literally.
What exactly are they putting in the water?
"A lot of it is the reputations they get in practice," said Jordan coach Eric Kjar. "We really try to focus a lot on that position because it's so important, so there's a lot of meeting time and a lot of individual time that goes into it and they've all done a great job embracing it and trying to get better."
Kjar's resume at molding quarterbacks is extensive. In 2006, Sean Taylor threw for 2,805 yards and 32 touchdowns. In 2007, Chaun Cook tossed for 1,980 yards and 23 scores. In 2008 and 2009, Alex Hart flung the football for 7,623 yards and 72 scores, and in 2010 McCoy Hill heaved it for 3,464 yards and 29 TDs.
Taylor, Hart (twice) and Hill were all named Deseret News first team all-state and each quarterback completed over 50 percent of their pass attempts.
"Kjar is a really good quarterbacks coach and I feel like he can coach anybody to be a great quarterback," four-year starting center B.J. Cavendar said. "I think it's the fundamentals. He works (with them) at the beginning of practice, every practice. He gets mad at them if they're not doing it right — they stick to what they're taught. Kjar is just a great guy and a great coach."
Sophomore quarterback Austin Kafentzis, who was named National Freshman of the Year in 2011, has the opportunity to not only be the best signal-caller to ever wear the "Gold Dot" on the front of his helmet, but to potentially be the most sought-after recruit in the history of Utah high school football.
This season, Kafentzis has gunned for 2,623 yards and 28 touchdowns while scampering for 1,647 yards and 20 more scores on the ground. In two years, he's accounted for 8,835 yards of total offense and 92 touchdowns. The barely-old-enough-to-drive quarterback's success is derivative of the relationship with Kjar, a former quarterback at Wayne (Neb.) State.
On Monday, the two jogged out to the south end zone at Jordan High to warm up for practice. As they exchanged 20-yard passes, Kafentzis hassled Kjar for his elongated release and elbow placement.
"It's been like that with all of them. I think I'm close to all of them," Kjar explained of the quarterback-coach connection. "It's kind of how that position goes when you're around each other all the time. They know I'm going to be tough on them, but you also want to be able to have a relationship and they know you have their back and can have fun, too."
The common stigma attached to Jordan quarterbacks, with the lack of progression at the next level, is that their success is acquired through the system they run. Kjar refuted the claim and explained that the system changes yearly and that familiarity enhances production.
"Even from last year to this year with Austin, we're a little bit different offensively. Obviously, we run the ball a little bit more than last year," he said. "But I think that the system — they run it early on and they get an idea of it and get better and better at it. It's been here for quite a while now, so when our kids come up they're pretty used to running it."
The 'Diggers passing attack will operate at 2:30 p.m. on Friday against a Syracuse (12-0) defense that has held opponents to an average 9.2 points per game and only allows 120 passing yards per game.
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