SANDY — Austin Kafentzis has received more attention and accolades in his first year of high school football than most players receive in their prep careers.
Just last week he earned another national honor when SI.com named the 16-year-old sophomore a Future Game Changer.
It's easy to understand why coaches and writers heap praise and awards on the teen. As a freshman he led Jordan to the 5A semifinals (where he broke his collarbone) by throwing for 3,188 yards and 23 touchdowns. He rushed for another 1,377 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was named Max Prep's National Freshman of the year, was a first-team all-state player, and is already considering offers from Division I programs around the country.
He and his teammates were invited to ESPN's 7-on-7 Tournament, an honor no other Utah school has enjoyed.
It must feel good to be so well thought of by those who know the sport best.
Or does it?
"I don't fold under pressure, great athletes perform better under pressure, so put pressure on me."
— Floyd Mayweather Jr, professional boxer and winner of eight world titles
The man who knows the young quarterback best said the awards may raise expectations, but they don't change Kafentzis' goals.
"He deals with (thre pressure) well," said his father and Jordan's defensive coordinator Kyle Kafentzis. "He abides by the three-second rule. He tells me, 'I think about it for three seconds. One, two, three and then I move on. He's applied that to football and his life."
The young man is blessed with the perfect temperament for an athlete. He has a mellow, laid-back personality but is fiercely competitive. He also enjoys hard work.
That's right. He enjoys the work, and that, his father says helps separate him from even the most talented football players.
"Last year, the first game of the season showed him there should never be pressure on a great athlete," Kyle Kafentzis said. "Pressure dissipates with hard work. And no one works harder than him. That's what he wants to do. He's never missed a lifting workout, never missed a running day, never missed a practice. Take it all the way back to when he first started playing organized sports and he's missed two practices. He shows up all the time and he prepares."
"Pressure is nothing more than the shadow of great opportunity."
— Michael Johnson, U.S. sprinter and winner of four Olympic gold medals
Maybe the best weapon Austin Kafentzis has in battling the pressure is the game that puts him in the spotlight.
"Football helps me," he said of how he handles pressure — on and off the field. "Football gets my mind off of everything. My parent's divorce, everything. I don't think about all the pressure. I don't think about recruiters or awards. I think about what I need to do to get yards, what I need to do to get a touchdown, what I need to do to help my team win the game."
Football is how he manages stress.
I doesn't hurt that his introduction to high school sports was about the most pressure-filled game a player could imagine.
It was Jordan's season-opener against Fremont and the Beetdiggers trailed most of the game.
"Everyone talks about how with 45 seconds left in the game, he threw a touchdown pass for the come-from-behind win," said Kyle. "But it was really that he took us for three touchdowns in a quarter and a minute. You can't do that unless you're prepared. Especially not as a ninth grader."
One thing Kyle Kafentzis has done to help his son keep both the pressure and the ego in check is to involve his friends and teammates in camps and workouts. Every opportunity that's extended to Austin becomes an opportunity for his teammates.
"It's nice to just be one of the guys," he said, rattling off the silly things the teens do when they're away from the field.
Kyle said they talk about ego and the potential for it to outpace his accomplishments on the field.
"We've talked about the fact that in sports, you're only as good as your last game," he said laughing. "You're only as good as your last throw. You've always got something to prove. He feels this burning desire to win championships. The invididual awards are great, but it's the championships he wants to win."
"Some of the world's greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible."
— Doug Larson, columnist
On a recent visit to a campt at Texas A&M, Austin approached a young man about his size and asked him if he wanted to race. That young athlete happened to be Tony Brown from Beaumont, Texas, one of the country's most highly recruited cornerbacks.
Austin beat Brown, and he didn't do it to be arrogant or to brag. He did it because he loves to compete with the best.
"What I love about Utah is kids are brought up to think, 'Why can't I be the next Aaron Rogers?'" said Kyle Kafentzis. "I like that type of mentality. Talk about pressure, they say, 'Hey if that's what I want to be, if that's what those guys have to do, then I need to do it.' "
When Austin reads about what the rest of the world expects of him, he isn't afraid. He is energized.
"I've gotten used to it," he said, admitting that first season offered him a lot of opportunities to learn how to deal with pressure. "It just gives me the motivation to do better, to keep improving, to give them more stuff to talk about."
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