Essentially, the free safety on our defense is like the quarterback, telling the other guys what they’re doing. It’s kind of the same thing on the flip side. —Austin Kafentzis
PROVO — BYU junior Austin Kafentzis knows that time is running out on his college football career. He simply wants to play — even if that means switching from offense to defense.
That’s why the former Jordan High star quarterback, who spent last season as a Cougar running back, recently approached the coaching staff and requested a change to safety.
“I only have two more years of eligibility left, and I’m trying to get on the field whatever way that is,” said the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Kafentzis. “I just want to play. I don’t want to wait until people get hurt. I had a conversation with the coaches, and I made the decision that I wanted to switch over to ‘D.’ I’m 100 percent defense now.”
Kafentzis broke 13 state high school records at Jordan High, including passing yards (13,079), rushing yards (6,942) and touchdowns (115).
Now? One of his jobs is to make life difficult for opposing QBs.
“It’s fun. I know what QBs do in the small things. Obviously, it’s way over my head right now. I’ve got to get my part down and build on that. You’ve got to start somewhere,” he said. “Essentially, the free safety on our defense is like the quarterback, telling the other guys what they’re doing. It’s kind of the same thing on the flip side.”
Safeties coach Preston Hadley knows he has a valuable resource in Kafentzis, besides his playmaking ability — but also his knowledge of the game from a quarterback’s perspective.
“He understands how certain route concepts change based on coverage. In our meetings, I find myself turning to him as a second source. ‘What would you do as a quarterback?’ It really gives us a chance as a group to get inside the mind of a quarterback and see things and have him explains things as a quarterback sees it,” Hadley said. “He’s a great addition to the group. Not just for what he brings athletically but his experience as a quarterback. As he gets more comfortable with playing the game backwards, which is what DBs do, I think he’ll be a really smart player. He has a high football IQ.”
Coach Kalani Sitake is happy to see Kafentzis on the defensive side of the ball, playing behind experienced defensive backs like Dayan Ghanwoloku and Troy Warner, who both switched from cornerback to safety during the offseason.
“I thought he could be on the field a lot more. At the safety position, there’s some opportunities for him to run with the twos,” Sitake said of Kafentzis. “We thought it would be good for him to get some reps. He’s a great athlete. He could play a lot of different positions. We tried him at wideout last year, and we tried him at running back. He’s comfortable.”
Playing defense requires a different mindset, Kafentzis said.
“Defense is different because it’s more reacting. On offense, you know the play and you know what you’re doing. On defense, we’re waiting for them to get lined up and if they motion, we have to switch it up. It’s more reacting. I like it.”
Kafentzis played a little bit of safety in high school.
“I had three picks in one game as a free safety,” he said. “But it was only on third-and-long plays or small packages.”
Ultimately, Kafentzis is just looking for a clearer path to playing time. How much will he contribute this season?
“That’s what everyone’s hope is, to get on the field but that’s up to the coaches,” he said. “I’m just going to work and grind day in and day out. We’ll see in the fall. But I’m glad I was able to switch early so I can get the defense down and figure it our before fall camp starts and have the summer to work out with the guys. It’s a little different learning a new position, but it’s not bad because I played quarterback for a long time, and I understand the overall offense. It’s picking up the small intricacies.”