On some mornings, before light breaks through the curtains, whistles begin to fill the Kafentzis household.
The source is 6-foot-1, 190-pound Austin, who pops out of bed nearly every day at 5:20 a.m. Most 16-year-olds don’t beat out sunrise with such enthusiasm. Then again, Jordan’s sophomore quarterback isn’t your traditional sleepy-eyed teenager.
“I don’t think he realizes he does it,” says his father, Kyle. “He gets up, gets ready to take on the day. He loves what he does.”
Austin is very, very good at what he does. MaxPreps named him National Freshman of the Year after a debut season cut short by a broken collarbone in the state semifinals. Sports Illustrated listed him among its “Future Game Changers.” BYU already offered him a scholarship.
Austin’s success, his father says, is a result of unparalleled personal drive.
Take the teen’s foray into track and field last spring. When shin splints derailed his plans to run, Kafentzis opted for the family tradition of javelin. Football and track head coach Eric Kjar was initially opposed — no sense in abusing his star’s arm — but softened three weeks into the season. The freshman’s first attempts stuck at around 135 feet, but left the javelin buried at a depth that showed 200-plus potential.
Kafentzis figured out his mechanics — open shoulders, toe pointed forward — and ended the season with a state-record 199 feet, 5.75 inches to win the 5A championship. Two weeks ago, he watched the Olympics on television and saw throws that easily eclipsed 250 feet. I want that too, he told his father.
Early ambitions, considering that London hasn’t even entered its Olympic hangover. Rio can wait, young man. For now, Austin Kafentzis is following the prolific Beetdigger lineage of Alex Hart and McCoy Hill — each of whom compiled more than 4,500 offensive yards.
Last year, Kafentzis filed one of the most astounding freshman seasons in the history of Utah prep football. His 4,565 yards of total single-season offense was good for fifth all-time, behind a quartet of seniors. Only two players have ever notched top-10 seasons before their farewell campaigns: Mountain Crest junior Ryan Zimmerman in 2001, and Kafentzis.
What’s also unusual is his constant threat to run: Kafentzis balanced 23 passing touchdowns with 22 on the ground. The most comparable high school star in recent history is Riley Nelson, the current BYU starter who passed for 79 scores and rushed for 51 in two seasons at Logan.
“I was a little bit surprised at his size and how physical he was,” says Viewmont coach Brad Lloyd, who saw Kafentzis gash his Vikings for four rushing touchdowns in the 5A quarterfinals. “He’s not just a beanpole standing back there throwing.”
If the Jordan quarterback’s current pace holds, he’ll obliterate the state records for career offensive yards (12,917) and touchdowns (130) — both of which belong to Mountain Crest’s Alex Kuresa. Heck, he’ll do it even if he averages 1,000 fewer yards through the rest of his high school seasons.
The aerial success was somewhat expected. Even as a child, Kafentzis showed natural passing instincts. Despite being one of the fastest kids on the field, he often passed up open field and sat in the pocket. His technique wasn’t always there — he was only 8 — but the intent was.
“We knew that he could do that part of it,” says Kyle, who also serves as Jordan’s defensive coordinator. “That’s the hardest part. … It’s like learning how to play an instrument.”
Kafentzis’ inexperience sometimes showed last year, something that should fade as he heads into his second season as a starter. Region champion Alta was particularly successful in a 21-14 victory, pressuring him into four interceptions. The freshman was picked off 19 times, but 12 of those turnovers came in his first six games.
“On that first drive, I would always have something that went wrong with me,” Kafentzis says. “A fumbled snap or something. I always had those nerves.
“I think we had one game where we scored on the first drive and that was Cottonwood. We just went boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.”
Expect that cadence more often this fall. Kafentzis packed on more than 20 pounds this past offseason, and says he can keep his feet better in sync with his upper body. He’s mastered the three-step drop he struggled with a year ago, and knows receiver routes and blocking schemes by heart.
With his entire offensive line back, including All-State center and fourth-year captain B.J. Cavender, Kafentzis is eager to avenge last year’s season-ending loss to Lone Peak. He has three years left at Jordan, but his attitude is already championship-or-bust.
“I’m playing 100 percent,” he says. “I’ll break my collarbone again for this team.”
Austin Kafentzis’2011 highlights
• 4,565 offensive yards as a freshman, fifth-best in Utah prep history.
• Accounted for 45 of Jordan’s 62 touchdowns, throwing for 23 touchdowns, rushing for 22.
• Lost in 5A semifinals to Lone Peak, exiting with a broken collarbone in the second quarter.