It was like seeing a ghost.
Lone Peak coach Tony McGeary knew that Jordan’s star quarterback, Austin Kafentzis, had been knocked out of the semifinal game. But if Kafentzis was on the sideline, arm in a sling, who was this kid still leading the Beetdiggers down the field?
“I told my staff, ‘He’s still in the game!’ ” McGeary recalls, now almost a year later. “We didn’t know who their No. 2 guy was at all.”
It was Baron Gajkowski, a junior who had been a running back, receiver and linebacker after finishing No. 2 in the quarterback battle at the start of the season. With more than 320 yards of total offense in that November game at Rice-Eccles, Gajkowski nearly brought Lone Peak’s undefeated run to an abrupt end.
Now, he’s playing for them.
This summer, Gajkowski and his father, Mark Gajkowski, left the home in Cottonwood Heights that his grandparents build to live in Lone Peak boundaries. The reasons he left are contentious, but this much is certain: He’s happy to be playing quarterback for the Knights, and they’re happy to have him.
“I still miss my friends from Jordan,” he says. “But I’ve made friends here, and I’ve been able to transition.”
If the quarterback bar is set high at any school, it’s Lone Peak. Now at Utah, Chase Hansen ripped apart the state’s defenses last season to bring a championship to the school.
But Gajkowski has performed as well as anyone could hope so far, going 4-1 in the games he’s started, scoring 18 total touchdowns.
The reason he was a backup is because he wasn’t Kafentzis, the freshman who astounded the state by racking up 4,656 yards of offense and was deservingly Maxpreps.com’s national freshman of the year. But Gajkowski is proving he’s a capable quarterback in his own right.
The junior even wears the same jersey as his predecessor, No. 15 — although he acknowledges that he’s a little shorter and a few pounds lighter than Hansen. It wasn’t even his idea to take the number — he had quickly reached for another — but McGeary pushed him to do it.
So far, no one thinks the jersey doesn’t fit.
“He’s taken charge,” McGeary says. “He lets his feelings known, and he does it in a commanding way. The boys respond to it.”
The first moment Gajkowski said he felt he had finally become a Knight came in his first full game against Mountain Crest. Lone Peak was down 21-20, and there were only 37 seconds left.
They gave him the ball. He led the offense down to the 30, good enough to allow Michael Smith to kick the game-winning field goal.
“They basically told me, ‘We believe in you, now get the job done,’ ” Gajkowski said. “It’s great as a quarterback to have that feeling, where the whole team believes in you.”
The transfer is still a sticky point for his old school. Gajkowski said the choice to move was mostly his father’s decision with a variety of factors in play. Some Jordan supporters aren’t too happy with what they perceive as a move purely for athletic reasons. Because the Gajkowskis had a full family move, he was declared eligible by the Utah High School Activities Association.
But Gajkowski still has friends in his old program. Friends such as Jordan wideout Mason Krueger, who says he tried to convince Gajkowski to stay, but wouldn’t begrudge him a chance to find a new opportunity. They still text regularly.
“I wanted him to stay, but I wasn’t going to try to make him,” Krueger said. “We were too good of friends for me to be mad at him.”
Gajkowski’s social transition into Lone Peak has been eased by his friendship with his cousin, Knights basketball star T.J. Hawes. The two eat lunch together every day, they have many of the same friends, and they’ve been out on double dates together.
Baron has always been close to his brother, Mason, particularly since the boys’ mother died when they were young. The tight-knit family will be split up for a while because Mason just has been called on an LDS Church mission. Having relatives nearby seems to help when he otherwise is lacking company.
“Once they decided to move here, we knew we were going to be good buddies,” Hawes said. “He was a little bit nervous — it’s hard for anyone coming to a new school. But he’s told me that he loves it here now.”