Provo • Austin Kafentzis says he doesn’t have any regrets.
But the most decorated high school quarterback the state of Utah ever has produced can’t help but wonder what this weekend might have been like if he had stayed at Wisconsin in the spring of 2015 after graduating early from Sandy’s Jordan High.
“It would have been awesome. Everything has kind of come full circle in a weird way,” Kafentzis said Wednesday as his fourth college football team, BYU, readied itself to host the No. 10 Badgers at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Kafentzis is no longer a quarterback — he was moved to slot receiver then running back midway through training camp in August — but he did act as BYU’s scout team quarterback last week to help the Cougars’ defense prepare for Utah’s Tyler Huntley.
“It is hard, with the number of backs that we have, to get everybody carries,” said BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. “Austin has done a great job for them on the scout team when they [are facing] a mobile quarterback. ... We are still trying to find ways to get him in a game, get him a rep here or there.”
No. 10 Wisconsin at BYU
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • ABC
Making the redshirt sophomore mimic Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook this week might have been too much to ask. That’s because Hornibrook factored into Kafentzis’ decision to leave Wisconsin in May of 2015, a decision that took the two-time Utah Gatorade Player of the Year to Nevada for a redshirt season, a junior college in Yuma, Ariz., for a season, then BYU as a walk-on.
“Everything was going so good back then,” Kafentzis said. “Life was amazing. But sometimes you gotta take a step back and be humble and learn from it. Some days are going to be bad, some days are going to be good. Learn from it, remember the great days and learn from the bad days. That’s all you can do.”
The can’t-miss kid
Kafentzis started as a freshman for the Beetdiggers in 2011, and eventually would set more than a dozen state records and be labeled a four-star recruit by ESPN.com and other recruiting services. He had accounted for 20,021 yards and 218 touchdowns when he was finished , the second-most in U.S. prep football history in each category.
Kafentzis remains the only four-time, first-team all-stater in The Tribune’s history, and was the Utah Football Player of the Year in 2014.
Strong-armed despite his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame, he also set the Utah prep record in the javelin throw (217 feet, 9 1/2 inches) and was a three-time state champ in that event, missing a fourth only because he enrolled early at Wisconsin.
Kafentzis said he likely will join BYU’s track team in January, having recorded an 11th place finish in the javelin throw at the Big Ten championships in May 2015 despite little training leading up to the event.
“I think he is in a great spot at BYU, the way it ended up,” said Austin‘s father, Kyle Kafentzis. “I wouldn’t want this journey to change, because he is a better person than he was three and a half years ago.”
On to Wisconsin
With offers from Utah, BYU, Utah State and several others two years into his prep career, Kafentzis committed to Wisconsin after his sophomore season. He pledged to join Gary Andersen in Madison shortly after the former Utah State coach replaced Bret Bielema in December of 2012. Kafentzis graduated high school early so he could join the Badgers in spring camp in 2015, and signed with Wisconsin despite Andersen leaving Madison for Oregon State in December of 2014.
But a few weeks later, new Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst was able to flip Hornibrook, who previously had committed to him at Pitt, to Wisconsin. When spring camp ended, Kafentzis was fifth on the QB depth chart. Joel Stave was the expected starter, but Hornibook was seen as the future, and some coaches were suggesting a switch to safety, a position Kafentzis played sparingly in high school.
So Kafentzis started looking for another school.
“I mean, it wasn’t clicking between me and the coaches,” Kafentzis said. “That happens everywhere. Coaches leave. You gotta find your opportunities. I just decided it would be in my best interest to leave. … No hard feelings.”
Next up: Nevada
Before he committed to Wisconsin in 2013, Kafentzis was recruited by then-Nevada offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. So when he decided to leave Wisconsin, he gave Rolovich a call and decided to head to Reno for the next chapter of his career.
The NCAA would not grant his request for an eligibility waiver, however, and Kafentzis had to sit out the entire season and use his redshirt year.
“That was a shocker,” Kyle Kafentzis said. “Again, it is just a great learning experience. Calling them bad breaks is the wrong way to look at it.”
At the end of the 2015 season, Rolovich was hired as Hawaii’s new coach, replacing former BYU and Utah assistant Norm Chow. When he wasn’t listed among the top four QBs on Nevada’s depth chart the following spring, he left his second school.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Austin said. “I might look back at something and wish I had done something else. But in the end, I just believe that everything happens for a reason. You are going down your path in life and God is putting you on that path. It must mean you gotta learn something, get through that adversity.”
A Catholic at BYU
That adversity followed Kafentzis to Arizona Western College, a two-year school in Yuma, he says, because the Matadors’ offense was not a good fit for him and he had trouble getting onto the field. He playing sparingly and completed 4 of 11 passes for 15 yards.
Last January, Kafentzis started entertaining the thought of walking on at BYU, where Kalani Sitake was now the coach and was developing a reputation for being willing to accept transfers and non-scholarship players.
Although he is a devout Catholic who attends Mass every week and proudly wears a cross every day, Kafentzis said he grew up admiring LDS Church-owned BYU and “always loved their tradition and history, and what they do at the quarterback position.”
Austin said if he hadn’t committed to Wisconsin so early in high school, he probably would have committed to BYU, having received his first official offer from then-coach Bronco Mendenhall.
“His work ethic is unreal,” Kyle Kafentzis said. “He just turns it up a notch.”
Austin attended a few of BYU’s spring practices last March, then got a meeting with Sitake, who promised him nothing but said the Cougars would love to have him in the fold.
“When I sat down with coach Sitake, I felt that same connection I had with coach Andersen,” he said. “Maybe even more of one. ... That’s what drew me back to BYU, my first real offer.”
What has his journey taught him?
“Just never give up,” he said. “Keep working hard. Your time will come. I played in high school all four years, so I am not used to not playing. But you can’t let that set you back. Sometimes you got to take a step back to take a couple steps forward.”
At a bunch of different places.
AUSTIN KAFENTZIS’ LONG JOURNEY TO BYU
November 2014 • Finishes a four-year starting career at Sandy’s Jordan High as the second-most prolific player in total offense, 20,021 yards, in U.S. prep football history.
January 2015 • Graduates early from Jordan and enrolls at Wisconsin to participate in spring ball, despite head coach Gary Andersen having departed for Oregon State.
May 2015 • Decides to transfer after ranking fifth on UW’s depth chart at quarterback after spring ball under new coach Paul Chryst.
August 2015 • Enrolls at Nevada, but loses an appeal for immediate eligibility and is forced to burn his redshirt year.
June 2016 • Decides to leave Nevada because of a logjam at quarterback and because Wolf Pack offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich became the head coach at Hawaii six months previously.
August 2016 • Enrolls at Arizona Western College in Yuma, Ariz., but plays sparingly for the junior college, throwing just 11 passes and completing four for 15 yards.
May 2017 • Enrolls at BYU and joins competition to be the starting quarterback, but is moved to slot receiver and then running back during training camp in August.
September 2017 • Temporarily becomes the Cougars’ scout team quarterback as the Cougars prepare for rival Utah and mobile QB TylerHuntley; Hopes to see playing time at RB as Wisconsin visits BYU on Saturday.