Jon Kitna Gets R.E.A.L. For Fatherless Kids
Quarterback Jon Kitna was the engine that drove the ball down the field. Holding class with NFL offenses. He played on four different teams until the age of 39, as both a starter and backup. “I came in just trying to make it a year, make it one week to the next. And it turned into 16 years.”
A 16-year education in a broader field of life, arming him with skills to note tendencies and solutions that would prepare him for his next career in the classroom.
Jon: “There’re so many people with so much pain that just cover it. That’s why 80% of guys in the NFL, one year after they retire, are divorced, bankrupt, or hooked on drugs, or a combination of the three. What I saw was a lot of men at a young age, maybe didn’t learn character and integrity, and what it means to be real.”
Being real and demonstrating faith chiseled Jon’s reputation. He retired as a Dallas Cowboy in 2012. Timing and his math education degree brought him back home to Tacoma, Washington. Jon was hired at Lincoln High, the same school where he graduated and played quarterback.
Jon: “Teaching was my avenue to have an impact on young men and women. That’s always what my wife and I dreamed about.”
Like a hurry-up offense, the Kitnas were all in. Jon teaches Algebra and coaches football. Jen volunteers administrative support for the football students. Their family of six is embedded in the school. Together, the Kitnas are a rarity within the Lincoln High community; reflecting hope for a loving marriage and promising future.
Jon: “Eighty percent of our students have no father at home. And 75% of them are at or below the poverty line. A student that says, in full tears in front of 80 other players and 15 other coaches, ‘Every day I have to choose, am I eating, or is my mom eating?’ That’s hard to hear. Or to hear another kid say, ‘Coach, I hear you about the homework and stuff. But when I go home, my mom and dad are telling me, ‘Shut your books and go out on the streets and sell drugs and get us some money.’”
Jon wanted to do more than teach and coach. He wanted to strengthen the stride for an uphill climb.
Lincoln High Principal Patrick Erwin: “He kept saying, I want to teach math and I want your toughest kids. And that’s exactly what we gave him.”
Jon: “The kids that, you know, maybe had fallen behind first semester. There were some hard kids in that one. Hard. And, Rayshaun Miller was one of those.”
Rayshaun Miller: “The first day he got here he just like, ‘Man, I’m not going to let you fall.’ He took me under his wing and it went on from there.”
Rayshaun’s grades have improved, along with his determination and outlook.
Tom Buehring 700 Club reporter: “How are you different? Can you see the difference? How?”
Rayshaun: “First, I’m not out in the streets doing what I want. I try to see myself doing what Coach Kitna did to me; changing me and trying to do it to others.”
The senior running back now takes a lead among his teammates, translating tough love during practice for players who turn their backs on Coach Kitna.
Jon: “I was getting after this safety. Getting after him! He’s pulling back and pulling back. And, here’s Rayshaun Miller from 20 yards away, ‘You need to turn around and look at him. He’s doing it ‘cause he loves you. He’s doing it ‘cause he loves you.’ Whew.”
Jon: I love these kids. I love them. And I always tell them, never, ever, ever mistake my passion for a lack of love.”
Tom: “It’s become the toughest pass attempt of Jon Kitna’s career; a daily, daring throw that cuts through that silent opponent of lifelong neglect and need.”
Jon: “Go in and live the Gospel, to educate, to give food to, to put an arm around, to love on people that are hurting.”
Tom: “What’s the greatest practical need that these kids have?”
Jon: “Food. Food. I’m asking you to commit 8 weeks of your summer to come in and work out and lift weights. When we lift weights, the walls are sweating. This kid almost passes out in the class. (I’m asking) ‘What happened?’ ‘Coach, I ain’t ate since yesterday.’”
Jon’s dedication goes beyond a meal. He empowers student athletes with principles to sustain them for life. REAL MEN is the foundation of the football program that enthusiastically carries over to the student body.
Jon: “A real man rejects passivity, empathizes with others, accepts responsibility and leads courageously. And a real man can only be a real man if he surrounds himself with other real men. Because if not, at some point he’ll compromise in and of himself.”
Jon’s class earned the second highest algebra score of any class at the end of the school year. From the football field to the Lincoln High hallways, difference-makers are emerging.
Tom: Put ‘em in the huddle. Give them a charge.
Jon: “Start serving. Start serving .You want an inroad with people? Start serving. It’s what Jesus did. You want to deepen your relationship with Christ? Start serving. You want to make a difference in somebody else’s life? Start serving. And then once you do that, you get to start seeing God at work, ‘cause God’s serving.”