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Sobering truth

By Gail Wood

Jon Kitna was going to be a math teacher, not a pro quarterback, not the guy behind the face mask barking out signals, “Blue, 17, hut, hut, hut.”

But three years after being skipped over in the NFL draft, Kitna became the Seattle Seahawks' starting quarterback, making him the least likely starter in the league. Today's he's the Cincinnati Bengals' starter.

For Kitna, the unlikely journey began with a 12-inch growth spurt between his 14th and 15th birthdays, changing him from one of the smallest in his class to one of the biggest. At 6 feet 3 inches, Kitna suddenly had the height to go along with the grit.

His senior year, he earned all-league honors but no scholarships.

After playing small college football at Central Washington, Kitna unexpectedly signed with the Seahawks as a free agent.

But before he became the Seahawks’ and later the Bengals’ starting quarterback, before he became the surprise of the NFL, he had to get control of his life. During his first two years of college, Kitna would drink until he’d black out. He would drive home and not remember how he got there.

Kitna began shoplifting, stealing food, clothes and bikes and selling them. Eventually, he was arrested for petty theft.

“On the outside everything looked good,” Kitna says. “I was the starting quarterback. I had a good girlfriend. But on the inside, there was something missing.”

Kitna turned to a friend, Eric Boles, his teammate the year before at Central who had made the New York Jets as a wide receiver.

“I called him and he explained what salvation is,” Kitna says. “He told me I could pray the sinner’s prayer with him over the phone.”

Kitna refused, but several weeks later he got down on his knees while watching a NFL game on TV by himself and prayed.

“I just had this unbelievable burden,” Kitna says. “That was in October of 1993 and it’s been amazing ever since. As soon as I prayed, all that guilt and burden was lifted off of me.”

There’s been a chain reaction to Kitna’s decision.

“My brother is now a Christian,” he says. “My dad has accepted Christ. My mom rededicated her life.”

Kitna the partyer suddenly became Kitna the preacher. A weekly Bible study he started grew to 70 people. Many of the friends he used to get drunk with were the ones he now read the Bible with. Among them was Larry Bellinger, a wide receiver at Central and also Kitna’s high school teammate.

“Jon was so bold,” Bellinger says. “He told me I needed to get my life right. I got convicted.”

Maybe what’s most amazing about Kitna is not so much what he’s become, a starting quarterback in the NFL, but what he’s not, a drunk.

“My life isn’t good because I’m a football player,” he says. “I’m a football player because my life is good. Jesus Christ has made my life good. His grace and His forgiveness have changed me.”


Gail Wood is a freelance writer living in Washington state.

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