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
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
“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.”
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
“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.”
Wood is a freelance writer living in Washington state.
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