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Jon Kitna building character as Burleson head football coach

Matthew Morris Matthew Morris BVM Sports Journalist

BURLESON, Texas (BVM) – Jon Kitna spent 14 seasons in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, but the veteran quarterback always knew what he was going to do after his playing career was over. He had made it to the NFL from the NAIA’s Central Washington but also planned on being a high school football coach. That has led him to Burleson High School football. 

Kitna and the Elk have already been through some challenges like playing during the pandemic and then the transition from that. Even though Burleson is entering its third year under Kitna, it feels more like year two because of the time lost in 2020.

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Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna (3) throws in the pocket against the Washington Redskins at Cowboys Stadium. (Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

“The first year was covid and we didn’t have them. Then when we did have them, you didn’t really get to do a lot of the stuff so I really look at last year as the first year for us,” Kitna said. 

Last season, Burleson went 8-4 but did lose a lot of veteran leadership. The Elk enter the season with plenty of talent that understands what the program is all about, but without a lot of experience. 

“We’re young and inexperienced but they’ve been in the program going on year three so they get how we do things,” Kitna said. “The focus on character and the development of the whole man.” 

It’s also an opportunity for those players to step up. They have been working through the freshman team and JV, now it’s their time to make a difference on the field. Guys like Jaiden Reed and Caden Ward are ready for their moment. 

They’ll need that experience if they plan to succeed in what many consider the toughest high school football in the country. 

“The pageantry of it all, the tradition, I mean, this is what it is and that’s a big deal,” Kitna said. “The biggest difference is volume; there’s just so many good players and so many good programs.”

The Elk’s young talent will have to learn fast once they’re on the field but that doesn’t mean Burleson is without senior leadership. The team brings back linebackers Dylan Dubois and Kyndall Cassidy. Cassidy led the Elk in total tackles last season with 84 and Dubois was tied for third on the team in tackles for loss with 11. 

“I love our senior leadership… Those guys are strong and they get it,” Kitna said. 

Along with the leaders on defense, Burleson has three key offensive lineman in Joel Smith, Izaiah Perry, Nathaneal Baldwin. Having a veteran offensive line will be important this year as they enter the season with their third quarterback in as many years. 

Kitna’s son, Jamison, will start at quarterback this season as a sophomore, taking the spot of Dylan Raiola. Raiola is the No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2024 who transferred to Chandler High School in Arizona after last season. 

“Obviously we lost the No.1 player in the country and that’s not easy to replace, that’s a heck of a player,” Jon said.

Losing Raiola is tough but Jamison and Jon are ready for it. Jamison is the youngest of three sons that have played quarterback for Jon and have had success.  

“He’s got to see the other two go through it and I think he’s a few steps ahead of where they were because of that,” Jon said. 

Jamison was an eighth grader when he watched his older brother Jalen throw for 2,516 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior at Burleson. The oldest brother, Jordan, threw for 55 touchdowns during one of his seasons at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington. 

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Jon Kitna working with Dak Prescott while Kitna was the Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach. (Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

It is a special moment for the Kitnas who have always been supportive of the football dreams of different family members. They all get involved and play a part in the success of the family. 

“It’s a dream come true and we are a football family, we coach as a family,” Jon said. “My wife makes sure kids are getting what they need nutritionally. My daughter is highly involved, from running practices in terms of spotting the ball and snapping the quarterbacks and stuff like that and then filming or taking pictures… We love it.”

The football family is dedicated to their craft and, in particular, coaching. Coaching was always the goal for Jon once his playing career was over. It just so happened that Jon had the opportunity to prolong his playing career after his time at Central Washington but he was always going to get back to coaching.

“The NFL wasn’t a realistic thing for me coming out of college and both my wife and I were educators; she was teaching and coaching already when I got out of school,” Jon said. “Then the NFL happened and it happened for 16 years but the dream and the goal never changed. It actually became a calling that we feel like the Lord has put on our lives to teach and coach at the high school level, train up character and integrity in these young men.”

Prior to Burleson, Jon was able to get his start in coaching at his alma mater: Lincoln High School. From there, he has coached in Arizona and in Texas but has always approached coaching with the same goal of building character.

“It’s the beginning and the end for us, we’re not shy about it,” Jon said. “That’s the goal, that’s why we’re here at the high school level… We’re here to partner with the parents in this endeavor of helping their young man navigate this journey from 14 years of age to 18 and 19 years of age and beyond.”

Setting kids up for success after high school. That means when Jon gets a call from a business owner asking about a former player, he can tell that owner that his player would be a great addition to the company. Giving kids a chance to fall in love with football, becoming active or having the chance to take the sport they love as far as they can. All of it plays into why Jon loves coaching the game at the high school level.

Now it’s time for the next group of young football players to go through the Burleson program and with youth that means returning players for next season. The Elk are set to succeed both on and off the field for years to come.