FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
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Though college football is in a state of flux due to the pandemic, preparations for the 2020 season must go on.
Since they are currently unable to work out with the Florida coaching staff, for the Gators’ three scholarship quarterbacks and two 2021 commitments, that means returning and training with their personal coaches that have worked with them over the years.
In this five-part series, Inside The Gators caught up with each of the five quarterbacks’ personal coaches to discuss their off-season work, what they expect from their pupils this season, their outlooks for the future, and more.
We continue today with Jalen Kitna.
Of the 20 commits in Florida’s 2021 recruiting class, no pledge seemed to come out of nowhere as much as that of quarterback Jalen Kitna.
A lowly ranked three-star prospect from Texas, a lot of fans probably didn’t even know that he was on the Gators’ radar a few months ago. The Gators already had secured a commitment from four-star quarterback Carlos Del Rio, and there was almost zero buzz about them adding a second quarterback to the class anytime soon.
In retrospect, it makes a ton of sense. The Gators are still trying to get their numbers back at the position following the transfer of Jalon Jones last spring. Kitna is the son of longtime NFL quarterback Jon Kitna, so he should enter college with an advanced knowledge of the game and a high upside.
STATE OF THE QUARTERBACKS
- I: (free) Del Rio coming out party
- II: (free) Kitna an 'ascending' prospect
- III: Richardson a promising talent for the future
- IV: Jones a 'special quarterback'
- V: (free) Trask primed for stardom
The process that culminated with Jalen Kitna committing to Florida in May began during 2019 when Jon coached former Dan Mullen protégé Dak Prescott with the Dallas Cowboys. Prescott raved about how Mullen and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson developed quarterbacks and ran the program at Mississippi State, Jon Kitna said. At the time, UF wasn’t recruiting Jalen.
In January, Kitna decommitted from Boston College and received an offer from Florida days later. As he got to know the program more, he discovered that he really liked the way Johnson explained the offense to his players.
“On top of all that, being able to have a chance to play in the SEC,” Jon Kitna said. “As Jalen said, ‘I want to play against the best. I think I am the best; I want to play against the best.’”
As is common for quarterbacks who are the sons of former players and coaches, one of Kitna’s biggest strengths is his knowledge of the game, Jon said. However, he also has a lot of natural passing ability.
“He’s very cerebral,” he said. “He wants to know the why, he understands coverages, gets where the weaknesses are in the coverages, and he wants to understand why you’re calling certain plays. You always have to answer that. But then once the ball gets snapped, he’s just super smart. Great pocket movement, pocket presence, nothing rattles him. He’s very Eli Manning in terms of demeanor, just very even-keel, but then just loves deep in-cuts and then the deep post, [he] throws it incredible. He just can make every single throw that you can make on a football field. It doesn’t matter what hash he’s on. He just plays super strong.”
While he isn’t ranked very highly by any of the major scouting services, Kitna is an ascending player who is a late bloomer, his dad said. He just turned 17 in March, making him younger than a lot of other players in the 2021 class. He’s grown two inches and put on 35 pounds of muscle since the end of his junior season in November. He’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds by 247Sports.
He’s been predominantly a pocket-passer so far in his high school career, but Jon expects him to be more of a dual-threat player this year now that his body has matured and he’s become more athletic.
Jon coached Jalen at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix in 2018. After a year apart while Jon coached for the Cowboys, Jon will coach his son again this season at Burleson High School in Texas. Jon also serves as Jalen’s personal trainer.
Jalen is typically in their training facility around 5:30 every morning, Jon said. He does a two-hour weight and agility workout before heading to school for a one-hour practice. Twice a week, he gets together with 25-30 receivers and throws at night. When the school was on lockdown at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he organized throwing sessions five nights per week.
One of Kitna’s primary focuses this offseason is to improve his explosiveness and quickness as a runner, Jon said. He recently jumped 10-feet, 5 inches in the broad jump, and 36 inches vertically. He’s lowered his 40-yard dash time to 4.7 seconds. He’s also trying to shorten his throwing motion to get the ball out quicker, match his footwork to different route combinations and improve his ball placement.
While being coached by a longtime NFL quarterback would seem to give Kitna an advantage over most other high schoolers during the pandemic, Jon said the determination to get better and the necessary work ethic have to come from within Jalen. He’s done outstanding in that regard so far.
“Jalen certainly has wanted it,” Jon Kitna said. “He dives in with it. He loves watching film with me. He loves breaking it down. I don’t know that there was a day during the whole corona shutdown – 2 ½, 3 months, whatever it was – that he wasn’t ‘Hey Dad, let’s go outside and work on this. What do you think about this? How do I do this differently?’ He loves it.
“Football is his passion. He loves everything about it. He gets it. He gets the fact that it takes a lot of work to be great, to be in the top-5 percent of people in the country. That’s hard to do.”
Though he’s already committed and the football world has come to a grinding halt, the family hears from Mullen and Johnson almost every day, Jon said. Mullen checks in with them about more general things, such as providing additional information about the program or school or saying hello. Johnson, meanwhile, talks with Jalen about more position-specific topics such as how his workouts are going.
Once Kitna enrolls at UF, there are two primary things that he’ll need to do before he’s ready to play, his father said. First, he needs to forget the offensive system he learned in high school and learn Mullen’s playbook. Jon thinks he’ll be able to do that fairly quickly because UF’s coaches do a good job of teaching it and Jalen is a diligent and willing learner. Second, he’ll need to improve his leadership and make the other players around him better.
With highly regarded quarterbacks Emory Jones, Anthony Richardson, and Del Rio set to be on campus when Kitna arrives, the perception among fans seems to be that Kitna is a low-risk, long-term project type of player that could be a good player several years down the road, similar to Kyle Trask. Jon, however, sees no reason why Jalen can’t be as good as any of them right away.
“He’s still ascending,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any reason Jalen can’t be the best quarterback in the country this year in high school and then, over his career, end up being the best quarterback in college. He’s got everything you’re looking for. He’s got size, he’s got a brain, he can run, he’s athletic, he’s strong, he learns, he’s got great pedigree, he relates well to people and he doesn’t mind getting coached hard.”