Kitna continues improbable ride

8-4-01, 4:45 p.m. **

Jon Kitna, the eighth man to start at quarterback for the Bengals in the preseason and regular season since 1997, sat down with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com a few days before Saturday's pre-season opener and the beginning of the final leg of the team's quarterbacks derby. **

HOBSON: You've got an amazing story. Never mind being a college free agent. You weren't even recruited to Central Washington, an NAIA school, right?

KITNA: I was recruited, but there were no scholarships. Everybody gets recruited. There were 115 guys out there the first day of football. I was the 12th-string quarterback my first day as a freshman.

HOBSON: And then you end up in the NFL with your hometown team in Seattle by a fluke, really, when the nephew of Seahawks head coach Dennis Erickson ends up playing at Central.

KITNA: His nephew played with us my senior year (in 1995). Nothing is happening. I had a great senior year (NAIA All-American and national title game berth) and I had a great career (17 300-yard passing games), but there is nobody. I'm not getting looked at by one person.

I'm just doing my student teaching in Yakima having a great time and ready to go on with my life. My wife (Jennifer) and I are having a great time. We're teaching at the same school and I was totally content with that because I had done what I could. There was nothing more I could do.

Then one day (Erickson's) nephew calls me just out of the blue and says, "Coach E wants to work us out."

This is March and I'm in Yakima, about two hours from Seattle, so I just load up the Escort and drive over there. He didn't really want to work us out for himself. I think he was just trying to do us a favor because it was senior testing day for (the University of Washington), and the scouts fly in for the big school workouts.

(Erickson) told the scouts to come on over so they can catch these guys at the Seahawks complex. We're sitting there for two hours and nobody shows up. Not even his own scouts show up. So he comes down and works us out himself, kind of out of obligation. I think he felt sorry for us.

We'd been down there for an hour and a half acting foolish and all giddy and wearing Brian Blades' cleats. So he comes down and works us out himself and I never threw the ball better. A couple of weeks later I came back and threw to some receivers and they signed me. That's why I'm saying it has to be God.

HOBSON: Your faith is a big part of you. It seems to be something about being the underdog.

KITNA: I always had a desire to do things other people say I couldn't do. I always had that desire. I didn't know how to channel it until I accepted Christ in my life, and that was in my second year in college.

Once I accepted him, I learned how to direct things in the right way.

Colossians 3:23 says do everything unto the Lord and not unto man and that's what I'm trying to focus on. Trying to do everything to please God. That's why it doesn't matter if they say I'm the third quarterback or the first guy. It doesn't matter. It shouldn't change who I am. I should be doing everything the same way. No matter what the scoreboard says. It doesn't matter if we're up 28, I should be doing the same thing. If we're down 28, the same thing. Am I perfect in that? No. But it helped me out in college

I knew I didn't have a chance at Central. I knew there wasn't going to be a lot of opportunity. I just went out and did the best I could and let the chips fall, and an opportunity came out of nowhere. And that can only be God.

HOBSON: You've been pretty upfront about why you turned to Christ. About going down the wrong road.

KITNA: It was a two-year process. I was the typical good kid in high school (in Tacoma). I got in a little bit of trouble. Just little things. I think I drank alcohol only twice I can remember. I never did drugs or anything like that.

But when I went to college and got some freedom, I just didn't handle it very well. I started out drinking a little beer here and there and then I started drinking heavily. I wouldn't remember how I got home, or I'd forget things I did from that night before. And some of my roommates and I started stealing bikes, book bags, stuff like that.

HOBSON: Just because you could?

KITNA: It was kind of a high, I guess. I was never short of money growing up. My parents always gave me what I needed. It was just a high. I was womanizing, doing things I shouldn't have been doing.

Then during October of '93, I'd been with my girlfriend for about a year and a half and I was always talking about taking a break and needing space. She would fight that. One night she caught me with another girl and that woke me up to other things.

When I got caught like that, I was thinking here I've got this girl who's been great to me and is everything I ever wanted in a girl and I'm about to lose her. What am I doing? This was not the way I was raised to be.

We stayed up that night and talked until about 2 or 3 in the morning. I told her, 'I don't know what is going to happen between you and me, but I need to go back to church.' I had no idea what that meant. I knew I needed something else. I couldn't do it on my own.

HOBSON: That girl was Jennifer?

KITNA: Right, my wife. I was saved in November of '93, she was saved in January, in February we got engaged, and got married in the summer. (They have two children). The worst thing I could ever do to her, get caught by her with another woman, was the greatest thing that happened to me and to her. Which is how God works.

HOBSON: After all this, you're a home-bred guy that leads Seattle to its first playoffs in 11 years in '99. Who could have written it better?

KITNA: We could have won the Super Bowl.

HOBSON: What kind of ride was it for a hometown guy?

KITNA: I remember the first time I went on the field in a Seahawks uniform in the Kingdome. Central is a small college. They're not on TV or in the paper. No one knows about you.

I remember that first pre-season game against the Atlanta Falcons. I go out there in the third quarter and (the first play is a) naked bootleg to the right. When they announced me going in, everybody cheered for me. I just thought that was awesome. Nobody knew who it was, they just knew I was from the area and they thought it was pretty neat.

HOBSON: Even how you became the MVP of the 1997 World Bowl with Barcelona went through the back door.

KITNA: I didn't want to go unless my wife could go, because that was the most important thing. Seattle's player personnel guy called me a few days before I left and said the team was upset because I was assigned to Barcelona. They wanted me to be on another team instead of being with Stoney Case.

He just said, "Do your best and if you don't beat him out, maybe they'll put you on another team and if not, we'll bring you back, whatever. They were kind of disappointed because they didn't think I could beat out Stoney Case. My last comment to him on the phone was, and I didn't say it arrogantly, but I just said, 'Maybe they'll find him a new team.' I wound up getting the job and it was awesome. A great year. My wife got to go and everything just worked out.

HOBSON: You're a leading example of NFL Europe producing players.

KITNA:

It's a great league for quarterbacks. I'm not sure about every other position because it's so hard on the body. But for the quarterback it's great because of the timing.

HOBSON: You got heavily involved in the Seattle community. You had a pretty popular bowling tournament.

KITNA: For two years. It was for the Boys and Girls Club. We got over 40 of the (Seahawks) to show up each year.

HOBSON: That says something about you, doesn't it?

KITNA: I pester them a lot. It says something, I guess.

HOBSON: Then Mike Holmgren came in as coach and general manager to replace Erickson in '99 and it was over. Even though you went to the playoffs in '99.

KITNA: That's the age and day we live in this league. Free agency gives you a lot of chances. There's always players out there. I think things were going fine and then I decided to turn down a contract in the middle of his first year and from that point forward, things changed.

HOBSON: Why didn't you sign the extension?

KITNA: There was no guaranteed money. They wanted to extend my contract four years, but give me no money up front. Nothing was guaranteed. So the next year, last year, which ends up being the cost-cutting year, I would have been cut.

HOBSON: It was never the same between the two of you after that?

KITNA: I don't think so.

HOBSON: You're not a big fan of Holmgren, are you?

KITNA: I didn't appreciate the way he dealt with me, but I learned a lot. I guess it's kind of like a father- son type of relationship. When you're at home, you don't really appreciate the things he's doing. But when you leave, you learn that you learned a lot from him. I still don't like the way he treated me or a lot of the guys. That's his style.

HOBSON: Kind of brusque?

KITNA: For me, he didn't talk to me. Never. Not until the end of the season. It was interesting because he came out and made a statement after we were eliminated from the playoffs that we were going to open up the offense and not hold anything back. We went from 27th to 17th in the league (in offense) in the last four or five weeks. I don think there's a coincidence there.

HOBSON: LeBeau likes to talk to his players. Has he talked more to you than Holmgren did in a couple of years?

KITNA: Yeah, but I understand a little of it. Holmgren was every position in that building. I still think there should have been more communication than there was.

HOBSON: LeBeau is pretty laid back.

KITNA: But his style works for me. He demands respect. He demands you to do things asked of you at that position, but at times he lets you have some freedom.

HOBSON: You know this offense from Seattle and the quick, rhythm stuff seems to suit you.

KITNA: It's quick, but it also is aggressive. The ball goes down the field and all five receivers are available on any play. Any of the five can get it. Once you become comfortable doing it, you're going to start picking people apart.

HOBSON: You bought a home up in the Mason area, the first time you guys have lived outside Washington. How does Jennifer like it?

KITNA: She loves it. The house is great. She likes the city. She likes the warm weather. She's having a great time. Even if she didn't, she wouldn't tell me because she wouldn't want me to worry about that, but she's having fun. The thing that's different for me is playing in this heat.

HOBSON: What about the guys on the team?

KITNA: I love the guys. The biggest thing we have to guard against and change is just the attitude. We have talent here. Everybody in the NFL has talent. Why do teams win? Why did Baltimore win the Super Bowl after going 6-10?

They probably won one or two games early in the season that turned out for them and they realized they could be pretty good. The same thing has to happen here. We have to win a couple of close games.

The best thing I learned about this league in five years was when I started my first game in Oakland. They asked Warren Moon about me and he said no one would know how I would do until I suffered some adversity and had to deal with the bad things. We have to respond to that.

It's confidence. Confidence. It's hard when everything you hear and see about you is negative. The only thing that can change inside you is to make a concerted effort yourself and have success. Success changes things.

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