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The Inspiring Story Of Jon Kitna's Life After Football

Former Cowboys QB Jon Kitna is now an algebra teacher at his old high school in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington. But what sounds like an odd choice for a former NFL quarterback is an inspiring story of the impact one person can have on a community.

Jon Kitna runs off with the game ball after defeating the Giants 33-20 in 2010.
Jon Kitna runs off with the game ball after defeating the Giants 33-20 in 2010.
Jim McIsaac

John Kitna spent the final three years of his 15-year NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys. During his time with the Cowboys, Kitna fully embraced his role as Romo's backup, and in the process gained the trust and respect of the locker room. Kitna was considered one of the leaders in the Cowboys’ locker room, often helped lead the team’s Bible studies, but was also not averse to playing cards or dominoes in the locker room.

After Romo fractured his clavicle in 2010, Kitna stepped in and helped the Cowboys to a 4-5 record after a 1-5 start, accumulating a very respectable 88.9 passer rating that season. In 2011, Kitna was once again relegated mostly to the sidelines, and a lingering back injury eventually landed him on Injured Reserve.

In January 2012, Kitna informed the Cowboys that he intended to retire and join his family in Washington, where they had been living throughout the time Kitna spent in Dallas. At that point, Kitna's plan of becoming a becoming a high school teacher and football coach in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington became public knowledge. Initially, that felt like an odd choice for a former NFL quarterback who had been making $3 million a year as the Cowboys' backup. But it was a direction where he and his wife felt they could have the greatest impact.

And what an impact the Kitna's have had in their community: On Wednesday, Yahoo! Sports' Les Carpenter chronicled the progress Kitna has made at his old high school, where the former Cowboy is now not just the Algebra teacher and football coach, but is teaching three algebra classes into which the rest of the faculty dropped their worst students:

And so again he told the principals to have the other math teachers select the students they didn’t want – the ones who didn’t listen, who didn’t try, who didn’t care. He would take them all. The principals nodded. Lists were made, class rolls prepared. The new football coach was handed three dream teams of troublemakers. They wished him luck.

Only something happened in those three algebra classes, something no one could have imagined. The students who didn’t listen suddenly did. Those who never did work turned in assignments. And when the results of the math assessments came in, Kitna’s students were second best in the school. It wasn’t because their teacher was an NFL quarterback. Many of them didn’t have televisions at home. They had little idea who Jon Kitna was. No, this was something else. Something bigger. Something one of those two principals, Pat Erwin, considers in his office one recent day and finally calls: "The Kitna effect."

The second part of his job was about rebuilding the football program at his school, yet when Kitna arrived he was faced with a host of problems, starting with outdated gear, broken equipment and facilities in disrepair. Kitna’s wife, Jeni, set about establishing a booster program, seeking help from local businesses and alumni.

To set an example for prospective donors inside and outside the booster program, the Kitnas spent $150,000 of their own money on a new weight room. After that, Kitna, who had spent his NFL career with the Seahawks, Bengals, Lions and Cowboys, approached his former teams and teammates for help. And they responded to their former teammate and player:

To show his seriousness, Kitna spent $150,000 to fill the weight room with equipment as nice as that in any NFL practice facility. He had the walls painted and named it after his old Lincoln teammate and longtime NFL safety Lawyer Milloy. Soon others followed.

  • Carson Palmer, a teammate in Cincinnati, bought two industrial washers for uniforms.
  • Current Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo provided the money for new jerseys.
  • Calvin Johnson, his old receiver in Detroit paid for new equipment as did Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
  • Since the kids didn’t have their own spikes for practice, the Cowboys boxed up dozens of cleats.
  • When Nike took over the NFL uniform contract in the spring, the Seahawks sold their now useless game pants to Lincoln at $1 a pair so the team could have practice uniforms.

Jon Kitna is just one of many current and former Cowboys players making a difference in their communities, but at this time of year, his story is a particularly inspiring one.

Go and read the full story. It'll be worth your time.

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