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Even after No. 1 recruit in nation moved, Burleson still confident in QB room

Aug. 7—BURLESON — As Burleson enters year No. 3 under Head Coach Jon Kitna, the Elks will also have a new quarterback for the third year in a row.

Last season, sophomore Dylan Raiola stepped into the starting role after the graduation of Jalen Kitna, the Elks' 2020 starter who is now playing at the University of Florida.

In his varsity debut, Raiola was instantly one of the most productive quarterbacks in the state — completing 228-of-350 passes for 3,341 yards, 32 touchdowns and only five interceptions to go along with nine rushing touchdowns — as he earned All-Johnson County co-MVP honors and District 5-5A Division II offensive player of the year after leading the Elks to an 8-4 record and area-round appearance.

But Raiola — widely considered the No. 1 overall prospect in the nation for the Class of 2024 and an Ohio State University commit — moved to Chandler, Arizona, to be closer to family, leaving the door open for someone else to take over at quarterback for the Elks.

Insert sophomore Jamison "JT" Kitna — the youngest of Jon Kitna's three sons — who is in line to be the next starter in an impressive string of Elk QBs.

Despite zero varsity snaps, JT Kitna has already received offers from Texas Tech, Duke and Houston.

"He's got great athleticism and the ability to improvise and get out and run," Jon Kitna said. "That's something that is really helpful for him. He's worked his tail off. The kid's 6-2, 205 and he can throw it all over the yard. He loves throwing the deep balls. But he really just loves the game. He loves watching it. He's studying it all the time. He's already got opponents broken down — 'Dad, this is how I see them on defense.'

"So that kind of football junkie stuff is what our quarterbacks develop into. I think Jalen was that way and he set the standard. Dylan certainly followed that and I think JT is following that as well. If you catch a kid that is a sophomore and is 6-2, 205, that's a little bit rare."

Jon Kitna said his son finds himself in a similar situation as Raiola did last year — a varsity newcomer tasked with replacing a Division I prospect. It's fair to say that worked out well last year as the Elks replaced one Power 5 quarterback (Jalen Kitna) for another (Raiola), and might be in line to do so a third time (JT Kitna).

"In our system, we tend to develop quarterbacks who go on and play in college," Jon Kitna said. "Dylan came in last year and they were saying the same thing a year ago about him replacing a Power 5 quarterback and how he can make plays but he's never done it on Fridays and that stuff. We don't look at any of that stuff. As a staff, we look at what a kid can do and we try to look at what their strengths and weaknesses are and play to their strengths and try to develop their weaknesses over a period of time and really try to put them in positions to be successful."

While the quarterback position might be the most impactful position in all of sports, it's also a dependant position. Last season, Raiola thrived in part because he had strong offensive line play and talented playmakers at the skill positions, including an all-state receiver in Luke Peterson.

"The quarterback position is predicated and so dependant on the people around you," Jon Kitna said. "And the people around Dylan played really well last year. So we've got to get people that haven't played a lot at our skill positions and get them to play well [this year], and I think we'll be just fine. But we're not afraid of [replacing Raiola] or scared of it. We're happy for Dylan getting to be back near family in Arizona so they can see him play. Their family is super family-oriented so we're excited for him. And JT is certainly not afraid of what's in front of him."

Even beyond JT Kitna, the Elks' head coach and former NFL quarterback likes his quarterback room as a whole.

"We've got some quarterbacks in our program that nobody's heard of their name that I think are going to compete well with JT and we'll see who comes out on top in training camp," Jon Kitna said. "Our quarterback room with Caden Ward and Eli Huskisson and, heck, even a couple of our freshmen quarterbacks in Landon Smith and Tristan Montes, these are all guys we're excited about.

"The thing we do with our quarterbacks is try to develop them mentally and help them see the game holistically. It's not just going out and throwing balls. You're out there with a purpose. We teach them what defenses are trying to do, why we call certain plays. So our quarterback room is filled with guys who have high football IQ and who can play the game with their mind and use their eyes and their feet to make a defense pay."

The Elks kick off the season week 1 against Burleson Centennial on Aug. 26.