Football’s all in the family for the KjarsJan 25, 2021 10:10AM ● By Catherine Garrett
Corner Canyon football coach Eric Kjar poses with sons Tate and Noah and his father-in-law Marc (Hutch) Hunter back at the school following the Chargers’ 6A victory over Lone Peak in mid-November. (Photo courtesy AStrong Photography)
By Catherine Garrett | [email protected]
As a third grader playing flag football in Kemmerer, Wyoming, Eric Kjar had no idea the journey this sport would take him on. The 41-year-old Corner Canyon High football coach has been developing young players the last 16 years and is also shaping his own children in the game they all love. The process has truly become a family affair.
“It’s been quite a ride,” coach Kjar said. “All of my players are such good kids and they work so hard. It’s so satisfying to see the success they deserve.”
“It’s pretty awesome that he gets to get up everyday and go to a job that he has such a passion for,” his wife Andrea Kjar said.
Kjar’s current coaching stint at CCHS has been nothing short of dominant with a squad that finished this season ranked among the top 10 teams nationally. Over the past four seasons, the Chargers have gone 40-1 with three consecutive state championships—one in the 5A ranks and the past two in 6A—in creating a football powerhouse near the Point of the Mountain.
“Even amidst COVID this year, Eric did everything he could to make the season go,” Andrea Kjar said. “We couldn’t have dreamed though that it would be what it would be and end as amazing as it did.”
Kjar has been nominated for national awards and the college pipeline the program has created continues to churn out top prospects, including offensive lineman Jackson Light to Oregon, quarterback Jaxson Dart to USC and Noah Kjar to Weber State from among this year’s class. Most notably, recently, is the emergence of former Charger QB Zach Wilson who went on to star at BYU the past three seasons and is projected to be a top-10 NFL draft pick in April. Kjar additionally coached Jordan High quarterbacks Drew Lisk and Austin Kafentzis before their collegiate journey. “It’s been awesome to watch all the different players that I had the privilege of coaching go on and play in college,” coach Kjar said. “Getting to watch these guys play and have success has been fun.”
Coach Casey Sutera, who has coached with Kjar for the past seven years, said, “Coach Kjar leads by example. He doesn’t ask anything of the kids that he isn’t willing to do himself, and that includes lifting right along with the kids during our 6 a.m. workouts that we start every winter.”
The last four seasons have been particularly special as coach Kjar’s own son has been playing wide receiver for his teams. “Before high school, I sat down with Noah and told him that he was going to have to outwork everybody and attack every practice if I was going to be the coach,” Eric Kjar said.
The results for the future Weber State receiver speak for themselves as he eclipsed the Utah high school state career reception mark this year and finished with 285 while also earning multiple all-state recognitions.
“No one does the process better than Noah,” Sutera said. “He’s a great kid.”
Andrea Kjar said watching her husband and son together on the field the past few years have been so enjoyable and this season—Noah’s senior year—was particularly emotional. “Getting to see Noah play for Eric has taken this to a new special level and made it that much more special,” she said.
“It’s sure meant a lot to me as a dad and has just brought us closer over the past four years,” Eric Kjar said.
“I’ve had a front row seat as Noah has just put in the work and gotten better.”
Noah Kjar said ever since he started playing flag football and then catch with his dad he has wanted to “play and win with him,” especially as he watched him coach at Jordan High. “I have loved every second of playing for him. It’s like nothing else,” Noah Kjar said.
THE DECISION, PART 1
It was as a quarterback at Kemmerer High School where coach John Scott made an impression on Eric Kjar as well as his own father, who was an assistant track coach at the school. Kjar began to have the inklings of wanting to help kids as he saw those mentors thoroughly enjoy coaching.
He attended Snow College and met his future wife Andrea, who was a Badgers cheerleader, and they followed Eric’s collegiate playing aspirations to Wayne State College in Nebraska, where he was a quarterback and receiver over the next four seasons for the Wildcats.
“At first, his teammates were wondering why Eric’s girlfriend was always around until they realized we were married,” Andrea Kjar said.
“It was a special time in bonding with my teammates during the time on the field and on the bus to all the away games,” Eric Kjar said, noting that his two-time selection as a team captain at Wayne State was a “special honor.”
Coach Kjar toyed with the ideas of accounting and law as possible professions until he admitted to his wife that he just couldn’t wear a suit and tie to work each day. “He realized that teaching and coaching were what he was really passionate about,” Andrea Kjar said.
“I was always intrigued by the scheme of football. Then I really started to enjoy the development side of strength and conditioning,” coach Kjar said. “I always loved the game of football.”
So, the Kjar’s coaching journey began in 2004, when they moved to Sandy, Utah where Eric got his start on the sidelines from Alex Jacobsen in helping the wing backs and junior varsity offense at Jordan High School, Andrea’s alma mater. He became the varsity offensive coordinator for the Beetdiggers’ squad by the next season while also assisting with the team’s strength and conditioning. Within four years, he was heading up the program and was there through 2016, including the 2012 state championship season. Every Friday night, Andrea Kjar would load up four young children and cheer on the Jordan High team that became family to them. “I had a friend ask me, ‘Isn’t it easier to just stay home?’ and I just told her that the games were where Eric was so we wanted to be there,” Andrea Kjar said.
THE DECISION, PART II
Just after the fall 2016 football season, the Corner Canyon High position opened up so the Kjars discussed this new possibility, understanding the ramifications on their own family with Noah being an eighth-grader at the time.
Andrea Kjar said that after about a month, the move five miles south was set and the rest is history—truly, history—as the Corner Canyon program rose to a different level and set a higher standard in Utah football the past four years.
Noah’s contributions to those three championship teams have been significant, but his own journey has not come without adversity. Last winter, he lost nearly 25 pounds in a couple of months, battling Hashimoto’s disease. “It came out of nowhere and I had no idea what was wrong with me,” Noah Kjar said. “I just had to deal with it as it went and gain all the weight back to get back to a high level of play. It was a super humbling, hard experience, but it made me stronger, for sure.”
He has also dealt with a knee sprain and separated shoulder this season, but toughed it out “to not leave my brothers on the field without me.”
Noah Kjar plans to serve a two-year LDS mission before heading to also play for a college program with the Wildcats mascot, just like his dad. “Weber State is the only school to really believe in me from the start and I value that a lot,” Noah Kjar said, crediting his parents for their constant encouragement and his dad for “pushing me to places I didn’t think possible and having an end goal in sight.”
MORE KJAR PLAYERS
Twins Tate and Addie Kjar, who are freshman at Corner Canyon, both played flag football during their younger years. Tate continued on in the sport and just finished his freshman season as a wide receiver and defensive back.
An especially poignant moment this season for the Kjar family happened during the varsity game against Herriman Aug. 21 when Noah and Tate were on the field together for one play.
“That was pretty cool,” Tate Kjar said.
“We always dreamed of playing on the same team,” Noah Kjar said. “It was so awesome. I’m gonna miss that kid.”
Coach Kjar said that Tate is a little smaller, but he has plenty of ability and good work ethic. “We need to get some weight on him and he’ll be fine,” Eric Kjar said. “I learned some things with Noah so I’ve tried to be better with Tate and give him more space.”
Tate Kjar has been thrilled to have his dad more involved with his football development and helping him improve this past season. “I’ve been working hard since nothing comes easy, especially as the coach’s son, as sometimes people just assume you’re going to start,” he said.
Addie struggled the most with her dad changing alliances from Jordan High to CCHS five years ago, according to her mother Andrea Kjar. “I actually called him a traitor and said, ‘Why would you leave?’” she said. “Then, we started winning games at Corner Canyon and I felt like it would be OK.”
The 15-year-old said she loves supporting the team and even attends their summer conditioning at times. She doesn’t even mind being referred to at school as “coach’s daughter,” “Noah’s sister” or “Tate’s sister.”
The twins are also coached by their dad on the CCHS track team as he is an assistant coach working with the sprinters.
Twelve-year-old Carter has been playing football the past four years. “I play because my family plays, but it’s really fun and I want to be good at it,” he said.
He is receiving the benefit of his dad and older brothers’ football knowledge as he also plays wide receiver, but he said he plays corner on defense a little more. “My dad helps me with form in running and catching the ball and Noah and Tate help me and critique me when I’m not doing something right,” Carter Kjar said.
Andrea Kjar said they are all enjoying the experience right alongside coach Kjar. “I’ve been cheering at football games for a long time, so it feels pretty natural to be there,” she said, adding that the wonderful Draper community has embraced their family from the initial Blue and White scrimmage when the stands were “completely packed even if fans didn’t have any kids playing.”
She’s also well aware of what her husband gives to the CCHS football program. “Eric’s gone a lot, especially during the football season when he sees his players more than he sees us, but we realize how much this means to him and what he puts into all of this. He’s had a lot of great success, but he’s worked hard for it,” Andrea Kjar said. “He values all of his guys as football players and even more as people and men as well. With now coaching some of his own sons, it’s the same amount of effort as before, but it’s sure fun to watch.”
Noah Kjar has also had a front row seat to his dad’s position the past few years. “I knew my dad was a super hard worker, but I learned how much he truly cares about the team,” Noah Kjar said. “I had no idea that he loved his players that much and had so much invested in wanting everyone to be successful.”
Coach Kjar said football has taught him plenty of lessons including working through adversity. “I learned a lot of lessons through injuries and losses,” he said. “Also losing position battles and working through that to earn a starting spot through high school and college was always a challenge that tested your resolve as a person.”
He also said the game has taught him how to work hard toward improvement and development and has shown him the rewards that result from those efforts.
Coach Kjar credits his assistant coaches along the way who have been crucial to his career and success. “I’ve been privileged to work with all of them,” he said. “They have done so much to help me improve as a coach and they have worked so hard.”
He particularly noted Robert Pickering, the CCHS receivers coach, and the Chargers’ defensive coordinator Casey Sutera. “Robert has been with me a long time and has always encouraged and found ways for us to improve in our program and is a great friend,” Kjar said. “Casey’s support and efforts to helping our program to grow and improve has been a great example to me and I’m also grateful for our friendship.”
“My wife Andrea and children have also always given me support as well as my mother Kandis Kjar, siblings Norman, Kirby, Michael and Laura and my father- and mother-in-law Marc and Debra Hunter,” coach Kjar said.
“If it wasn’t a family affair, it wouldn’t work,” Andrea Kjar said.
So, the Kjars really do put it all on the field and then leave it all on the field…together. And you definitely know where to find this family of six on Friday nights.