Former NFL kicker inspires son on Don’s football field

Coronado High School, home of the Dons, is located not far from Scottsdale Road, the north-south axis of the city’s winter vacation world.

One of the smallest schools in its division, Coronado has begun the transition from the fall sports season into winter sports. In the main gymnasium, all basketball players — whether they be boys, girls, varsity or junior varsity — eagerly await their team picture to be taken. Basketballs and bodies energetically fly around the room as teammates and friends share excitement for the upcoming season.

At the far basket, members of the varsity boys team take turns putting up shots. Under the basket there is a scrum of eager kids fighting for every rebound. Amid the kids stands a man in his mid-40s in all black: black jeans, black T-shirt, black basketball shoes.

The captivating figure stands at 6-feet 5-inches and has the attention of all the kids around him, fighting for every missed shot with same intensity as those who are on the team. This is Mike Vanderjagt.

In the same gymnasium, on the same day, at the same time stands a player who resembles Vanderjagt; isolated from the other rambunctious members of his team who scrap and claw for each meaningless shot opportunity.

He seems determined, as if each shot he takes could be his last. He wears the number 33 on his back as he puts up shots from behind the arc. Composed and mild mannered, he sinks shot after shot. This is Jay Vanderjagt.

Alive and not kicking

When he retired from the NFL, Mike Vanderjagt was one of the best kickers in history. The former Indianapolis Colt nailed 86.5 percent of his field-goal attempts for his career, which at the time, made him the most accurate kicker in the history of the game.

That part of his life has ended. He has turned the page on his professional career and looks to make an imprint on someone who is very close to him.

Jay Vanderjagt transferred to Coronado High School from Saguaro High School after his sophomore season. Him and his family moved to the area during the big switch for the young quarterback.

Jay was not the only one who found a home in the move. Mike joined the team’s coaching staff as the special teams coach.

Peyton and Archie, Ken Sr. and Ken. Jr, Mike and Jay. What do these names have in common? All of these prolific sports figures are father-son duos in sports.

“We have very positive feelings about Mike and Jay and everything they did (this season),” said defensive coordinator Craig Vesling. “Mike did a great job making our kicker one of the best in the state . . . We don’t go 7-3 last year and 5-5 this year without Jay Vanderjagt.”

When it comes to the Vanderjagts, their production speaks for itself. It is seldom to find many prototypical passers in mid-level high school football. Jay Vanderjagt was the outlier.

As a senior this season, Jay Vanderjagt completed over 60 percent of his passes and threw for over 2,500 yards and 28 touchdowns.

“I had a reporter come up to me before our season opener and he asked me how we were going to win the game,” said offensive coordinator Rick Wilson. “I told him we needed to throw for 400 yards. We won that game by one point and Jay threw for 397 yards. We really relied on Jay throughout the season to help us win games.”

Along with Jay’s outstanding play throughout the season, his father had a great impact on Alfredo Marquez, the Dons place-kicker. Marquez made 90 percent of his kicks on the year, making him one of the top-ranked kickers in the state.

Although the wins did not come as frequently as the Dons faithful expected, there is no denying that they relied on Jay to have big games consistently and for the most part he delivered. Jay Vanderjagt strives to be the best version of himself on and off the field. This mindset was instilled in him at an early age by his father.

“First of all I lived my football life with the goal of being the best,” said Mike Vanderjagt. “Every kick I missed I vowed not to miss the next one and I taught Jay from a very young age that if you’re going to do something try your hardest to be the best.”

One of the many reasons why his coaches and peers rave about Jay is in part to the values that Mike has instilled in him.

“Mike and his wife did a great job raising Jay,” said Vesling, the defensive coordinator.

Although it was not as long as he would have liked it to be, Mike Vanderjagt had a prolific career. During the nine years he spent kicking in the NFL, Vanderjagt ranked top-10 in the league for field goals made in five seasons. Some people may feel pressure to live up to what their father was able to accomplish, but Jay Vanderjagt felt no such way.

“I felt no pressure from him to play at all,” said Jay Vanderjagt. “I love the game of football, I’ve always loved it and it’s always been so much fun to me. He’s actually a really good mentor and a coach . . . he helped me out a lot throughout the season.”

Not only has Mike Vanderjagt been able to watch his son grow up before his very eyes, but he has been able to see him develop as an athlete and a leader. The experience in its entirety was a very “prideful” time, Mike said.

“In the last 5-6 years I’ve been telling people I am no longer Mike Vanderjagt, I am Jay Vanderjagt’s dad. I’ve turned the corner on who I was and have tried to become not only his best friend but his mentor.”

Editor’s Note: Jordan DeSouza is a student journalist at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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