Jordan Kunaszyk 6’ 3” , 235 lbs Inside Linebacker #59
Watch him Saturday against USC 10:30 pm EST on ESPN
When you are very young, being born earlier in the year is a distinct advantage over other children born later in the year. A child born in January is considered the same age as a child born in October to society, though the January child is actually 3⁄4 of a year older than the October child.
Jordan Kunaszyk (pronounced kuh-NAH-shick) was born in October and played in his first football game at age six. He was barely old enough to join the league, but he took the first snap he ever played and raced 60 yards for a touchdown. He developed a passion for the sport with that play which still rages in him today.
The difference in age caught up to Kunaszyk later in his youth, as he failed to develop as quickly as other boys. He lost playing time because he wasn’t as physically mature as other kids his “age.” Kunaszyk began high school as a 5’ 4”, 130 pound under-developed teen. He went on to spend a large portion of his senior season as a 16 year old. No major college offered him an athletic scholarship, despite the fact that he had grown to 6’ 1”, 215 lbs. Though Kunaszyk had good stats, including 178 tackles and 30 tackles for loss in his final two seasons at Roseville High School in California, he didn’t have the size teams were looking for.
Kunaszyk was only offered scholarships from Division III schools, but he had a dream to play for a Division I university, so he went the junior college route. Kunaszyk began his college career playing at American River College, a community college in the greater Sacramento region in California. American River feeds about 20 players a year to the schools Kunaszyk was looking to play for. In his first game Kunaszyk broke his hand and he was forced to medically redshirt. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it gave his body time to catch up to his peers. When he came back he stood a robust 6’ 3” and 235 lbs.
In 2015 Kunaszyk became a defensive leader on the team and led all California junior colleges in tackles with 118. For his efforts Kunaszyk was named a Freshman All-American. He also impressed his coach Jon Osterout who said “He’s one of those rare students; if my son were to become 75 percent of the student-athlete and person of character (that Kunaszyk is), I’d know that my wife and I did a fantastic job raising our son.”
The drive that it took him to get here hasn’t let up, and neither has his respect for his teammates or for the game of football.
“I feel like for me, I’ve got to earn the respect of my teammates. I’ve always kind of been a leader and a vocal leader, but when I first came to Cal, I didn’t want to step up in that role too fast because I felt like I didn’t earn it,” Kunaszyk says. “You’ve got to show that you do things the right way, you’ve got to show your teammates that you work hard and that you’re accountable and you’re disciplined.”
Here Kunaszyk comes from the right inside linebacker position across the formation making a sure tackle on the ball carrier for a minimal gain. He shows good technique by staying square to the line of scrimmage and not crossing his feet. He stonewalls a running back (who has a full head of steam) by using short choppy steps, keeping his head up and getting low to increase his leverage. He could have moved farther into the hole before breaking down into an ideal form tackling stance; that may have resulted in a tackle for a loss. Nonetheless this was textbook technique and Kunaszyk delivered a strong, sure tackle.
This type of play is the norm for Kunaszyk. He is a very technically sound tackler, which is rarely seen in football today. Often tacklers throw a shoulder, dive at the legs or try for a big hit and don’t wrap up.
Here he is against an elusive back in Bryce Love. He avoids all the traffic in front of him, breaking down and squaring up in the hole, then making an emphatic, sure tackle. He doesn’t go for a big hit, he doesn’t just throw a shoulder. Kunaszyk squares up, with his head up, then wraps up, putting Love on his back. Again textbook form.
Kunaszyk joined an undermanned University of California team in 2016 as a part time player and began to show the tenacity and grit it takes to play as an inside linebacker. He had 51 tackles in 2016, the most ever by a University of California player with fewer than 5 starts. In a game against the University of Oregon that went to double overtime, Kunaszyk made a game sealing interception to give the California Bears a 52-49 victory. It was the University of California’s first victory over Oregon in eight games and Kunaszyk’s comments after the game show the true nature of the kid.
“It was just a great feeling to bring joy and to be able to see people in the stands jumping around and smiling,” Kunaszyk said. “Because the game is bigger than me. I do it for my family and my teammates, and it was just a really good feeling to be able to do that.”
Kunaszyk is humble and always a team first player who rarely celebrates a play and is more worried about his team than personal glory.
Here Kunaszyk protects against the running play but gets great depth on his drop when he reads the ball fake. He drops eight yards in less than two seconds while reading the quarterback’s eyes and taking away the deep crossing route. The quarterback tries to fit the ball over Kunaszyk but he has too much depth and makes a nice reaching interception. His 53 yard return helped his team get back in the game.
Kunaszyk is motivated by his failures rather than his achievements. He made this nice interception on this play against Oregon, but the play he watched from this game is a misread on his part. With his team trailing by a touchdown in the final 11 minutes of the game he got sucked to the left on a play fake, allowing a 68 yard game clinching touchdown run to the right.
“You watch it over and over,” Kunaszyk said. “You make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
An injury in 2017 limited him to eight games but he still averaged more than 11 tackles a game. Kunaszyk became the first defensive player in University of California history to win the Walter Camp defensive player of the week honors. He was also the PAC-12 defensive player of the week in the 37-3 dismantling of previously unbeaten #8 University of Washington, a team that came in averaging 39.7 points a game. Kunaszyk had 11 tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one interception in the game.
Kunaszyk is a film junkie and he prepares for every game like it is his last. This gets noticed by his teammates. “He puts so much work into the preparation,” fellow inside linebacker Gerran Brown said. “He’s always at the stadium watching film and doing everything he can to be ready for Saturdays. “It’s inspiring to see how he does it.”
Here is an example of Kunaszyk’s film study giving him an edge. Kunaszyk reads the formation and is off with the snap on a play that is going away from him. Because he is able to get such a great jump on the play he is able to make the tackle for no gain even though he ran 10 yards to make the play.
This year Kunaszyk has stepped his game up to an even higher level. He is second in the nation with 7.6 solo tackles per game. He had 22 total tackles and a forced fumble against UCLA plus eight tackles and a sack in a tight 12-10 win against Washington.
For Kunaszyk improving his game is a never ending quest. “(Football is) all I’ve ever known. I’ve never really had a job and really just played football. Every decision I make really impacts football. Everything I do really is on the basis of ‘Is this making me a better football player?’ ” Kunaszyk says.
“I just continued from when I was six years old and had some bumps in the road, but I’m here now, living the dream, so I’m blessed and fortunate.”
This kid has the type of tenacity and character the Jets need on their team. He has technical skills and a deep love for the game. He might be overlooked in the draft because he isn’t a splashy player who self promotes and he comes from a western school that is not one of the elite college programs. He is a team first, unselfish player who will know his defensive scheme inside and out in a short period of time. He could serve as a backup inside linebacker as he develops his first year or two while being a demon on special teams, but he will always be ready to step into the fray at a moment’s notice.