Rumor has it the strategy behind Adams City High School’s stunning comeback from a woeful eight-year losing record is one football coach’s passing on of a little faith.
The Commerce City public school and community took notice of the Eagles 4A team that halted a 4-76 record since 2006, one victory being a forfeit, and launched this season with a 4-1 record. The last time the team had a winning record was in 2005 when it finished 6-5.
Team members say the difference this year isn’t simply the new equipment or more rigorous practices. New football coach and practicing Catholic Dan Jajczyk formed a family atmosphere and instilled a sense of worth.
“They don’t care whether we win or lose—they just care about us,” said junior Juan Zazueta. “We’re really doing things different than we did all the other years. It’s paying off.”
Fellow junior Joseph Gonzalez said, “The coaches this year are treating us right.”
The 2,000-student body has a reputation for high drop-out rates, teenage pregnancy, gang activity and poor academic performance. All of the students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, a governmental assistance for low-income families. Eighty-five percent are Hispanic with English being the second language for many, said the school’s communication specialist Autumn Jones.
The team, and school, suffered from hopelessness, said Jajczyk, who is also supervisor of security for Adams County School District 14.
“These kids felt like they weren’t worth anything. These kids felt like nobody cared about them,” he said. “A lot of these kids are just looking for someone to love and looking for someone to be loved by.”
Jajczyk said it’s his ministry to give the students hope and dignity by being an example of a faith-filled Catholic man of God.
“I think God got me here to give them that hope, to give them that vision, to give them that reality that they are worth something,” he said.
The team shares meals together and “takes a knee” to pray before and after games. The staff and students hold each other accountable if a practice is missed or grades are falling.
“We’re trying to teach them life lessons that they’ll carry well beyond a silly football season,” Jajczyk said.
The change is apparent and it’s infectious.
“From the teacher perspective, we see it spreading in the classrooms. It’s not just the football team that’s caring. I see ownership and pride in school,” said Amanda Gonzalez, the school’s learning specialist.
Jajczyk, 56, said his own conversion plays a part in his ability to guide the football team.
“I was a ‘70s rebellion kid,” he said. “I just made some bad choices back then and got hooked up with the wrong people.”
He said he looked for acceptance and love in all the wrong places. The pleasures of sex and drugs consumed his life and for 10 years he regularly smoked marijuana. In 1982 he was caught with drugs and reached a turning point.
“It was at that moment I looked in the mirror, physically looked in the mirror, and was crying,” he shared. “I needed to change. I needed to be there where I had nothing but (God). I was right there in darkness, fear and despair, but I had him.”
He made a choice to live a life in loving relationship with God and returned to his Catholic roots.
“There comes a time in your life when you’ve got to make decisions and quit living for yourself and start living for others,” he said. “My life has changed from in the ‘70s when it was all about me to where everything I do now is all about everyone else.”
Jajczyk said he completed a 20-year career in the Air Force. He moved with his wife, Susan, and two children, and he got into school security work in 2001. He prays the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet daily.
He uses his past experiences and renewed faith to guide his team away from a similar path, he said.
“I see football as a parallel to life. Through football, you can learn to overcome disappointment. You learn how to be perseverant, you learn how to be disciplined, you learn how to sacrifice, you learn how to give yourself to others,” he said. “That’s what Christ taught us.”
The Denver Broncos named him the high school coach of the week last month. He’s said he’s coaching to not only lead the team to a winning season, but to give the team faith.
“For me it’s just about (hearing from God), ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’ If I can hear those words, I don’t need the accolades.”