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After lighting it up at Riverside City College and earning the top JUCO quarterback ranking in the Class of 2023, Jake Retzlaff transferred to BYU. He is one of five students at the predominantly Mormon university of Jewish faith, and one of just three undergraduates.
Retzlaff is unique, to say the least.
Brigham Young University was founded in 1875 and is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of its 34,980 undergraduate students, approximately 98% are of the Mormon faith.
Retzlaff, a Reform Jew, is not one of them.
My family is all practicing Jewish, particularly my mom. I had a bar mitzvah and am a member (at Temple Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Pomona, California) of a congregation. I love my Jewish journey.— Jake Retzlaff, via Deseret News
From Corona, California, Retzlaff did not get many looks out of high school and went the junior college route. He led Riverside to a California Community College State Championship appearance in 2022 while completing 312 of his 493 passes for 4,596 yards and 44 touchdowns while adding 515 yards and six scores on the ground.
In the end, he chose to play for head coach Kalani Sitake and the Cougars over offers from Hawaii, UTEP, and others. When Retzlaff informed Sam Spector (the leader of Utah’s largest Jewish congregation) of his decision, the rabbi was astonished, but excited.
I’ve always though BYU needed more Jewish quarterbacks.— Rabbi Samuel L. Spector, according to Retzlaff
A tremendous line.
Jake Retzlaff, obviously, is something of a black sheep at BYU.
As Retzlaff walks around campus amongst a predominantly Mormon student body, he wears a silver Star of David pendant around his neck. He appreciates every opportunity to share his faith with other students and teammates, even joking that he might convert some of his non-LDS teammates.
Social media has coined some fantastic nicknames for Retzlaff, like ‘The Hucking Hebrew,’ but he prefers a more simple play on words. Retzlaff refers to himself as ‘BY-Jew.’ Brilliant.
Orthodox Jews observe Shabbat, a day of rest, from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. No work is to be done on Shabbat, including athletics.
Sandy Koufax, one of the most famous Jewish athletes of all-time, sat out the opening game of the 1965 World Series. The game fell on Yom Kippur, a holy day in the faith.
That could also create some issues for a Jewish athlete in a sport that largely plays on Shabbat.
Retzlaff, though, is more reformed in his faith. He will be on the field on Saturdays, and Yom Kippur will not fall on a weekend in 2023.
For me personally, I choose to play football. It is what I am here at BYU to do and what I choose to do. It is just as much of who I am, almost as much who I am, as being Jewish. So I will be playing football on Saturdays with no restrictions.— Jake Retzlaff, via Deseret News
The only question that remains is in regard to the role Retzlaff will play this season.
Retzlaff eyes BYU history.
Although Kedon Slovis is slated to start at the position this season, Retzlaff hopes to win the job next year.
Should that come to fruition, he would be the first Jewish starting quarterback in school history. In the meantime, Retzlaff is lighting it up in spring ball with hopes of backing up Slovis this fall.
However, things did not get off to a hot start. Retzlaff had three surgeries in three weeks before even stepping onto the field in Provo.
He had a tonsillectomy and repaired his deviated septum in the same surgery. Things did not go according to plan.
Complications from the surgery, that was supposed to keep him out a few days, dragged out over the course of multiple weeks. The issues led to two additional surgeries before Retzlaff had even taken a single rep with his new team.
Things eventually healed up and Retzlaff got back on the field. Now, as he battles with returned missionary Cade Fennegan for the QB2 spot, BY-Jew is making his mark both on the field and off.
It has been quite the journey already, and it has only just begun!