Notre Dame signed 17 players to national letters of intent Wednesday, but no one made more of a splash across the Internet than quarterback Gunner Kiel. It wasn't easy to secure the services of the 2011 Indiana Mr. Football, but the process doesn't matter to fans or coaches, as long as you get the guy in the end.
Call it intuition or simply experience, but Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly sensed that Kiel never completely let go of his desire to play for the Fighting Irish, and so, with that thought in mind, Kelly never let go of Kiel.
Despite Kiel verbally committing twice to other schools (Indiana and LSU) last year, the Notre Dame coaches weren't dissuaded from pursuing him.
“Honestly, we never really felt like we were done recruiting him,” Kelly said. “Even though Gunner had made his decision, there just seemed to be a connection there that we weren't ready to give up on. And we were right because Gunner is happy.”
Kiel changed his mind on the eve of his trip to Baton Rouge, La., and called Kelly, which didn't surprise the coach. Kelly believed that Kiel fit the profile – both on the field, as well as off of it – for what he desires in his players.
“Every kid that signed a letter of intent we talked with about what Notre Dame is about,” Kelly said. “We had kids that had two opposite (types of schools), as to what their decision would be. That makes it easier for them to make the decision. We say, ‘Here's what we are about. We aren't better than anyone else, but we've got to lay it out for you. This is what you are going to get at Notre Dame.'”
Kiel enrolled last month and is acclimating very well according to Kelly. The hype of being touted by many as the best quarterback in the nation brings added pressure and expectations, but not from Kelly.
“He's got the same expectations as everybody else,” Kelly said. “He doesn't have higher expectations or lower. We expect all of the freshmen to come in and compete at a high level.”
Kelly has made it clear to Kiel that he will be judged like every other player, and if he doesn't compete to be the starting quarterback, then the coach will not be pleased.
“In the recruiting process, we clearly tell our freshmen that you better be ready to compete,” Kelly said. “I don't think that we set the bar any differently for Gunner Kiel than we do for any of our other freshmen, as it relates to coming in and competing or I don't want you here. I don't want you to come. If you think that you are going to come in and get a free year and just redshirt, then you need to go somewhere else.”
Kelly spoke at length Wednesday about Kiel's passion for football, which according to the coach was his most admirable trait. But passion will only go so far, and Kelly believes that Kiel has what it takes to excel in his type of offensive attack.
“I can only tell you what he's told me, and one of the reasons that he came to Notre Dame is the fit, we know that,” Kelly said. “But it was also a fit from a football standpoint. He's seen us play a number of times. He's seen our offense. He's very comfortable within the realm of our offense, and he's confident that he can come in and run our offense.”