FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Last January, Gunner Kiel found himself in the spotlight. This January, he's far out of the limelight, but enjoying the sunlight.
The Notre Dame freshman quarterback made national headlines on January 17, 2012 when he reneged – again – on his college commitment to LSU (he had earlier changed his mind regarding a commitment to Indiana) and enrolled at Notre Dame.
On Saturday, there wasn't a long line of reporters seeking to interview the fourth-string quarterback on the Fighting Irish depth chart at the BCS National Championship Game media day in Miami, and the nation's top-rated quarterback in 2012 was fine with that.
“I knew that was going to happen,” Kiel said. “I had two older brothers that went through the recruiting process and I got a strong clue as to what was going to happen.”
What happened is Kiel – like a lot of heralded recruits around the country – figured out quickly that nothing is given to you at the collegiate level. Every minute on the field has to be earned.
“In high school, you are a big fish in a small, small lake,” Kiel said. “When you get to college, everyone is good.”
Including the three quarterbacks currently ahead of Kiel.
Notre Dame's depth chart shows that sophomore Everett Golson (who has three years of eligibility remaining), and juniors Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix are each looking down, figuratively, on Kiel.
“You're just a little fish in the big ocean,” Kiel said. “You've got to get used to that and strive to get better.”
Kiel said that he has done just that.
Earlier in the week, Golson spoke of how valuable his year of running nothing but the scout team offense was in his development last season. Kiel expressed the same views on Saturday and said that he has vastly improved because of the amount of work that he has done in guiding that team all autumn.
“Oh I think that I am a lot better from where I came in in January,” Kiel said. “I didn't really understand anything, it was fast, and the terminology was different. Coming in and playing scout team was good for me because I can get back my confidence and sling it around.”
Kiel has faced one of the nation's best defenses on a daily basis this season and it will benefit him immensely when he does get the opportunity to get on the field this spring and perhaps even next fall.
“It's made me a better quarterback for sure,” Kiel said. “Just watching the game and getting a better perspective from the sidelines.”
Adjusting to college, academically, socially, and athletically, is stressful for every student-athlete. Kiel has found a unique method to dealing with the madness of being part of the nation's best football program, as well as surviving at one of the country's elite academic institutions.
He enjoys losing himself at times in art as an opportunity to escape the pressures of college life. He has an uncle that is an artist, as well as his mother has the skill to draw well, and he too, dabbles in the craft.
“From my mom's side of the family, I got that gene,” Kiel laughed. “It's a relaxing thing that I like to do.”
He has found inspiration in drawings related to God such as “faithful things like praying hands and crosses.”
That art form coming from Kiel is ironic because it is the Irish Nation that is praying that one day he can become the quarterback of his press clippings.
“Throughout the game, I understand what's going on,” Kiel said. “To look and watch defenses and watch our offense. It's good for me to watch and learn that way. Then come in, and understand it all.”