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COLUMN

Former Notre Dame QB could take MAC step to NFL

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For more sports commentary, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

If Gunner Kiel is willing to put in the work, future still wide open

Saturday, April 6, 2013 - 7:58 am

So far in college, Gunner Kiel has majored in indecision.

He committed to Indiana University, and then changed his mind to LSU. Then he changed his mind to Notre Dame. Then he went to Notre Dame for a year and left when things didn't go the way he wanted. Now he's looking for a new home, having visited Ball State on Friday.

Kiel's resume would lead many to dismiss him as a prima donna. That may well be true. When the going gets tough, the tough don't usually run to another school.

But take the circumstances off the table and consider a bigger picture: Could Kiel still reach the NFL is he goes from college football's mythological mountain at Notre Dame to a school perhaps better known as the training ground for Stupid Human Tricks (courtesy of BSU alum David Letterman)?

The short answer is yes.

Getting there will take perseverance and determination that few possess. Whether Kiel has what it takes remains to be seen.

The opportunity that awaits at Ball State would require a hit to the Kiel's ego initially. Notre Dame has its own television network. You can catch Ball State on Muncie radio. Notre Dame's quarterback competes for the Heisman Trophy. Ball State's compete for best in the Mid-American Conference.

And yet…

While playing in the MAC is a tougher route to the NFL, it's more than possible.

Consider this: Five former MAC quarterbacks were on NFL rosters last season, led by the trio of Pittsburgh Steelers in Ben Roethlisberger (Miami, Ohio), Charlie Batch (Eastern Michigan) and Byron Leftwich (Marshall). Toledo's Bruce Gradkowski was with the Cincinnati Bengals and Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish (of Norwell fame) was with the Indianapolis Colts.

The all-time NFL leader in completion percentage came from the MAC: Marshall's Chad Pennington.

Kiel is apparently looking at a number of colleges to continue his career, but Ball State has some selling points if you consider the rapid progression of the program under coach Pete Lembo and the fact the current quarterback Keith Wenning is a senior entering his last season.

The job would be there for the taking for Kiel.

Now, success in the MAC doesn't necessarily guarantee an NFL career.

Ball State's Nate Davis was one of the best quarterbacks in school, and MAC, history but he couldn't stick in the NFL after being a fifth-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2009. He spent time with the Seattle Seahawks and Colts as an offseason or practice player, but now plays indoor football.

Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour was picked in the sixth round by the Chicago Bears in 2010 and spent some time with the Bengals, Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars, but is now playing in the Canadian Football League.

As far as NFL success, being from a lesser-known school isn't a barrier. Joe Flacco (Delaware) proved that with his Super Bowl win and supersized contract.

The question for Kiel is whether he's willing and able to put in the work necessary to first develop into a solid college quarterback and then advance enough to be an NFL prospect.

At this point, his indecision with his college career is a minus. It appears he's easily distracted and quick to break commitments. He'll only change that with time at his next college.

But if Kiel can settle into a program, whether Ball State or another school, and show stability over the next four years, he'll have a chance to reignite his career. His strong arm and raw skills haven't deteriorated since he starred at Columbus East High School. He might be rusty from not playing, but that can change.

He'll have to prove he has the necessary mental toughness to thrive over the next few years.

Look at the common denominators of the MAC quarterbacks who were in the NFL last year. From Roethlisberger to Harnish, they all possessed that inner drive to do whatever it takes to succeed. They are all the type of quarterbacks who take hits, literally and figuratively, and get back up again determined to be better.

Kiel can reach the NFL still, even at Ball State.

But he'll have to change his major to hard work and determination. A minor in humility will be required, too.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. E-mail Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com