It's one thing to be told about the brutal competition for playing time that exists in college athletics. But when a heralded prep recruit finds himself at the wrong end of the depth chart, all of that “be patient, keep working” advice can become gibberish to some, while others heed it.
Multiple Internet reports unveiled a vague story late Thursday that Notre Dame redshirt freshman-to-be quarterback Gunner Kiel is considering transferring.
Neither Kiel, nor any specific source, was quoted in the reports. However, it is no secret that the starting quarterback job in South Bend won't be easy to wrest from returning starter Everett Golson.
Kiel was rated by many as the nation's best quarterback in the Class of 2012, and he enrolled early (January) at Notre Dame to expedite his development. He never expected to see the field last season, and he didn't, as the redshirt sophomore-to-be Golson played very well and led the Fighting Irish to the BCS National Championship game.
“To be honest, I knew that was going to happen,” Kiel said in January of spending a year running the scout team. “I had two older brothers that went through the recruiting process, and I got a strong clue as to what was going to happen.”
The backfield in South Bend has an extraordinarily lengthy line behind Golson. Not only is Kiel vying for playing time, but so are incoming freshman Malik Zaire (he enrolled in January) and seniors-to-be Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix.
“In high school you are a big fish in a small lake,” Kiel said. “In college, everyone is good.”
Golson certainly was.
In a dozen games (11 of which he started), Golson completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 2,405 yards and a dozen touchdowns, while throwing just six interceptions. He also demonstrated the mobility to keep plays alive and ran for nearly 300 yards and six more scores.
Golson's presence may bother Kiel – if the reports are accurate – but Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said last month that in college football, the best players don't fear competition.
“They're not elite players if they're afraid of competition,” Kelly said. “Those that back off and say, well, you've got two of these guys and you've got three of those now, sometimes that makes a difference, granted; I understand that. But by and large, we've made the case in recruiting where we see you, and we're honest with them. 'Here's where we see you're at and this is where you're going to be, and if you do this, you're going to get your playing time.'
“So I think from our end, the elite players have that confidence, that no matter who's in front of me, I'm going to beat them out.”
In the case of Zaire, it was that personality trait that attracted Kelly to recruit the athletic signal caller.
“What I loved about Malik is when he came up here last spring,” Kelly said, “he sat in our quarterback meeting room, and in that meeting room you've got some really good quarterbacks. When he left that meeting, he made it clear to me that this was the place he wanted to be.
“He loved the environment, he loved the coaching, he loved the opportunity to come in and run the offense, and that's looking at great competition and saying, I don't care about that, I'm going to come to Notre Dame because it's the right place for me academically, and it's the right place for me because I'm going to be the starter here at Notre Dame, and we love those kind of guys that have that attitude.”
Kiel would have four years of eligibility remaining if he chose to transfer. According to a report in the South Bend Tribune, Kiel is considering programs at Ball State, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois, and Cincinnati.
Notre Dame will begin spring practices later this month, and the annual Blue-Gold Spring football game will be played at 1 p.m. April 20.
Over the past month, Kiel has posted several tweets on his Twitter account (GunnerKiel) that if read in the context of his leaving could provide insight as to whether the reports are accurate or not.
Here are some of his tweets:
• You are always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past. #Drive #Succeed
• Enjoy the process. Embrace it. Be thankful. Live for the moment. Live for today, not the future. Take it day by day. Trust God
• Learn from your mistakes. Get better each opportunity. Succeed to achieve #GKQuotes
• Things will be different. Change to be different. Change to be better