Jan 29, 2012, 5:10 PM EDT
Part four of our series recapping the recruits ready to sign letters-of-intent with Notre Dame next Wednesday. (Or already on campus.) Previous installments include the running backs, offensive line and wide receivers.
When Notre Dame named Brian Kelly its head football coach, many assumed that thy were getting a quarterbacking guru. And for good reason. Kelly, while at Grand Valley, Central Michigan, or Cincinnati seemed to always get good quarterbacking play out of a diverse cast of characters — and often times from multiple in the same season.
Capable of fitting different styles of quarterbacks in his spread attack, Kelly found capable signal callers in many shapes and sizes, getting impressive performances each year from a diverse group. Consider the stats put up by Kelly’s quarterbacks in the four years leading up to his arrival in South Bend.
Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan — 2006
247 of 388 (63.7%) 3,031 yards 26 TD 10 INT
Ben Mauk, Cincinnati — 2007
235 of 386 (60.9%) 3,121 yards 31 TD 9 INT
Tony Pike, Cincinnati — 2008
199 of 324 (61.4%) 2,407 yards 19 TD 11 INT
Tony Pike / Zach Collaros, Cincinnati — 2009
304 of 464 (65.5%) 3,954 yards 39 TD 8 INT
It’s long forgotten now, but Kelly inherited a quarterbacking depth chart woefully thin. With Jimmy Clausen leaving after his junior season, the Irish scholarship quarterbacks consisted of Dayne Crist — recovering from an ACL torn on Halloween — and early enrollee freshman Tommy Rees, who moved up his commitment to give the Irish some much-needed depth for spring practice. Kelly re-recruited quarterback Andrew Hendrix, committed to the previous regime but looking around after Kelly took over, and added Luke Massa to infuse numbers to the depth chart, bringing in three quarterbacks to try and remedy a positional grouping critical to success. After Massa transitioned to wide receiver after falling to fourth in the depth chart, Kelly brought in Everett Golson in his second recruiting class, pulling the two-sport star away from a commitment to both the North Carolina football and basketball program to fulfill the dual-threat prototype still lacking in the depth chart.
Notre Dame saw positional instability rear its ugly head early in 2011, with Crist losing his starting job to Rees, only to have the sophomore perform poorly down the stretch thanks to turnovers and limitations within the system. By season’s end, Hendrix was able to push into the mix, while Golson preserved a year of eligibility. A season that looked poised for a BCS run ended up in ruins thanks to the one position most responsible for offensive evolution.
With four quarterbacks eligible to be on the 2012 roster, Notre Dame chased a limited slate of recruits at the position. One that stayed on the Irish radar, even while he showed little interest in playing in South Bend, was the state of Indiana’s best player, and the top drop-back quarterback in the country. Gunner Kiel was the type of recruit that Charlie Weis landed while at Notre Dame, but had yet to say yes to Brian Kelly. Thanks to dogged pursuit by the Irish coaching staff, he’s the first blue-chip offensive skill player Kelly has landed, and a potential leading man in an offense desperate for one these past two seasons.
High School: Columbus East — Columbus, Indiana
Measureables: Six-foot-four, 220-pounds
Other major offers: Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, USC, Michigan, Georgia.
Fun Fact: Rated the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country.
On choosing Notre Dame: “This recruitment process was a roller-coaster ride at times, but I know I have made the right decision for my family and me. There were three critical elements I was looking for in my future school: the quality of education I would receive, the distance from home and the comfort level I would have with the players and coaches in the football program. Notre Dame was the perfect fit for me because it hit all three areas. Coach Kelly was great throughout my recruitment, as many times our conversations had nothing do with football. That really showed me he had my best intentions in mind. He was persistent yet also patient while recruiting me and I look forward to playing for him the next four years. I couldn’t be happier to be a member of the Fighting Irish football team. I’m excited about the future of the program.”
What he’ll bring to the offense: If Brian Kelly uses a positional profile to help guide his recruiting philosophy, Kiel fits the mold of a blue-chip quarterback perfectly. At six-foot-four, 220-pounds, he’s the prototype for the position, replacing Dayne Crist almost immediately as the guy who looks most like an NFL quarterback on the Notre Dame roster. While the track record for five-star quarterbacks is hardly fool-proof, Kiel immediately adds the type of stability needed at a quarterback position where there’s plenty of promise but results have been hard to come by. Enrolling early, Kiel will get to show the coaching staff first hand what abilities he has, but also give the program the ability to develop his skills, thanks to three capable players on the depth chart in front of him. That said, if he’s as good as advertised, Kiel will fight his way onto the field sooner than later, solidifying a position that just weeks ago looked up in the air.