Jack Kiser’s green wristband has no Notre Dame tie. This weekend, some torn Purdue fans may even be wearing identical ones in the stands. The bright yellow letters on the green silicone wristband echo Kiser’s late grandfather’s advice.
ONE RULE: DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID.
“It covered everything, right?” Kiser said Tuesday. “Like if you ask, ‘Is this stupid?’ and it’s yes, then don’t do it.”
The junior linebacker has carried that line of advice on his wrist since his grandfather, Paul, passed away in 2006 after a battle with lung cancer. Kiser’s grandmother made the bracelets to remind the family of Paul’s golden rule.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gone a day without a wristband on that says it,” Jack said.
That includes gamedays and with Kiser a key piece of the increasingly thin Irish linebacker rotation, the advice rings through on Saturday afternoons, too. This weekend, the bleachers will be filled with members of Kiser’s family, many of whom attended Purdue. It’s a special day for the contingent from Royal Center, Ind., a town with a population of 833 and less than an hour away from West Lafayette, and it is a calendar-circling game for Kiser, who grew up a Purdue fan with many connections to the school, both past and present. Kiser’s father, uncle, brother and some cousins all went to Purdue (Saturday, 2:30 ET, NBC), as does his girlfriend.
But he does not question their allegiance on Saturday.
“They’re gonna cheer for Jack Kiser,” he said. “That’s just how things are.”
The Purdue fandom is bigger than his family, though. Kiser said the school also “runs very deep” in his Royal Center community. It’s a town that rallies around its teams, a town that is thoroughly invested in the football team at Pioneer High School, playing in Indiana’s smallest classification thanks to an enrollment of fewer than 500 students in seventh through 12th grade. Programs like that rarely produce recruits sought by Power Five college teams or even a Mr. Indiana Football, as Kiser was in 2018.
“We always had a laughing joke whenever we would play a big game on the road. ‘Hey, last person in Royal Center, make sure you turn off the light,’” Kiser said.
This weekend may have a similar effect, with the passionate town’s heightened rooting interest in a school and an opposing player. Many people have reached out to Kiser for tickets and will make the 70-mile drive to South Bend.
Kiser carries his upbringing and his family with him at Notre Dame, both metaphorically and tangibly with the wristband’s homage to his grandfather. So meaningful is the bracelet that he keeps two extras in his nightstand.
He needed an extra early in his Irish career. In a game during his freshman year, Kiser noticed the bracelet had snapped when he was removing tape from his wrist in the locker room at halftime.
“I was shook. I was rattled,” he said. “It was halftime. I was like, my wristband broke — like, this is not OK.”
At the time, Kiser was playing special teams, the first step of his steady progression through the ranks at Notre Dame. He preserved a year of eligibility by playing in only four games his freshman year. Kiser began 2020 in a similar role, covering kickoffs in the opener against Duke.
Then came the game he’s most known for. Kiser vaulted onto the big stage in the second game of the 2020 season, moving from scout team to starter in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak within the Irish locker room before the South Florida game. Kiser knew early in the week he might move up the depth chart, but he learned how far up only that Saturday morning.
“You always have to be ready,” Kiser said after making eight tackles in that spot start. “On scout team, your goal is always to make it up and get to the next level, so when I found out, it was just a mentality, let’s go.”
Kiser’s mentality, readiness and production earned the game ball from Irish head coach Brian Kelly and prompted Kelly to openly wonder why Kiser wasn’t already playing more.
“I was kidding [former defensive coordinator Clark Lea],” Kelly said last September. “I was like, what are you doing? Why hasn’t he been starting all year? You know, tongue-in-cheek. But [Kiser has] prepared himself very well.”
(Jump to the 3:00 minute mark in the below video if wanting to skip straight to Kelly’s praise of Kiser and the locker room’s boisterous response to him receiving the game ball.)
Kiser finished 2020 with 20 tackles, including three for loss, and an interception. He now splits time at Rover, a position switch made this spring under new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, with Isaiah Pryor.
One day short of exactly a year after his cameo, Kiser will have a prominent role in front of a notable section of fans with not-so-split loyalties, but he does not think in terms of a year or of who will be in the stands.
“Every week, get better, try to just do your job and succeed,” he said. “And whatever new wrinkles we’re putting on, just be flawless. Like, do the routine things flawlessly.”
In other words, don’t do anything stupid.
A senior at Notre Dame studying Film & Television with a Journalism minor, Caroline Pineda has assisted the “ND on NBC” broadcasts from the sideline since 2019 and is bringing some much-needed quality writing to “Inside the Irish” this season, as well, just as she did throughout 2020.