Columbus (Ind.) East High’s Gunner Kiel’s crazy, back-and-forth recruitment ended 185 miles north of his home, with familiarity in the head coach and the comfort of being closer to home.
The five-star Kiel, the top-ranked quarterback by Scout.com in this recruiting class, attended his first class Tuesday and is officially bound to Notre Dame. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Kiel switched to the Irish after not showing up on LSU’s campus for a team meeting Monday.
His decision to attend Notre Dame ends a dizzying six months in which he committed to Indiana and then de-committed, had a flirtation with Vanderbilt and the Irish before committing to LSU in late December, only to flip to the Irish over the weekend.
“This recruitment process was a roller-coaster ride at times, but I know I have made the right decision for my family and me," Kiel said in a statement released through Notre Dame. "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.”
It was largely a family decision, and the Kiels have known Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly for years.
Kelly recruited Gunner’s older brothers, Drew and Dustin, while at Cincinnati, and the relationship played a significant factor.
“Coach Kelly was great throughout my recruitment, as many times our conversations had nothing do with football,” Kiel said. “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."
Kiel’s enrollment thrusts him into Notre Dame’s unsettled quarterback situation, which includes incumbent junior-to-be Tommy Rees, who has started 16 games in his career, redshirt sophomore-to-be Andrew Hendrix and red-shirt freshman-to-be Everett Golson, who did not play in 2011. The early enrollment allows Kiel to participate in spring practice.
Kiel comes to Notre Dame after winning Indiana’s Mr. Football award in 2011. As a senior, he threw for 2,517 yards and 28 touchdowns and also rushed for 482 yards and 11 TDs. Columbus East finished 12-2 and lost in the semifinals of the IHAA 4A playoffs to Indianapolis’ Warren Central High School.
Other early enrollees at Notre Dame on Tuesday were Warren Central five-star defensive tackle Sheldon Day, Washington Union High School (Fresno, Calif.) five-star cornerback Tee Shepard and running back Amir Carlisle, who transferred from USC.
Kiel, who was also the Gatorade Player of the Year in Indiana this season, finished his career with 7,175 passing yards.
“Kiel has the size you want in a quarterback, and can also move and make plays with his feet,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Allen Trieu said. “He's not necessarily a dual-threat, but is a tough, effective runner and can buy time with his mobility. He is very accurate, sees the field well and makes excellent decisions.
“He can make the throws and get the ball into traffic. His arm strength is good, but improvement can still be made to push it to elite. He is smart and a good leader as well.”
Kiel’s decision capped a five-star day for the Irish, who also welcomed Class of 2012 standouts Day and Shepard.
Day recorded 55 tackles and nine sacks for 11-1 Warren Central. He is the sixth-rated defensive tackle in the 2012 class and will play that position in Notre Dame’s 3-4 defensive scheme.
"I'm excited to get here and get started on my classwork, and to start the conditioning program with (strength) coach (Paul) Longo," Day said. "I really liked meeting the guys during my recruiting process and I'm excited to start workouts with them this winter."
Though Shepard was heavily recruited, it was not back-and-forth like Kiel’s. Shepard committed to the Irish in February but also made official visits to Arizona Stateand USC to ensure he was making the right choice.
He did not play as a senior after transferring from Central Campus East High (Fresno) to Washington Union. The CIF, which is California’s governing body for high school athletics, ruled his transfer was for athletic purposes.
However, Shepard did play in a pair of high school all-star games, and excelled in both.
“I'm really happy to part of the Notre Dame football family," said Shepard, who is Scout.com’s No. 3-rated cornerback in the 2012 class. "This is a special place and I'm excited to finally be here. Getting a jump start on my training and in my classes can only help me for the future."