Several years down the road, July 27, 2011 might just be the day that IU football started to become relevant. For on that day, the quarterback that most recruiting analysts regard as the best in the nation, spurned nearly every top football program in the nation to become a Hoosier.
On Thursday afternoon, following a visit to the campus, Columbus East rising senior Gunner Kiel has reportedly given his verbal commitment to the Indiana Hoosiers. Yeah, that's right, the nephew of former Notre Dame quarterback, Blair Kiel, spurned Alabama, Oklahoma, USC, Michigan, LSU, Stanford, Notre Dame and basically every university with a storied football pedigree. Kiel could have written his ticket to any of the blue bloods in the ACC, SEC or Pac-10, but instead he decided to stay close to home, which perhaps says a lot about his character and love for his home state if not for his sanity.
Recruiting website 24/7 Sports broke the news that Kiel had committed to IU on Thursday afternoon and it has already lit the internet ablaze with fans from all over the country wondering just what was Kiel thinking by choosing a Big Ten bottom feeder over the perennial Top-10 programs. The Herald Times Newspaper (www.heraldtimesonline.com) in Bloomington asked national analyst, Mike Farrell of Rivals.com just how big a coup this is for the Hoosiers.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, a 10," Farrell said. "This is the biggest upset that I can remember. The No. 1 quarterback in the country spurning Oklahoma, Alabama Notre Dame and on and on and on to go to IU, a place that was deemed a basketball school, a school that doesn't have the winning history or the tradition or the facilities of the rest of those schools is just amazing. I've seen kids decide to stay home. But that's to stay home to play for Florida or Texas. For him to stay for Indiana shows what he's about. He's about family pride and pride in his state university. This is a football decision. Coach Wilson is a great offensive coordinator and head coach, but it still says a lot about him that he was willing to stay in Indiana to play for IU."
The 6'4, 210-pound Kiel threw for nearly 2,700 yards and 36 touchdowns during his junior season with Columbus East. He also ran for 600 yards and eight more touchdowns. The recruiting site 247Sports has Kiel rated as the nation's No. 10 overall prospect and he plans on graduating from high school a semester early so that he can enroll at IU in January.
He'll join his older brother at Indiana. Dusty Kiel is a red-shirt sophomore QB at IU and is in the running for the starting position this fall.
Kiel has been nearly as quiet as another Hoosier recruit, Cody Zeller, during the recruiting process, which made the announcement that much bigger on Thursday. Kiel mentioned that having family close was a big part of the puzzle and that having his brother there to help guide him in learning the Hoosiers' offense was also a big positive.
As some might remember, the last time the Hoosiers got a recruit as high profile as Kiel was back in 1985 when Elkhart Central quarterback Dave Schnell chose the Hoosiers. He was named the nation's top recruit by Sports Illustrated and his career at IU included three-straight bowl trips to bowl games and the school's only win over the Buckeyes in 50 years.
Many are wondering whether this commitment could lead to a similarly positive boost in recruiting as Zeller's decision did for the IU basketball program. Once Zeller chose IU, several of his highly touted AAU basketball teammates also fell in line to become a Hoosier in the next few recruiting classes. While it's unlikely the football effects will be felt somewhat less than in basketball, the consensus is that coach Wilson is already making huge inroads in the recruiting process, especially in-state.
The Hoosiers already have 14 commits for next year, which includes the state's top-ranked receiver and linebacker in Warren Central's Kevin Davis and Jordan Wallace.
The MIC is one of the top football conferences in the Midwest, but IU has rarely pulled top talent from the fertile gridirons of the Indianapolis-area. However, Davis, Wallace and Ben Davis' Caleb Cornett along with offensive lineman, Jacob Bailey, of traditional power Cathedral, have shown that the Hoosiers are hopefully climbing the ladder.
Regardless of whether Kiel immediately has an impact on the field in 2012 for the Hoosiers, he provides something invaluable. There is finally a buzz about IU football and fans will have a tangible sort of a 'face of the program.'
Kiel will ultimately put some extra backsides in the seats at Memorial Stadium and will push the program at the turnstiles before he leads them behind center. However, it's all about baby steps and with Kiel, perhaps the Hoosiers' program finally took a tangible leap.