For a while, wide receiver Derek Kief was one of the best kept secrets in the Midwest.
LaSalle's Derek Kief featured in 6-minute highlight reel
Suffice to say – after receiving offers from several of the nation’s very best college football programs – Kief is no longer a secret.
The 6-5, 197-pound Kief preps at Cincinnati LaSalle, which plays in the prestigious Greater Catholic League. College coaches flock to the Queen City annually to scout top football talent. LaSalle has produced its share of college players over the years, most notably former Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey.
Kief, rated as the nation’s No. 130 prospect overall and No. 20 wide receiver for 2014 by 247Sports.com, is giving them a reason to visit LaSalle once again.
“I think they like my size and my body potential,” said Kief, who has pulled in offers from the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Kentucky and others. “I think they see I move pretty well for a big guy. Plus, I can catch anything thrown to me. I think I can be a deep threat.”
Kief burst on the scene as a sophomore in 2011 with 44 catches for 612 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games. That included a game against rival Cincinnati Elder where he went for 11 catches, 159 yards and a touchdown.
He came back as a junior this past fall and totaled 65 catches for 907 yards and nine touchdowns. That included a 12-reception, 161-yard performance against GCL rival Cincinnati Moeller as well as a three-touchdown game against Detroit’s Brother Rice High School. LaSalle went 4-6, but the pieces are in place for a better year in 2013.
“I was pretty happy with how I played as a junior,” Kief said. “Obviously, there is always room for improvement. I thought I did pretty well under the circumstances.”
Kief’s coach the past two seasons has been Tom Grippa. Grippa, a 26-year head coach with stints at Elder and Fairfield as well as the past 10 years at LaSalle, is moving on to become the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at the College of Mount St. Joseph, a Division III school in Cincinnati.
Kief will visit Alabama, Ohio State next two weekends
Grippa said Kief was “one of his favorite players” in his time at LaSalle.
“He’s very athletic,” Grippa said. “He has great body control and a very soft pair of hands. He’s long, so it’s hard to overthrow him or throw outside his wingspan. That helps the quarterbacks a lot.”
“He’s on pace to break all of LaSalle’s receiving records – touchdowns, yards and total catches. He runs a 4.5-second 40.”
The only thing holding Kief back has been the range of his quarterbacks, Grippa said. This past year LaSalle started Brad Burkhart at quarterback. He has a baseball scholarship to Dayton, but an early season injury limited his throwing.
“Brad had a great arm, but in our second scrimmage he suffered an AC sprain in his shoulder in his throwing arm,” Grippa said. “He wasn’t the same after that.
“I’ve told all of the college coaches, ‘You haven’t seen the real Derek Kief.’ I think this year LaSalle is going to have a strong-armed quarterback. There are two sophomores coming back with Division I potential. They can sling it deep. Derek will be able to run some post and go routes. Even our corner routes were only 22 yards. He’s playing in the best league in the country in the Greater Catholic League. He catches the ball on a quick out, makes two guys miss and picks up 15.
“The coach from Alabama said, ‘Well, the only thing we didn’t see was him to flat take off and go, so you could see his true speed.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you didn’t see that because we didn’t have the quarterback to complete that and I’m not going to throw low percentage.’ We did it other ways.”
One analyst said Kief excelled because he made his quarterbacks look good, catching anything in his area.
Kief had 65 catches as a junior at LaSalle
“It takes a lot of concentration and hard work,” Kief said. “You have to focus on the little things in practice.”
Grippa said Kief compares favorably to Posey, who started two-plus seasons at Ohio State and was a third-round pick by the NFL’s Houston Texans (68th overall) in last year’s draft.
“He’s not as fast as DeVier Posey, but he is a way better receiver than DeVier,” Grippa said. “He has body control and can make the tough catch. There was one game at LaSalle where DeVier had four drops. In two years, Derek has had four drops.”
With Grippa leaving, LaSalle has hired 33-year-old Nate Moore from Minster, Ohio, as its new head coach. Kief was asked about breaking in a new coach as a senior.
“It’s pretty interesting,” Kief said. “It’s going to be fun. It will bring an exciting change for my senior year. We want to build something great for the future. One of my goals is to make it to state. That’s probably any high school player’s dream. But I think we have the talent to contend.”
In the meantime, Kief is working hard to get ready for his senior year.
“Right now, I am doing a lot of lifting so I can get faster and stronger,” he said. “I will start doing speed training. As a receiver, I do a lot of ball drills to get my coordination and catching better. I work at my school four days a week. Then I also train outside with my stepdad and sometimes through with our quarterback.”
Grippa said he was not the least bit surprised when top schools started offering Kief, rated as Ohio’s No. 5 prospect for 2014 by 247Sports.com.
“I think once they looked at everybody on the board and truly evaluated what they were seeing, he truly rose to the top,” Grippa said.
The next two weekends could mean a lot for Kief, who will make unofficial visits to Alabama and Ohio State. Kief is an outstanding student and the academic side could weigh heavily for him, Grippa said.
“He’s not going to be super wowed by a football factory,” Grippa said. “I think a program that is going to have a fit for him academically will be attractive to him. I think he wants to be a physical therapist.
“He has great support from his family. His mom, Kelly, and his stepdad, Adrick Ceasar, have been great for him. Adrick played college football at Furman and he is a physical therapist. That’s how he met Kelly.”
Asked what he is looking for in a school, Kief said, “Overall, I am probably just looking for balance in a college. I’m looking for a place that will set me up very good for the future. Football only lasts for so long. I’m looking for a place that will set me up for life.”
Illinois was the first school to offer Kief as new coach Tim Beckman came through last year.
“At that point, I didn’t expect anything like that,” Kief said. “It really blew me away. It was really crazy. I didn’t think they would offer me after my sophomore year.”
Alabama, of course, has won three of the last four national championships. The Crimson Tide made its offer in just the last few weeks.
“It’s a great honor,” Kief said. “Obviously, they’ve won national championships and a lot of the best players go there. It’s an honor to see that they would want me to play there.”
The Cincinnati campus is just a few miles from Kief’s home. Could the Bearcats and new coach Tommy Tuberville pose a real threat to sign Kief?
“They’ve been involved,” Kief said. “I’ve been to one of their spring practices and I have talked to their coaches. That would be a consideration to play in my hometown, but I am still leaving it open to everything.”
Ohio State, coming off a 12-0 season with new coach Urban Meyer at the helm, is also an intriguing choice. Due to renovations at Ohio Stadium, OSU will host its spring game at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium on April 13.
“I went to a bunch of football games there in the fall,” Kief said. “I have a visit planned for the 29th or 30th of this month. I will go up, see practice and meet the coaches. I have been on the phone with them a lot.”
Kentucky, with newly hired coach Mark Stoops, welcomed Kief for a visit in February.
“Down there, it looks like a great change is going to be made with the new coaching staff,” Kief said. “They have a lot of good stuff going for them. It looks like their program is on an uptick.”
When asked about another school that intrigues him, Kief mentioned Northwestern. The Wildcats are coming off a 10-win season and a rare bowl win.
“I visited Northwestern and I have been talking to them for a long time,” Kief said. “I like them because it’s a great school. It’s pretty balanced.”
Mark Porter, who follows Ohio high school recruiting for ScoutingOhio.com, said he lists Kief as the state’s top wideout for 2014.
“Derek Kief might not be the fastest guy in the class, but he has all the tools to be a great one,” Porter said. “He makes plays with his great hand-eye coordination, plucking the ball out of the air with ease. He understands leverage and uses his 6-5 frame to be a factor catching the ball and blocking.”