MALIBU, Calif. – In moments of competition inside many homes across America, big brother will sometimes cut little brother a break and give him an edge or head start to level the playing field. Perhaps even let him win something every now and again.
Gunner Kiel has been one of the top performers through three days at the 2011 Elite 11 competition at Pepperdine University.
Nothing even close to that happened at the Kiel household in Columbus, Ind.
The oldest was Drew, who went on to play quarterback at Illinois State. Next up was Dusty, who is now a red-shirt sophomore at Indiana and in line to win the starting signal-caller job for the Hoosiers this fall. The youngest, Gunner Kiel, who is ranked by 247Sports as the top quarterback in the country in the class of 2012, and who also took more than his fair share of bumps and bruises trying to compete with his older brothers. They cut him no slack at all.
“I’m not saying they beat him up,” Aleta Kiel, the boys’ mother stated. “But they gave him no mercy. Those two older brothers have tons of friends and they all came over, and they gave him no mercy. It was either do or die.”
A lot of Gunner's pain came from an in-house game called “Chucky.”
“The older brothers and friends would all be down there in the basement and they’d have these balls and Gunner was always Chucky, and they would just throw these balls and beat the crap out of him,” Aleta remembered.
“And it was fun.”
Or was it?
“Oh my gosh,” Gunner said after an Elite 11 practice at Pepperdine University. “I was probably about four. I never won. Getting the snot kicked out of me by my brothers definitely made me tougher.”
This fall, Kiel will enter his third year as the starter at Columbus (Ind.) East.
Gunner thinks it also made him a better athlete, and he occasionally got his chance to sling the balls back at his brothers and their friends.
“Maybe my arm strength came from Chucky,” he said.
Kiel trains at The Palace
Kip Kiel is a manufacturing rep that owns his own company and works out of his home. He always wanted a place to work on his property that wasn’t inside his house.
In 2004, Kiel had a barn built.
“It’s not a barn, it’s a palace,” Kip corrected.
“I call it a shed,” Aleta chimed in.
“Oh my gosh,” Gunner said. “My Dad calls it a palace, but it’s just a building. He’ll probably be mad about me saying that, but it’s just a building, a big open building.”
Although they can’t agree on a name for the backyard structure, they definitely agree that Gunner and his brothers wouldn’t be the football players they are without it.
Inside there is a net to throw footballs, there’s rope, a sled, ladders, there’s an Olympic weight room, mirrors, and even an indoor batting cage that local men’s softball teams come by to use.
Gunner does all of his conditioning at home, and many of his Columbus East teammates come by too.
“My Dad helped me and my brothers out a lot by building it,” Gunner said.
With that, it's no surprise that the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Kiel is arguably one of the most impressive looking quarterbacks at this year’s Elite 11. Even the college quarterbacks in attendance can be heard talking about his size.
Can I have a dollar?
Five best friends under one roof, the Kiel’s traveled as a unit to every summer sporting event. One year, a young Gunner was slated to be his older brothers' team’s bat boy.
“He was wild,” Kip laughed. “We would have travel baseball and our coaches and team, nobody knew where Gunner was. He just ran around. He was at the playground, at the concession stand, in our dugout, just running crazy.
“He didn’t care who it was, he would say Doug, ‘can I have a dollar,’” Kip continued. “The parents would buy him nachos and cheese, a hamburger. As a matter of fact, we had a coach Doc Manning who would give him five dollars and say hey G, here’s five dollars go get me a Coke and go get whatever you want. So he’d come back with a snow cone or whatever, and eat in the dugout in front of the players. Our team would get so ticked off. He was supposed to be the bat boy but he never really showed up.”
Football takes over
Gunner has calmed down significantly from his rambunctious childhood days.
On the gridiron, he hardly ever shows emotion.
“He’s very relaxed,” Kip said. “He’s the starting quarterback as a sophomore and against our crosstown rival he doesn’t even show he’s nervous.”
Doing drills and working out with his brothers has given Gunner a quiet confidence that he plays with in practice and on Friday nights.
“He’s had two older ones to look to for advice and for help and for instruction,” Kip said. “I don’t think he’s that stupid not to follow in the footsteps when they come home from a camp or come home from school and not do what they do.”
That's exactly what Gunner did.
“My two brothers help me all the time, and when they went to camps they always brought back what they learned and told me what I needed to get ready for,” Gunner said. “They kind of paved the way for me and it has helped get my name out there for sure.
“When everybody is at the house it is 24/7 football, I mean we slip in ‘how was school and what did you do today’, but then it is straight to football,” Gunner continued. “We are definitely a football family. When we go out to throw we can have fun, but it always evolves into a competition. We have bets on who will complete the most balls, or they will say ‘I bet I can throw a better ball on this route.’ It is just fun things like that are going to help us get better. I think I can hold my own with them now. I am not going to lie, I have always looked up to my brothers and always thought they were the greatest thing ever, and I still kind of think like that.”
Recruiting takes off
As a junior, Kiel threw for roughly 2,700 yards and 36 touchdowns while rushing for another 600 yards and eight more scores. It wasn’t long after his film was released that he became the top quarterback on a lot of prominent programs recruiting boards.
Now holding over 30 scholarship offers from many of the nation’s top programs, Kiel said three times he thought he had made a decision before going back and talking things over with his family and having to go back to the drawing board.
Kip feels Gunner would have made a decision months ago if his two older brothers hadn’t already gone through the process.
“Those two guys were educating him so much on what to look for,” Kip said. “He’s an educated buyer on selecting what college he wants to go to."
Kiel has kept information regarding the schools he’s considering close to the vest, but it’s become apparent that Alabama and Indiana are in the driver’s seat with Tennessee as one of the couple other schools he’s keeping in contact with. He’s looking to make a college decision before the start of his senior season.
Alabama has impressed Kiel on multiple visits and this week he reiterated his interest in the Crimson Tide. He finds offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jim McElwain and receivers coach Mike Groh to be outstanding.
“They’re definitely known for winning football games,” Kiel stated. “Even though they’re going to run the ball before they throw it, they’re definitely known for winning football games.”
There hasn’t been a school Kiel has visited more than nearby Indiana. Whether he commits to the Hoosiers or not, he knows he’ll be in Bloomington as much as he can this fall to watch his brother. Kiel has a great relationship with co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Rod Smith.
“Indiana has a great coaching staff and they’re definitely going to come out and win football games to me,” Kiel said. “Coach (Kevin) Wilson is definitely a fiery guy and my brother is going to be playing quarterback for them which is awesome, so I’ll be at games watching him and cheering him on. When I talk to him, they know they’re going to win football games. I’ve talked to the guys on the team and got to know them well because of my brother, and they got their heads on straight to win football games and I hope they do.”
Kiel plans to enroll early into whichever college he chooses. He says he will not take any more visits.
Selected as an Under Armour All-American, Kiel is ranked by 247Sports and the No. 10 prospect in the nation.