MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. | He impersonated Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron the past couple of weeks, rather convincingly according to his Notre Dame football teammates.
This was freshman quarterback Gunner Kiel’s role leading up to Monday’s BCS National Championship Game in Sun Life Stadium, serving as a scout-teamer with no chance of seeing action against the Crimson Tide when the bright lights come on.
It was a far cry from where many ND football fans envisioned him, but not from where Kiel thought the season would play out.
“I honestly kind of thought going in I really wasn’t going to play,” said Kiel, the nation’s top-rated quarterback prospect in the last recruiting cycle. “It’s really hard for any freshman to come in and start, especially at the quarterback position.
“It turned out to be a learning experience. Learning the offense, learning new defenses, new terminology. It was all different. But to be a part of this team is very special.”
Kiel, though, has done the math. Redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson – Notre Dame’s starter – has three years of eligibility after this one. Second-stringer Tommy Rees has one more year, third-stringer Andrew Hendrix potentially two.
“I’ve been patient and waiting,” Kiel said of the numbers game. “And during spring ball, I hope to come out and show what I have.
“Anything can happen. (Golson) could go to the NFL. He could get hurt. There are so many doors that could be opened, that I just have to be patient and just wait my turn and just try to get better.”
But Kiel said none of those doors include one that would lead him away from Notre Dame.
“I honestly haven’t thought about (transferring),” Kiel said. “I’ve been more focused on my season and more focused on my school and other things that have been more important to me.”
A year ago Kiel was set to go to LSU as an early enrollee, but backed out of his commitment at the eleventh hour and enrolled at Notre Dame. The Columbus (Ind.) standout originally committed to Indiana.
LSU coach Les Miles twice criticized Kiel in the weeks that followed his decision switch, saying in part “He doesn’t have the chest to lead this program.”
“I don’t blame him at all,” Kiel said of Miles. “I mean, I was dumb during the recruiting process. I couldn’t really make up my mind, but I was also doing what was best for me at the time and that was picking a college.
“There was a lot of pressure in being so highly ranked. I just couldn’t make up my mind. It was hard, but I’m very happy with the decision I made. But I’ve always respected coach Miles. I’m not going to throw him under the bus, because he’s a great coach. Everything he stands for, I think he’s great. I can’t take back what I did.”
Would he like to make peace with the coach?
“That’s up to him,” Kiel said. “I really wouldn’t mind it. He was great to my family and me, and I couldn’t be more thankful that he offered a scholarship to me.
“I think I over-examined everything and took everything over the top with recruiting and kind of made it hard on myself and made it more stressful on myself instead of just enjoying the process.
“If I could do it all over again, I would probably just enjoy it more and visit more places and just kind of go with the flow and not make it so hard on myself.”