was in his shoes one year ago. Tommy Rees
the season prior and three springs previous, Jimmy Clausen
held the mantle of Early Enrollee quarterback at Notre Dame
Now its Gunner Kiel's turn to try to translate an elite high school skill set into competent college performance.
"Things are going great. A lot different than high school but the teammates are great guys and it makes it easier when you have coaches willing to meet with you to get the offense down," said Kiel following the team's first padded practice this spring. "Physically I can get out and do all the stuff in Coach (Paul) Longo's workout, but mentally it's hard getting the new concepts and new terms. The game is a lot quicker, so I need to probably work on that the most."
Kiel's offensive coordinator is also adapting to change this spring. Chuck Martin moved from the defense to coordinate Brian Kelly's offense and landed in the middle of a good old fashioned quarterback competition.
"For a high school kid he's very well-trained," Martin said of Kiel. "Now it's a step up from Columbus East (High School) to the University of Notre Dame. The game is so much quicker and with more variables. He knows everything there is to know about high school football. But Coach (Bob) Diaco has thrown 22 coverages at us in two days," Martin continued of Kiel's early assimilation. "He probably saw four in four years of high school.
"(Diaco's defense) ran nine different pressures and he had no chance to see, because he didn't know the variable indicators, but as far as out of high school, he's well-advanced."
Kiel's leaned on veterans such as Rees and junior Andrew Hendrix early, and taking the initiative was something both noticed in the former 5-star.
"He knows its going to be a process before he gets things down but he hasn't been bashful about coming to us for questions," Rees noted.
Trial by fire, err, trial by Kelly?
Kiel has put forth the effort, taking continuous notes while asking as many relevant questions as possible. But he understands that experience, repetition, and yes, failures under center, will prove his best teaching tool. As the inevitable mistakes mount, Kiel will become more a part of the team, and of his unit's brotherhood.
"They told me coach Kelly will yell and get in your ear and that stuff, but you just have to keep working hard. Shake it off and go play."
Asked if he's had the pleasure of a Kelly reprimand through the spring's first week, Kiel noted. "Uh yeah, a little. I don't think I've gotten the full red-faced look yet. He's not really yelling, just coaching me more and more. Whenever he yells it's for a reason. You know you've done something wrong and he's just trying to help you. He's a really good coach and I feel honored to play for him."
(Editor's Note: Yes, everyone on hand laughed the same place you did when reading above.)
Kiel added a second adjustment to his spring immersion: this isn't high school anymore…literally.
"I've talked to Sheldon (Day) about it and he feels the same," said Kiel of his fellow January enrollee. "Knowing for me, my high school just had spring break, so knowing I had to go to school and get up early and workout (was tough)…but it feels good to be here and to be a part of this team is very special for me. It turned out the best for sure."
Regardless of his standing at spring's conclusion, Kiel's early enrollment will benefit him through the summer and into fall camp.
"I had (the experience of) an entire year coming into my first spring and it was still really difficult for me," said junior Andrew Hendrix. "I can't imagine what it's like. He handles it well. He's a big kid, he has a cannon; but right now he has to understand the jump between high school and college isn't easy, but he can definitely do it. It's about (consistent) development."
By then, there might even be red-faced coach in his ear, cajoling Kiel and the Irish to new heights.
January enrollee Gunner Kiel is one of three current Irish QBs to begin his collegiate career before his high school commencement ceremonies.