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Thursday, January 31, 2013
The One Who Got Away: Gunner Kiel

By Gary Laney

BATON ROUGE -- LSU is a big enough player in the recruiting game that it receives its share of big-name decommitments.

But you'll be hard pressed to find one who has affected a program's fan culture like Gunner Kiel.

You might know Kiel as a backup quarterback at Notre Dame, but, a little more than a year ago, he was one of the nation's top prep quarterbacks and he was committed to LSU.

Gunner Kiel
Gunner Kiel's decommitment added the term "the chest" to an LSU fan's everyday language.
But he got cold feet about leaving his family behind in Columbus, Ind., to play in the Deep South. Notre Dame always wanted him, so when it was time for Kiel to pack and head for LSU, he had a change of heart. Instead of going to Baton Rouge, he went to South Bend, enrolling early at Notre Dame.

The meltdown from LSU fans, long starved for a big-name quarterback such as Kiel, was epic, highlighted by coach Les Miles' speech in front of boosters where he questioned whether Kiel had "the chest [implying the heart]" to lead an LSU team.

To a degree, the meltdown was understandable.

In Baton Rouge, quarterback had become the position where LSU had the least luck attracting high-end talent. Ever since the dismissal of Ryan Perrilloux in 2008, LSU had struggled with landing the blue-chip quarterback. Tigers fans weren't happy with the Jordan Jefferson-Jarrett Lee tandem that was left behind to pick up the pieces at the position after Perrilloux's departure, and the position was briefly manned by walk-on Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch.

In 2010, LSU signed a highly regarded Texas prep quarterback named Zach Lee who was going to be not only the Tigers' quarterback of the future but also part of LSU's weekend pitching rotation. But the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted Lee in the first round of the MLB draft and, after a summer of negotiations that seemed to point toward Lee going to college, he signed a pro baseball contract shortly before the start of August camp.

So the decommitment of Kiel was yet another blow to LSU fans, who knew they had a team full of NFL talent in just about every area but quarterback.

That's why Kiel's flip hurt so much.

How much?

When LSU brought in two quarterbacks in the 2013 class to start the spring semester, nervous fans hoped that neither Anthony Jennings nor Hayden Rettig would be a "Gunner Kiel." Indeed, both enrolled at LSU for the spring semester, as planned, much to the fans' relief. And when any prospect balks at going to LSU, fans half-jokingly question whether he has "the chest" to play for the Tigers.

With the arrival of the two 2013 quarterbacks, both members of the ESPN 300, the impact of losing Kiel is probably minimal, at best.

But the impact to the lexicon of the LSU fan?

We'll probably be hearing LSU fans wonder whether a wavering commitment is the "next Gunner Kiel" for many years to come, and don't be surprised if, when talking to a Louisianian about character, he brings up the quality of a man's "chest."