A couple days after Christmas, on the evening of December 27th, 5-star quarterback Gunner Kiel finally let it be known where he would commit for his young football career.
In the end, the LSU Tigers---a team presumably not even on Kiel's radar 4 or 5 months ago---ended up with a player who is considered the top quarterback in the country.
Below are some thoughts on the quarterback who many believed should have been a lock to play football at Notre Dame.
Losing Kiel Hurts
Let's be real here: There are really good odds that Kiel will be a top-notch college quarterback and likely one of the best signal callers in the nation within three years. It's not a guarantee, but history shows us it's fairly likely.
Whether you thought Kiel fit in the Notre Dame offense (he did) you don't ever want to miss out on a quarterback of his caliber. Yes, Hendrix and Golson look to have very bright futures, but Kiel could have really been a diamond for Kelly to haul in.
In this sense, it's a bummer that Kiel chose to leave the state of Indiana and the place where his uncle famously played football.
He's got the size, the arm, good mobility, terrific footwork, and great fundamentals. He's pretty close to the entire package---and missing out on that never feels good.
Many Irish fans were never that hyped about Kiel coming to South Bend. That probably didn't affect his decision all that much, but I've never seen the Notre Dame fan base be so unconcerned with such a highly-touted quarterback.
That's why there are quite a few people out there barely batting an eye at the news of Kiel going to LSU.
Personally, I found Kiel's recruitment fascinating---mainly because of the aforementioned aspect of so many Notre Dame fans being so "meh" about him.
Some reasons included: Kiel not being a perfect fit for Kelly's system, Notre Dame struggling with two 5-star quarterbacks in recent history, Kiel playing in the not-so-talented state of Indiana, the current depth chart, Kiel seemingly never being that high on Notre Dame from day one, etc.
Some of those are vaild points, but it was pretty wild to see so many Irish fans uninterested when the program is currently slated to have only three quarterbacks for spring ball.
At the same time, there were many pro-Kiel supporters who viewed him as the next great quarterback at Notre Dame---which seemed natural enough for a kid from Indiana whose family member was one of the better signal callers in school history.
Then Again, Was Kiel a Good Idea?
I will admit I was very pro-Gunner Kiel since I started looking over the class of 2012. Back in the summer it was a Mauk vs. Kiel debate and to me there shouldn't have been much of a debate---it was Kiel all day and every day.
Then the staff cooled on Mauk (he committed to Missouri a couple months later) and Kiel sort of shocked the world by originally committing to the Hoosiers.
It looked like Notre Dame was going to skip on taking a quarterback for this class with (what we thought would be) 4 quarterbacks coming back in 2012.
Then this season started and Dayne Crist, our own 5-star bust, couldn't see the field, transferred to Kansas, and now the depth is much weaker behind Rees & Co.
I once argued it was fine for Notre Dame to pass on a QB this cycle, but I think the Irish need one now.
But would Kiel have been a good idea even still?
For whatever reasons, the coaching staff has had a hell of a time managing the current rostered quarterbacks (not assigning any blame right now---it is what it is) and I'm not so sure throwing a young 5-star kid who was born to play quarterback into the mix was the best idea right now for Notre Dame.
As someone who wanted Kiel in the mix, I also was afraid he might be bringing even more quarterback controversy to South Bend.
It sounds nice to say that you need to bring in the best players possible, and that's true to an extent, but there's been enough controversy on this roster without a 5-star prodigy bringing up the rear.
Any Baggage with Kiel?
This is entirely conjecture on my part, but as much as I loved Kiel as a prospect, something never sat right with the way he handled his recruitment.
There's certainly zero evidence of any character flaws with Kiel and the vast majority of fans have admitted that he's handled his business with a lot of class.
Still, I get a little worried when a recruit of this magnitude is as quiet about things as Kiel was, and additionally, made some of the puzzling decisions that he made.
First it was an Oklahoma/Alabama/Arkansas/Indiana/Notre Dame battle and he commits to Indiana.
Okay a little shocking, but he had his legit reasons.
Then he leaves Indiana, re-opens things, cuts it down to Notre Dame, LSU, and...uhh, Vanderbilt---ultimately choosing the Tigers.
Early on it was rumored he wanted to play early and stay close to home, and choosing Indiana seemed to suggest he wasn't overly concerned with winning. By heading to LSU, almost the exact opposite seems true.
In this era of Twitter/Facebook and daily updates with most kids craving the attention and spotlight, it's just weird to see someone like Kiel be so underground about everything.
Add in the fact that he flirted with Notre Dame on two occasions and ended up elsewhere and it's pretty obvious that Kiel wasn't very serious about wearing the blue and gold. That's fine of course and it doesn't necessarily mean Kiel has any baggage, but I would have put high odds on him transferring if he ended up in South Bend.
Better Off with Fuller
Easing the pain of losing Kiel is the fact that New Jersey quarterback/athlete Devin Fuller is back on Notre Dame's radar and the coaching staff being in a decent position with him as he looks to set up an official visit soon.
Fuller is a tremendous athlete who has drawn comparisons to Pat White and even our own Everett Golson. His offer sheet is among the best in the country with Arizona, Nebraska, Rutgers, TCU, UCLA, Alabama, Arizona State, Boston College, Florida State, Iowa, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, and Wisconsin among many vying for his talents.
Notre Dame originally offered Fuller hoping to get him to play in the Irish defensive backfield, but it now appears they are willing to give him a shot at quarterback---the position he prefers to play in college.
In fact, landing Fuller might be the best option for Notre Dame.
At Notre Dame you're going to need all the help you can get, so a highly mobile quarterback is always going to be preferable. Unless a prep star is a super polished thrower (as Kiel is) you can expect Kelly to lean heavily towards recruiting very mobile signal callers.
Fuller is the kind of dynamic runner (3,632 yards, 11.6 average, 49 TD as an upperclassman) who could easily open up the Irish offense. While scouts say he needs work on his passing game, Fuller has the advantage of being a quarterback since his freshman season and finished his last two years at Old Tappan High School with a very respectable 4,091 yards on 65% accuracy with 40 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Add it up and you have a smart and athletic prospect who could be an excellent fit for Notre Dame's offense.
The best part is that the coaching staff and Fuller may be much more patient in refining his skills, getting used to the system, and waiting in the wings behind Goldrix than Gunner Kiel likely ever would have been.
So while missing out on Kiel was a hit to Notre Dame recruiting, bringing in Devin Fuller to the fold could be the better long-term plan for the Fighting Irish.