When the Bearcats take the field on September 12th vs. Toledo, it will have been 2 years, 9 months, and 25 days since quarterback Gunner Kiel played in a football game that counts – the final game of his decorated high school career at Columbus East HS in Indiana.
“It feels like a decade,” said Kiel. “It’s awful – it’s a terrible, terrible feeling not to be able to play for three years. I’m really excited to get back under center and be able to throw the ball, run the ball, and do whatever it takes to win a football game again.”
When UC opened training camp on Monday, Kiel took the first team reps at quarterback and the 21-year-old sophomore is considered the frontrunner to be Cincinnati’s starter – although Jarred Evans and Munchie Legaux will be given the opportunity to win the job over the next few weeks.
“We’re going to have some competition,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “It’s not a given on who is going to be our quarterback.”
“I know that Coach Tuberville is going to name a starter whenever he is ready to, so it’s up to me to compete, work my tail off, do the right things, and be a good teammate,” Gunner told me.
Kiel says that his confidence skyrocketed after the spring game when he completed 17-of-22 passes for 300 yards despite sitting out the second half. He got another confidence boost in June when he was among 40 college quarterbacks invited to be a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy along with the likes of Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, and UCLA’s Brett Hundley.
“To be invited to the Manning Camp is such an honor and a true blessing.” said Kiel. “To be with the best quarterbacks in the country and a hero of mine (Peyton Manning) was unbelievable. It’s definitely something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
I asked Gunner if he learned anything in particular from the Broncos’ 13-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
“Footwork,” he answered. “For a quarterback, it all begins with your feet – the way you deliver the ball, the accuracy, how fast you can get the ball out. I think that’s something that I definitely have to work on. My footwork is a little slow, but I know that. (Quarterbacks) Coach Hinshaw and I are going to work on that and it’s something that Peyton definitely preaches.”
“The thing about Gunner is that he’s got to set his feet some, and he’s got to get his body in position,” said Coach Tuberville. “Playing quarterback in this type of offense is as much about footwork as it is about the arm. But he’s starting to make more good decisions, he’s more consistent with his decisions on who to throw the ball to, and I think the receivers that we have are really going to help him because he’s going to have a lot of targets.”
One of the biggest things that stood out on the first day of camp was how deep the Bearcats are at wide receiver. In addition to having four productive receivers back from last year’s team in Shaq Washington (team-leading 78 receptions), Chris Moore (45 rec, 9 TD), Max Morrison (29 catches, 3 TD), and Mekale McKay (16 rec, 7 TD), UC adds two receivers with NFL size and speed in Johnny Holton and Casey Gladney, gets Alex Chisum back from an ankle injury, and will use Ralph David Abernathy IV more frequently as a slot receiver.
“It’s amazing – we have eight guys that can fill a spot,” said Kiel. “They’re fast, they run crisp routes, they go out and get the ball, and you can throw it anywhere.”
“We’re going to have some weapons,” said Tuberville. “Now we just have to be able to get it to ‘em.”
After redshirting for a year at Notre Dame and sitting out last season after transferring to Cincinnati, Kiel hopes that his long wait is almost over.
“I haven’t played a game, so I have to come out and prove myself,” he said.
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