For the nation’s best college football quarterbacks, there’s no such thing as an extended summer vacation.
Bearcats junior Gunner Kiel will spend his summer months improving his strength and conditioning, organizing seven-on-seven passing drills for his offensive and defensive teammates (which coaches are not permitted to attend), and studying video. For the second straight year, Gunner will also be one of the counselors at the Manning Passing Academy in early July.
“I sat down with (strength) Coach Walker, (offensive coordinator) Coach Gran, and (quarterbacks) Coach Hinshaw and made a list of what I need to do to accomplish my goals,” Kiel told me. “One of them is to put in the extra work. I plan to do more footwork drills and watch a ton of tape. I talked to (cornerback) Adrian Witty about getting together with him to watch tape and get the defense’s point-of-view for how he sees things. That should help me become a better quarterback.”
Kiel had an exceptional first year at Cincinnati, passing for 3,254 yards and tying Ben Mauk’s school record for touchdown passes in a season with 31. His teammates showed their high regard for Gunner by electing him to be one of four captains for the upcoming season.
“He’s head and shoulders above where he was last year, simply because he knows he has to be the leader now,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “He had Munchie Legaux out here last year as a senior and tried to follow him. Now he’s the leader and he’s trying to take the bull by the horns. I think the players are reacting to him and I think that has to be the case with your quarterback.”
“He’s a great leader, but he was just young,” said Legaux. “Now that he has a whole year under his belt, I’m sure he is going to do a great job as far as leading on-and-off the field. You don’t have to worry about any issues. He’s a great kid and we all know that he’s a great quarterback.”
“It’s honestly been a dream of mine to be a captain for a Division I football team,” said Kiel. “That’s huge. Especially at a football program like Cincinnati – it’s amazing. I’m blessed to have this opportunity and I’m going to do my best to give back to the program and the community.”
Last year, the Bearcats averaged 34 points and finished second in the American Athletic Conference in total offense at 460.2 yards per game. The offensive should be as prolific if not more in 2015. Not only is Kiel back at quarterback, but three of the Bearcats top four running backs (Mike Boone, Hosey Williams, Tion Green), and their top seven receivers (Shaq Washington, Max Morrison, Mekale McKay, Chris Moore, Johnny Holton, Alex Chisum, Nate Cole) all return.
“Our running backs are awesome,” said Kiel. “We’ve got a three-headed dog back there and it’s a beast. All three of them are different in their own way and we’re going to use that to our advantage.
“The connection that I have with the wide receivers is amazing. Compared to last year when I was still getting a feel for them – now they’ve all gathered around me and we’re focused on our goals and plan to come out firing.”
“We’re going to go faster (on offense) than we’ve ever gone,” said Tuberville. “We have experienced players and when you have experienced guys on offense you can do a lot of different things to give other people problems.”
“It’s unbelievable how many great players that we have and I’m very lucky to be the quarterback for Cincinnati,” said Kiel.
But as legendary golfer Gary Player once said, “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.”
“There are no days off really,” Kiel told me. “I’m willing to do anything for my guys and they definitely come first for me.
“I’m going to stay up here this summer and be with my teammates. Whenever you’re with your teammates and they see you working, you’re going to earn more respect. As a captain and a leader, you have to be here and you have to put in the extra time.”
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