It was 32 degrees with a wind chill in the 20’s when a visibly-slimmer Gunner Kiel ran the 40-yard dash for NFL scouts on Wednesday.
Was the former UC quarterback showing off his cold weather toughness or his six-pack abs?
“A little bit of both,” Gunner told me with a laugh.
Kiel was one of 20 former Bearcats who took part in UC’s Pro Timing Day at the Sheakley Athletics Center. Since the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis was held one week later than in previous years, Cincinnati’s Pro Day was pushed back and took place after the practice bubble had been taken down.
Gunner admits that he was initially concerned when he learned that the workout would take place outdoors.
“I felt a lot better when I talked to my quarterback coach and he said, ‘That’s awesome.’” said Kiel. “He said, ‘If it rains, if it snows, if it’s windy, if there’s a blizzard, you can showcase that you can throw in any type of weather.’ I’ve always prided myself that I feel I can throw the ball pretty well in the rain, or when it snows, or in the cold. I’ve played in those conditions all of my life.”
But a cold weather workout is not the biggest challenge that Kiel faces as he tries to earn an opportunity from an NFL team.
After bursting on the scene by throwing an FBS-record six touchdown passes in his first start, Kiel’s college career was a roller-coaster ride that rivaled anything at King’s Island. The highs included tying the single-season school record with 31 touchdown passes as a sophomore and going 15-for-15 with 5 TD passes as a junior vs. UCF. The lows included missing the 2015 Hawaii Bowl for personal reasons and spending much of his senior year backing up Hayden Moore and Ross Trail.
Gunner knows that NFL teams have questions.
“It goes back to the bowl game situation, the recruiting process a long time ago, and stuff like that,” he said. “I have a very interesting story. I’ve overcome a lot of adversity, and I’ve been through a lot of stuff that most 23 year olds probably haven’t been through. I think I’ve built a lot of character and when I tell these scouts what happened, it just shows the character that I have and the respect I gained from my teammates, my coaching staff, and all of the people from Cincinnati.”
Gunner showed enough potential at Cincinnati to be one of six quarterbacks invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game in January. Kiel completed 4 of 7 passes for 57 yards and directed the only touchdown drive by either team in the West’s 10-3 win.
“It was very unexpected to be honest,” said Kiel. “I had an invite to the (less prestigious) College Gridiron Game, and I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to play in the East-West Shrine Game. I tried to do whatever I could to talk to scouts and get my name out there. I didn’t play much in the 2016 season, so to play in an All-Star game was huge for me. It was a tremendous honor and I gained a lot from that game.”
In preparation for workouts with NFL teams, Kiel has been trying to improve his mechanics with quarterbacks coach Travis Brown who conducted the passing drills on Wednesday.
“Mainly my feet,” said Kiel. “Always being in the shotgun, I never took a 3-step or 5-step drop. When I went to the Shrine game it was still a little bit shaky. My first step wasn’t very explosive and I wasn’t getting much depth, but getting with Travis helped a ton. He worked on my 3-step and 5-step drop and I think it looks pretty good now. I know that I still have a lot to work on, but it was a good day today.”
You didn’t have to be an NFL scout to see that Kiel has been working on his physique. That was obvious as soon as his shirt came off.
“Right after the season I weighed about 232.pounds,” Gunner said. “I still felt good, but I took this very seriously. Playing in the NFL is a big dream of mine so I did whatever I could. I bought into the diets and I bought into the workouts. I dropped 20 pounds and I weigh 211 now with eight percent body fat. So I feel really good.
“I’m hoping to get some private workouts to keep showcasing my ability and hope for the best.”
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