NOTRE DAME — Gunner Kiel got a rough introduction to “live” college football on Wednesday.
Notre Dame linebacker Connor Little ripped through the offensive line and slammed into the freshman quarterback during the team’s first practice in full pads.
Kiel took the good-natured ribbing he received from reporters afterward in stride.
“Probably should have checked to a different line protection,” Kiel said with a grin. “To be honest, it feels good. I haven’t been hit for a while. You just get right back up and move on to the next play.”
Kiel, who came in as a five-star recruit out of Columbus East High School, has fallen by the wayside slightly since teammates Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix became the clear front-runners for the starting spot against Navy on Sept. 1.
And that’s just fine with Kiel.
“If Andrew and Everett are going to get more reps than I am, then that’s fine,” he said Wednesday. “I’m going to be the best player I can be for the team and do whatever I can to make the team better.”
There was no hint of sarcasm or bitterness in his tone. Despite his high school accolades and his high-profile recruiting drama, Kiel comes off as humble, friendly and soft-spoken.
“I have to understand that I’m the rookie and that everything that’s going to happen not-so-fast, it’s going to happen gradually,” he said. “So I just have to wait and be patient and when the time comes, I’m going to get it.”
Fans got a glimpse of Kiel in the spring Blue/Gold scrimmage. Hendrix, Golson and Tommy Rees rotated at quarterback during the entire first half, but Kiel came in to play the entire second half on a running clock.
Kiel finished 5-10 for 57 yards and one interception that day, and put together 15 yards on the ground on three carries. Nothing spectacular, but he did toss a nice 25-yarder to George Atkinson III in the process.
He understands that he likely won’t be Notre Dame’s starting signal caller this year, but he knows his time will come in the quarterback rotation. Until then, he’s dedicated himself to learning the Irish playbook.
“You just got be to be smart,” he said of learning the playbook. “It’s going to take a while to learn, but if you take the time and effort to get into it and look at it and asking coaches questions, you’re going to get it.”
Even though Kiel has been enrolled at the university since January, he still calls his opportunity to play for the Irish a “blessing” and “a dream come true.”
He praises his older, more veteran teammates for their undending accessibility and willingness to answer his endless questions.
“They’re interacting with the younger guys and really willing to help,” he said. “They’re more encouraging than bringing me down.”
With hits like the one he took on Wednesday, Kiel knows he’s a far step from summer camp at Columbus East.
“The speed (of the game) has definitely increased a ton,” he said. “(Players) are bigger, stronger. You just have to be on top of your game and be more aware of stuff, and with time that’s going to come — knowing the plays and knowing live protection — it’s going to slow down and everything going to be alright.”