Playing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is a tremendous honor and it is one that five-star quarterback Gunner Kiel is very excited about. The Columbus (Ind.) East standout officially received his Army Bowl invitation and game jersey Tuesday at a ceremony in the East High School gymnasium in front of family and friends.
"I couldn't be any more blessed to be in such a special game," Kiel said. "It's special and it's going to be a great day. I'm looking forward to getting down there and meeting new people and meeting my teammates and getting to know them. It's going to be a fun week and I can't wait."
The talented prospect said he knew all along the Army Bowl was the game he wanted to play in if he was fortunate enough to get invited.
"Oh yeah, oh yeah," he said when asked if this is the biggest high school all-star game. "It's definitely the one that has been going on the longest and it definitely means the most. With the Army being incorporated into it means a lot. They support us in so many ways and just giving back by playing in the game means a lot. When I got invited it was special, and I talked to my parents about it and thought this was the one I want to be in."
Kiel didn't hesitate when asked what player he is most looking forward to playing with on Jan. 7 in the Alamodome in San Antonio.
"Probably Dorial Green-Beckham to be honest with you," he said. "I saw him in a game on ESPN and he was just doing unreal things. I can't wait to thrown him up the ball. Hopefully we're on the same team."
The strong-armed quarterback said he first found out he would have the opportunity to compete in the game when his coach gave him the news.
"(East) coach (Bob) Gaddis called me into his office and he gave me the big brochure with all the invites and it was just a dream because I have seen it so many times on TV," Kiel said. "It is just unreal getting something like that in the mail."
The Columbus East coach said he has watched Kiel grow up and he is proud of the way he has conducted himself with all the attention and accolades he has received along the way.
"I've known Gunner for a long time and I have seen him grow up from a little guy in our huddles and hanging around his older brothers," Coach Gaddis said. "The thing I will tell you about him is that even with all the stuff that Gunner has gone through in his career, and the honors that he has received, he has done that with a lot of humility. And he is one of us. I don't think he is ever going to forget where he came from. When he goes out to that game he is going to go out there among the best of the best in a first class event. When he goes there he is going to represent his family, he's going to represent our school, he's going to represent Columbus, and he'll represent Indiana with first class because he is a first class young man."
Kiel comes from a family that lives and breathes the game of football, and that is something that has helped get him to where he is today. It starts with his father Kip who played in college at Butler, and it continues with his two older brothers - Drew and Dusty. Drew is the oldest and he played collegiately at Illinois State, while Dusty Kiel is currently a sophomore at Indiana. Gunner's mother said all three have had a huge impact on his development on and off the field.
"He has had two great examples from his two brothers, and of course his dad," Aleta Kiel said. "Kip has been a great example for all three boys. It's quite an honor for him to go and play in the Army Bowl and we're excited."
Kip Kiel said Drew and Dusty deserve a great deal of credit because of the time they spent with Gunner when he was a youngster.
"I think they laid the groundwork for his work ethic to get where he is today," Kip Kiel said about how much his two oldest sons have helped Gunner get to where he is. "When our kids went to camps, and when they went out and threw, they dragged him along with them. He's been smart enough to kind of learn and follow what they do. He has put in the extra time to get better."
Drew Kiel said that it was a few years ago when he first realized his youngest brother had what it takes to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
"There was a playoff game his sophomore year where he rolled out to his right and made a pretty difficult throw on the run for a touchdown," Drew Kiel said. "That's when I thought he could be the real deal. He has just put it all together over the last two years."
The former Illinois State standout said he and Dusty tried to teach Gunner as much as they could about what it means to be a good quarterback.
"I think me and Dusty have taught him a lot over time, and it's not even about the football X's and O's, it's about being a quarterback and being a leader and the intangibles that go with being a quarterback," Drew said. "I think that is what has really made him the player he is today."
Kip Kiel said playing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is the ultimate honor because of its affiliation with the Army and what they mean to this country.
"With it being tied in with the Army it's just a special event for Gunner," he said. "The Army has done so much for this country, and to go to an event that is sponsored by the Army is pretty special."
The Indiana commit said that even though the opportunity to play in the Army Bowl is an individual one, he knows that it would not have been possible without his teammates at Columbus East.
"I definitely wouldn't be here without my teammates," Kiel said. "They mean the world to me and I wouldn't be here without them."