The highly publicized recruitment of top quarterback Gunner Kiel has come to a shocking conclusion that few saw coming.
Instead of making his mark with a major established program, Kiel has decided to stay close to home and play at Indiana.
Yeah, you read that right, Indiana, a school that has had one winning season in the past 16 years.
"It came down to gut feel and where he felt most comfortable," Kip Kiel, Gunner's father, told the Indianapolis Star. "With Alabama there's obviously a lot of tradition. But coach Wilson has done a great job and there's a lot of excitement in Bloomington right now. I think Gunner felt that."
Kiel is easily the biggest recruit to pledge to the Hoosiers since Antwaan Randle El chose them over several other national offers. The difference is that Randle El ended up in Bloomington because no other school wanted him as a quarterback.
As a junior, Kiel passed for 2,645 yards and 36 touchdowns. He also rushed for 238 yards and seven scores. He's considered the nation's top quarterbacking prospect, according to Rivals.com.
Kiel, a native of Columbus, Ind., asked around before committing to first-year coach Kevin Wilson, including talking to St. Louis Rams starting quarterback Sam Bradford, a Heisman winner who worked with Wilson during his time at Oklahoma.
"There's no question," Kip Kiel told the paper. "That was a huge part of it. Not just Bradford, but several quarterbacks. He's done a tremendous job developing quarterbacks. That goes back to his time at Northwestern and even before that."
Kiel also will get to play with his brother Dusty, who is a sophomore quarterback for the Hooisers.
But being the hometown kid who picks the hometown school is not all it's cracked up to be. From the moment Kiel signs his letter of intent in February -- and even before -- he'll be hailed as the savior of the program. He'll have more pressure on him at Indiana than he may have had at places like Missouri or Oklahoma, two of the major schools recruiting him. And if he doesn't live up to that billing, he could endure a Mitch Mustain-like fate.
Mustain, a native of Springdale, Ark., ended up with at Arkansas mostly because his high school coach, Gus Malzahn, was named the offensive coordinator there. Mustain was 8-0 as a true freshman starter in 2006, but lost his starting job to Casey Dick late in the season and never got it back. After Malzahn left to be the offensive coordinator at Tulsa, Mustain asked for his release. He ended up at USC and was sparsely heard from for the next four seasons. He went undrafted and was recently cut after a brief stint with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
Obviously, Mustain's journey is a radical example, but also a cautionary tale. Unlike Mustain, Kiel enters a much tougher situation considering Indiana's recent struggles. Other than winning seven games in 2007, the Hoosies haven't won more than five in any year since 1994. Their facilities are among the worst in the Big Ten and their fan support is iffy at best. Fans are going to expect results immediately and it will be up to Wilson to keep Kiel levelheaded and make sure he has enough support around him to make a turnaround possible.
Who knows? Maybe Kiel will be the player that changes the Indiana program forever.