PREP FOOTBALL: Mister Football, ND bound

FRAN RUCHALSKI | PHAROS-TRIBUNEJake Kiser of Pioneer High School became the first Class 1A football player to be named Indiana's Mr. Football. Kiser will be playing football next season at Notre Dame.

ROYAL CENTER — Jack Kiser accomplished just about all he possibly could on the football field this past season and during his career for the Pioneer Panthers.

His overall talent and skill level have awarded him a full-ride scholarship to play at Notre Dame, one of the greatest college football programs in the nation located just up the road less than an hour and a half away from Royal Center.

On Wednesday, Kiser was awarded the ultimate award a high school football senior in Indiana can achieve, as he was named the 2018 IndyStar Mr. Football — becoming the first Class A player ever to win the honor in the 26-year history of the award.

"I actually found out [Tuesday]," Kiser said in an interview at Pioneer High School. "They came and presented the jersey and took pictures and did an interview. But it was hush, hush until today when it was announced. But a lot of support today when it was announced, classmates and teachers, it was a fun atmosphere to be around here."

Kiser was named on 30 of the 60 ballots from the Indiana Football Coaches Association ratings board. Warren Central receiver David Bell was the runner-up with 17 votes.

Pioneer coach Adam Berry said he was one who cast his vote for Kiser.

"I was at the all-state meeting, I was on the rating board, so just kind of feeling what was going on there I thought he definitely had a very good shot with the number of votes he got just for the quarterback position," Berry said. "I thought it would come down between Bell and Jack and I thought he would have to get some of those 5A and 6A votes and he did. What a great honor for him, what a great honor for his school and community, and really his teammates too. Very deserving. I've said if there's ever going to be a small-school, 1A school winner, it was going to be Jack.

"Throughout the course of his career, the number of games he's played in, to play at a high level in every game in all three phases — defense, offense, special teams — I think he's definitely opened up some eyes around the state that you can stay at a small school and still be successful."

Although there have been many individual state champions in multiple sports — Kiser's sister Madison was a two-time state champion in the 800-meter run in track — Kiser is just the second athlete from Cass County to earn an IndyStar ultimate honor, joining 2014 Miss Basketball Whitney Jennings from Logansport.

Kiser's accomplishments on the field are unquestionable. He is 56-2 in his all-time Pioneer career, including 30-0 over his last two seasons as he led the Panthers to back-to-back state championships.

He'll graduate as the state's second all-time leading scorer and fourth all-time leading rusher, and that's only half the story, as there were many second halves in which he didn't carry the ball and several entire games when he seldom carried the ball due to lopsided scores. He's also an accomplished passer and he's been recruited to play defense at Notre Dame.

But many in the Indianapolis area are questioning the level of competition he faced at Pioneer.

Kiser defended himself and his high school program.

"I think not too many people know what goes into Class A football. It takes a special person, a special competitor to go out there every week and play all three phases and then practice. You're doing everything. You can only go half line maybe. You've got to be careful not getting hurt. So a lot of aspects go into just being able to get through a full season, let alone 30 straight games. Class A football is special and you've got to be there and be part of it to realize that."

Kiser understands why so many are passionate in Bell's defense.

"The same thing would happen if he won," Kiser said. "There would be people around here saying that, 'oh, that's not fair, the Indy guy won it,' right. So when only one person wins there's always going to be some people that don't get their way, that's how it is. But he put up a career that is tremendous and remarkable and he just as easily could have won Mr. Football."

Kiser and Bell were teammates on Indy Select, a 7-on-7 team and football academy.

"We played with each other on Indy Select and it was neat because you get to compete against a guy like David every day in practices and then also go to tournaments and see him just dominate," Kiser said. "He's a special player with special talent. He's going to do big things in the future. Who knows where he's going to sign, but I'm looking forward to finding that out and seeing him play in the future."

Kiser's father, Aaron, did tell the Indianapolis Star in October that Bell was the best player in the state.

"If you go based off talent-wise, yeah, he's a special talent. And we know that," Kiser said. "And I think everyone in the state knows that. But it comes down to the coaches' vote and I guess you could look at it what a guy means to a team and what he's done in his career and I think that's how they voted.

"You can turn on his film and see that — he's fast, he can jump high, he can run you over, he can do whatever. He's a 5-star recruit playing in the U.S. All-American Bowl. This guy's legit. So he's a heck of a player."

The critics in Indianapolis would probably be wise not to discount Kiser's ability on the football field. Standing in at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds as an 18-year-old with track speed and power, Kiser held several offers from Big Ten schools before choosing Notre Dame.

"I think the last linebacker to go to Notre Dame from Indiana and win Mr. Football was Jaylon Smith and he's playing on Sundays. So I've got a lot to live up to," Kiser said. "But if I turn out anywhere close to what he was, that'd be pretty special."

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Clark Lea stopped by Pioneer on Monday to show their support to Kiser ahead of the Fighting Irish's big game on Dec. 29 against Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl.

"They flew down in a helicopter Monday. So that was pretty neat," Kiser said. "Coach Kelly and coach Lea, I got to sit down and talk to them. There were a bunch of people who got to take pictures with them and be a part of it. So it was neat to have them come to school and see where I come from and see what Royal Center is like and what Pioneer is all about."

Kiser added he is graduating from Pioneer this semester.

"I am graduating early. I'll be enrolled this January at Notre Dame, starting classes and starting workouts. I got the rest of this week and the rest of next week and then I'm out of here," he said. "I think the biggest reason is all about academics. To get school started and have that extra time is going to be huge, because you never know, you can graduate early and start working on your masters. And a masters from Notre Dame is unbelievable. Athletics is another key aspect of it -- get in there and start working with the team, build that relationship with the coaches. We'll see how that goes. I think I just want to get started on that next chapter in life."

On top of his athletic exploits, Kiser is also set to be Pioneer's valedictorian and was also recently named the 2019 Lilly Endowment Community Scholar from Cass County.

He said he is unsure if he will utilize his Lilly Scholarship or Notre Dame athletic scholarship.

"I have until March 1st to decide on the Lilly Scholarship," he said. "So if I take the Lilly Scholarship, Notre Dame will just pay everything left over. But then again, if I just go with the Notre Dame scholarship, the Lilly Scholarship will go to the runner-up. The only reason I would keep the Lilly Scholarship is in case I got hurt or decided to step out of football ... to have that plan B, because you never want to do something without having a backup plan. So we'll see how it goes."

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