Notre Dame’s Jack Kiser took a different path than his Purdue-loving family
Jack Kiser bucked the family trend by choosing Notre Dame.
That’s putting it mildly.
Kiser, a junior starter at Notre Dame’s rover position, did not just pick a different school than a parent or sibling attended as a regular student or rooted for growing up. His choice to play for the Irish and not Purdue makes him an outlier among his immediate family. Among his extended family. And in his hometown.
“If you dig into my family history,” Kiser said, “I have a lot of gold-and-black blood through the pipeline.”
It starts with his father, Aaron, a former Purdue discus thrower and shot-putter who earned several Big Ten medals. Aaron’s three brothers and one sister are Purdue alums. Jack’s uncle and Aaron’s older brother, Brian, was Purdue’s 1990 Athlete of the Year and a former Big Ten champion discus thrower. Jack’s older brother Sam graduated from Purdue in 2020.
Needless to say, Notre Dame’s Sept. 18 home game against the Boilermakers is a much-anticipated affair in the Kiser family and for Kiser’s hometown of Royal Center, Ind. It’s the intrepid disruptor’s team versus the family and local favorite.
“Jack will be able to focus and not play into that,” Aaron said. “But there will be a little emotion.”
Certainly, on Aaron’s end. He’s no ordinary alum. He’s a former student-athlete who gave countless hours to Purdue’s athletics department and remains an ardent supporter.
“I would put it this way,” Aaron said. “For myself, when Peyton Manning left the Colts and went to Denver, and the Colts played Denver that year, it was kind of odd because you’re really rooting for Peyton Manning, but you’re rooting for the Colts also. When that game comes up, it’ll be that Peyton Manning factor times two. It’ll be fun.”
Kiser has cousins who are currently Purdue students. His girlfriend is one, too. Friends and former high school football teammates are Boilermakers. Royal Center, a town of about 850 with one blinking yellow stoplight, is a 55-minute drive from Purdue’s campus. Purdue is a popular choice for high schoolers from the area. The town is full of Purdue fans.
Jack was one himself growing up.
“It was no secret,” Aaron said. “My boys were around Purdue a lot. We would go down there for games and camps.”
And when Kiser became a Division I-level recruit, Purdue was one of the first programs to offer him. The Boilermakers hosted him for a camp during the summer before his junior year and extended a scholarship soon after. It would have been an easy and comfortable choice to commit on the spot.
Kiser, though, wanted to let the process play out.
When he stepped on Notre Dame’s campus to visit for the 2017 home opener, the Irish became a top choice — even though they hadn’t offered yet and wouldn’t until the following May. He liked the atmosphere. As a business analytics major, the Mendoza School’s offerings intrigued him. He liked the football team’s stability under Brian Kelly. And he wanted the challenge of competing for playing time at a major program.
Kiser made double-digit recruiting visits to Purdue and Notre Dame. He had strong relationships with Iowa and Duke, which he also considered. But his recruitment was not a months-long battle with constant wrestling between childhood favorite and the biggest stage. Notre Dame was his long-held preference. He committed a month after earning the offer.
“There were a lot of things that went into it,” Kiser said. “Purdue’s a very good academic school as well. When I came on a visit to Notre Dame, you walk on campus and it’s different. There’s no way I could’ve turned down Notre Dame.
“I never came up with a No. 2. I just knew who No. 1 was, and that was good enough for me.”
That’s not to say Purdue didn’t appeal to him. The road to playing time would be plausibly shorter. He could spend a year with Sam, who is three years older. There would be plenty of familiar faces — some of whom he will face Sept. 18.
Kiser played seven-on-seven with David Bell, Purdue’s All-Big Ten wide receiver, for an Indianapolis-based program. They sometimes played safety next to each other. Now, the former might find himself tackling the latter.
Kiser became friends with Boilermakers’ All-American defensive end George Karlaftis, a West Lafayette, Ind., native, through their high school track and field careers. Twice per week, Purdue opened its fieldhouse to high school track and field athletes. Jack would drive there to practice the shot put and frequently bumped into Karlaftis, a fellow shot-putter.
“George and David were wanting Jack to join them,” Aaron said. “You know how recruits get close.”
It was hard to say no. But when he did, there were zero hard feelings. No matter which school he picked, Kiser would be a Royal Center icon whose football talents captivated the town and remain a role model. He led Pioneer High School to consecutive Indiana Class A state championships and was the The Indianapolis Star Mr. Football winner as a senior. He was the first Pioneer player to accept a football scholarship to a Power Five school.
The turnout from family and friends when the Irish and Boilermakers meet will be strong. They are coming to watch their favorite team face their local hero (and for some, their relative). Aaron bought 35 tickets to resell to friends and family. He has heard from others who found tickets themselves. All told, he estimates the Kiser-affiliated crowd at the game will be 85 to 100 people.
Most will be donning gold and black, rooting for Kiser to play well, but Purdue to win. But not Aaron, who will wear Notre Dame gear as he normally does at Jack’s games. Blood is thicker than water, after all.
“I never felt like he should automatically go to Purdue,” Aaron said. “It needed to be his decision. It needed to be the right fit for him. We’re really happy with where he decided to go.”
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