Pioneer’s Jack Kiser wins the 2018 IndyStar Mr. Football.
Clark Wade, Clark.Wade@Indystar.com
ROYAL CENTER, Ind. – In 26 seasons, IndyStar Mr. Football had never been awarded to a player from a Class A program. But there has never been a Class A player quite like Jack Kiser.
Kiser, a Notre Dame recruit who led Pioneer to back-to-back state championships as a junior and senior, is the 2018 IndyStar Mr. Football. Kiser was named on 30 of the 60 ballots from the Indiana Football Coaches Association ratings board. Warren Central receiver David Bell, the Indiana Gatorade Football Player of the Year, was the runner-up with 17 votes.
“If there was going to be a (Class A) player to win it, it was going to be him,” Pioneer coach Adam Berry said. “Playing every game in his career and doing what he has done in all three phases, he’s very deserving. We always thought he had a good chance at winning this, but having it finally happen is great for him and great for the community.”
The 6-2, 215-pound Kiser led one of the most dominant small-school programs in state history as a senior to a 15-0 record and state championship. The Panthers outscored their opponents 936-39, including a 60-0 win over North Vermillion in the state finals. Pioneer shut out 11 of its 15 opponents.
Pioneer won its second-straight Class A state title, this time with a 60-0 dominating performance over North Vermillion.
Mike Williams, Special for IndyStar
Kiser was at the heart of that team success. As a defensive force at linebacker, he made 159 tackles, seven interceptions, caused six fumbles and recovered five fumbles. In a regional win over Triton, Kiser showed all elements of his strength, speed and playmaking when he ripped the ball from a ballcarrier and took it in stride the other way for a 60-yard touchdown.
As a quarterback on offense, Kiser passed for 1,183 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior and rushed for 2,109 yards and 44 TDs. For his high school career, Kiser passed for 3,771 yards and 59 touchdowns and rushed for 7,364 yards and 139 TDs. He also intercepted 20 passes.
“To become the first (Class A) player to win an award like this is really mind-boggling,” Kiser said. “There are a bunch of good (Class A) players who don’t get the recognition. To be that first one and give other kids from small schools some hope, that’s something I’m very proud of and glad to be a part of.”
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Evansville Memorial quarterback Michael Lindauer was third in the voting with five votes and NorthWood all-purpose standout Bronson Yoder was fourth with four votes.
In Royal Center, a community of 850 in Cass County, Kiser’s impact goes beyond the gaudy statistical numbers and even the state championships. When he makes visits to the elementary school — a regular occurrence — kids peek out of the classrooms when they know he is coming. “Jack Kiser!” they yell. Kiser, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average, was named a 2019 Lilly Endowment Community Scholar last week.
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“Our elementary kids don’t look at star (professional athletes), they look at the high school athletes,” Berry said. “There is no better role model than Jack for them to look up to. Hopefully they watch what he has done with academics and athletics and want to strive to get close to that.”
Kiser, who will enroll at Notre Dame in January, is the youngest of four children of Aaron and Deborah Kiser, who live on a farm right outside Royal Center. Winning Mr. Football was never part of any plan, or even a goal for Kiser, who is a believer in taking on one task at a time. But when Pioneer won a state championship his junior season (Pioneer’s first since 1997) and Kiser committed to Notre Dame a few months later, he put his name into the conversation.
“After winning the state championship we felt he had a good chance if he had a solid senior year and won another state championship,” Berry said. “Being recruited to Notre Dame probably opened some eyes that just because he’s Class A, he’s still a good football player. Notre Dame doesn’t recruit just anybody.”
Kiser said the possibility of winning Mr. Football only became a real thought when the season was over and he was named one of the four finalists for the award, which is limited to seniors.
“There is some bias around here (at Pioneer), but everybody has been pulling for me,” Kiser said. “It’s been great to see the support. At the same time, (the other finalists) were phenomenal, too. I never knew how the coaches were going to vote. To be awarded with Mr. Football is pretty special.”
Kiser was never about the awards and recognition, which may in part explain why he was able to make history as the first Mr. Football from a Class A school. But as his final days at Pioneer wind down, Kiser appreciates the journey.
“The memories you make on the field, on the bus, at practice, all those little memories day in and day out,” he said. “That is what I’ll remember the most.”
How Mr. Football is selected
Sixty high school coaches vote for Mr. Football and the Mr. Football position award winners at the annual Indiana Football Coaches Association all-state meeting. There is one vote for each sectional and two at-large votes in each class. That comes out to 60 total votes — 10 for each class. Here is a breakdown of how each class voted between Kiser and Bell:
Class A – Kiser 10, Bell 0
Class 2A – Kiser 9, Bell 1
Class 3A – Bell 4, Kiser 1
Class 4A – Kiser 3, Bell 3
Class 5A – Kiser 3, Bell 3
Class 6A – Bell 6, Kiser 4
Kiser cleaned up in the voting at the Class A and 2A levels. Bell did not similarly dominate the voting in the larger classes enough to make up for it. Historically, it does not happen that way. There had never been a Class A Mr. Football before Kiser. Jaylon Smith of Fort Wayne Luers, a 2A school, won Mr. Football in 2012. Otherwise, it has been 4A, 5A and 6A players to win Mr. Football since the turn of the decade.
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.