Kiael Kelly’s Ball State commitment continues Group of Five local pipeline

Kiael Kelly had offers from Illinois, Indiana and Syracuse, among others. Yet when the Gaither quarterback announced his commitment this past weekend, he spurned those Power Five schools and picked Ball State.

The Cardinals are rarely in the selection process among the bay area’s top recruits. After all, Kelly is the first local prospect to commit to the program in six years. 

Still, the choice should not be that surprising. 

Ball State is just the latest school from the Group of Five Conferences that has stood toe-to-toe with some major programs for top level talent by taking advantage of the current recruiting environment in college football. 

Last month, the NCAA extended the dead period to Aug. 31 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

That means college coaches cannot have physical interactions with any recruit. Campus visits, junior days, invitations to spring practice — all staples of the latest evaluation period — have been eliminated. 

Typically, big-time programs would blanket the state — and the country —to check out prospects during this time. Once a visit was scheduled, teams could show off their state-of-the-art weight rooms and athletic centers. 

That all changed this summer.

“We are all on the same playing field now,” former Bloomingdale coach Max Warner, now the quarterbacks coach at Bowling Green, said in April. “In the facilities arms race we can’t compete. We don’t have the recruiting staffs, or the media and graphic staffs as the Power Fives do but being in this situation we can try to out work them with a personal touch.”

That work is showing. 

Florida Atlantic already has three local commits in the Class of 2021: Tampa Catholic offensive linemen Jaden and Jordan Sandlin and Bloomingdale defensive back Jayden Williams. 

Buffalo landed a pair of bay area receivers, Lakewood’s Artez Hooker and Tampa Bay Tech’s Jamari Gassett, both of whom had offers from Power Five schools.

“I think the dead period has really given kids and parents a chance to really research schools and development relationships,” said Buffalo receivers coach Rob Ianello, who also serves as the program’s recruiting coordinator. “If they do it right they know more about you then they might normally. Both sides have a chance to do it right.”

Kelly, considered a three-star prospect by most recruiting outlets, started getting the attention of colleges after helping Jesuit reach the state semifinals each of the last two seasons. The offers kept coming after he transferred to Gaither in the offseason. 

His decision came down to a few simple factors. 

“(Ball State) believed in me and I have the opportunity to play early,” Kelly said.