The Next Great Spartan Offensive Lineman Won’t Brag on Himself, but his coaches and Teammates will: Kodi Kieler!
I have known Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio for a long time. He is my friend. I don’t say this being braggadocios, but to solidify something for you. I know how he ticks. Lost in his public persona is that most people do not realize he says far more by what he doesn’t say or how he says things than anyone I know. When he speaks you have to listen intently. Although not credited by my colleagues as much as he should be, Dantonio is a talker if you learn to listen to him.
Something started to happen late last season that caught my eye and continued all spring. Last November out of the blue, Dantonio said this, “We have a lot of good players and some young ones who even in the season are working hard and making impressions that we have to notice for the future. Kodi Kieler is really working hard.”
Six words that most people would have ignored: “Kodi Kieler is really working hard,” but if you know Dantonio they were epic. Dantonio is not prone to hyperbole, he doesn’t wax loquacious and he isn’t into flattery or salesmanship. He is a genuine and when he gives praise it is always earned.
As the season came and went culminating in a Rose Bowl championship, he once again mentioned after the season about Kieler being a piece for the future. Two times, he brought the pride of Rockwood, MI, up without being asked. I am not the brightest human being in the world, but even I could see something special was happening with this powerful, 6’5” 330 pound human being.
As spring came, every time Dantonio spoke he brought Kieler’s name up, without being asked. Occasionally, he would mention other people, but they came and went and Kieler’s name remained a staple in Dantonio’s vocabulary.
Dantonio is unassuming. He is not quiet, but he doesn’t waste words. He sees a lot of himself in Kieler; both disciplined, both hardworking, and both driven. Like his head Coach, Kieler isn’t one to scream ‘look at me.’ He isn’t going to seek out attention and not one to crave the spotlight. He loves football, keeps his mouth shut, and let’s his play speak for itself. It speaks loudly. So do others about his development.
Kieler’s humility shined through when I caught up with him and asked about all the attention coming from his head coach. He lowered his head and said, “The big thing now is just that I get it. I get it that I have to work hard to play and everything. I wanna be remembered here. I wanna start, I wanna play, and I wanna do these things. I wanna be more part of the team. I want to do it, and I need to prove it.”
As I mentioned to Kieler how impressed people are with his work ethic, he once again channeled another trait of his coach, humility. He quickly put the credit on to the lady who holds his heart: his mother. “Pretty much. I was just raised by my mom so I never really had too much of like my dad part of my family. So I don’t know… I was just quiet, hanging out with my mom and stuff. My mom…sweet lady. Doesn’t say much. She just does her stuff.”
Raised by a single mom, where does that love of football come from? You guessed it: Mom! “I don’t know. I started playing sports real young. My mom started me out with t-ball and stuff, and then I started playing football in the 7th grade. I don’t know…it just gets all the energy out. I feel relaxed afterwards. You get all the anger out and everything. I can control it. Some people who are loud and like to talk loud, they can’t control their anger or anything. With me, I just bottle it up and try to hit the person in front of me.”
Kieler had the respect of his coach, but as an offensive lineman he has to face All American Shilique Calhoun in practice. Calhoun is as loud as Kieler is quiet so I turned to him to ask his impressions of facing the monster from Rockford.
The verbose Calhoun got a menacing look, thought, and said, “He’s a big guy, a very strong guy. His pass setting… I went against him today actually. He’s very good pass setting. It’ll be a nice little challenge out there to see who’s gonna step up and play the tackle position.” And there it was. It was Calhoun who announced to the world about star LT Jack Conklin when he was only a true freshman and it was Calhoun calling his shot that Kieler was in a battle to find a starting home on the Spartan offensive line.
MSU offensive line coach Mark Staten told me in April that because of Kieler’s play they might be able to use the very talented Donovan Clark at an inside guard position. He is presently the starting right tackle on the depth chart.
Staten said, “He did a really nice job. We’re primarily keeping him at right tackle. Sometimes we’ll scoot Donavon in. We’ll let him get some 1’s at the right tackle and put Donavon in at right guard. Kodi has really, really stepped up his game. Now he’s not quite there yet, but he’s athletic and physical. Once everything starts slowing down for him then he’ll be a terrific player for us.”
Staten went on to explain, “Right now Donavon’s our starting right tackle. The thing that’s gonna be nice is he’s shown the ability to play on the left side. He switched over…last year he wasn’t able to switch over to the right. It just all got jumbled on him trying to do that. We tried to do it last year, and now it’s all sticking together. Not only is it sticking together with the right tackle spot, it’s also sticking together with the right guard.”
The Spartans other star DE Marcus Rush had impressive things to say about the quiet Kieler. He told me, “I think Kieler is a good person. I think he’s worked hard this off-season to change his body and his attitude. I think just doing that has really changed his confidence. Hopefully it’ll change him as a player too because I know he has a lot of ability and I’m excited to see him this year.”
Don’t ask Kieler to talk about himself. He loves to talk about his mom Kimberly who he idolizes. He is more than willing to talk about his teammates or coaches, but when it comes to his play, he prefers to let that speak for it.
He is refreshing. He is humble and he is real. No story better illustrates Kieler than an incident I saw firsthand late this spring. As the team struggled through a tough practice that was grueling and seemed to drag on for a long period of time, the team finally could take solace in that fact it was over. As the team moved like a herd of cattle sore from a long drive across the prairie, they made their way to the hot tubs, the cold tubs, and surely a bite to eat. Not Kieler. He was helping a tiny manager load a large practice dummy on a Gator cart to put away. I asked him if that was part of his job and laughed as players don’t do that. Kieler simply said, “We’re all part of the team.”
You’re right Kodi, you are. From a terrific mother who raised you right to a coaching staff that noticed an anger that drives you on the football field and a heart of compassion for people that fuels you off of it. You are part of a team. The Spartans and they are fortunate to have you.
You may not have heard of Kieler, but you will. He won’t be the one doing the talking, but his teammates and coaches are and before he leaves campus one day, so will his opponents. Look for the human mountain crushing defenders and probably helping MSU turf grass manager Amy Fouty after the game cut grass. She’s part of the team, and Kieler will get to her, just as soon as he finishes cleaning the trash in the stands.
Kieler is a great player, but a super person and he might just be the next great one on the field. He already is off of it.