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Loyalty test: Notre Dame’s Jack Kiser comes from a Purdue family

“If you dig into my family history,” Kiser said recently, “I have a lot of gold-and-black blood through the pipeline.” 

Jack Kiser
Notre Dame linebacker Jack Kiser (24) during the second half of an NCAA football game against Florida State on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021 in Tallahassee, Fla.
Gary McCullough/AP

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — His teammates call him “The Professor,” but small-town legend Jack Kiser isn’t always so studious.

The third-year sophomore rover from tiny Royal Center, Indiana (pop. 833), is majoring in business analytics and has designs on a post-football career in sports management, but his girlfriend since their senior year at Class A Pioneer High School sees a different side to his personality.

“Oh, for sure,” Meagan Chan said. “Anytime he’s not working on football or school, he’s super goofy — and it’s the best part about him.”

Kiser, Indiana’s Mr. Football in 2018, has claimed a prime role in Notre Dame’s defense through hard work and preparation. But he also knows how to kick back when time allows.

“He’s more of a ‘chill’ type of guy,” Chan said. “He really likes to play board games and watch movies and have fun with his friends. He’s really good at ‘Clue.’ That’s his favorite board game.”

Having turned 21 on the eve of last week’s narrow victory against Toledo, Kiser was raised to love Purdue by an extended family with deep ties to the university. Kiser’s assignment this week is to hand the unranked Boilermakers their first loss of the season.

“If you dig into my family history,” Kiser said recently, “I have a lot of gold-and-black blood through the pipeline.”

Aaron Kiser, his father, and uncle Brian Kiser were standout throwers at Purdue in the discus and shot put. Multiple aunts went there as well as older brother Sam.

A couple of Kiser’s cousins are currently enrolled in West Lafayette, about 50 miles southwest of Royal Center, as is Chan. Kiser was able to procure 15 complimentary tickets as a player, and his father purchased another 27 for friends and family.

“All his family members are going to be here, so it will be a special day for him,” said Chan, a junior majoring in economics and finance. “I alone am bringing six or seven Purdue fans. We’re going to be in the stands with our Purdue gear.”

That should make the family tailgate interesting.

“I was going to go in with a family ticket, but you have to wear Notre Dame [gear],” Chan said. “I was like, ‘I’ll just stay with my friends.’ ”

Bonnie Motter, Kiser’s grandmother, served as longtime secretary to the late Ara Parseghian after his retirement as Notre Dame football coach. At 79, the resident of nearby Elkhart, Indiana, is recovering from a pair of recent hip surgeries and won’t be able to attend.

The rest of the Kiser clan has made a full conversion to Shamrock Nation, including Sam, who could have walked on at Butler but chose to carry on the family tradition at Purdue as a regular student.

A 2020 graduate with a degree in applied statistics, Sam played in the same backfield with Jack during his brother’s freshman year at Pioneer.

“He was our lead running back and rushed for a ton of yards,” Sam said. “I remember the first play of the year, I scored a touchdown on a long run and he was the first one down there to congratulate me. That was just really cool and special for us.”

Another round of nostalgia is sure to kick in this Saturday as Jack gives a Purdue family a reason to root against the Boilermakers. Indiana made a strong bid during the recruiting process, as did Iowa, but in the end Kiser couldn’t say no to Notre Dame.

Chan, who FaceTimes her boyfriend for 30 minutes or so most evenings after practice, wasn’t about to lay a guilt trip on him.

“I wanted him to pick whatever was best for him,” Chan said. “We knew either way we would try to make it work.”

Older brother Bryce, who played defensive end at Illinois State from 2010-14, provided inspiration. Now it’s the baby of the family, aka the Goofy Professor, who gets to wreck Purdue’s offense on Saturday.

“It’s going to be just surreal,” Jack Kiser said. “I’ve already warned everybody if they wore Purdue gear they wouldn’t be let in. I put my dad in charge of that.”