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February 25, 2013If Kyle Kempt was five years younger, YouTube videos showcasing him firing a football around the gridiron would have gone viral and undoubtedly his hashtag would be trending on Twitter 10 times over.
Four years ago, prior to the start of his ninth-grade year at Aloha (Ore.) High School near Beaverton, Kempt was offered a scholarship by then Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Indeed, before Kempt had played a single down of high football, a major BCS program offered him a scholarship.
His football future looked secured.
Then, fate intervened.
For job reasons, his family moved to Massillon, Ohio before his sophomore season at Aloha High. However, from a high school football perspective, they weren't moving to just any town.
This was legendary Massillon, home of the second winningest all-time high school program in the country and nine national crowns given out by the Associated Press. Legendary coach Paul Brown played for and coached at Massillon before making his enduring mark on the NFL.
Candidly, inside high school football circles in the state of Ohio, there are few more watched or pressure-packed positions than starting quarterback at Massillon.
"It's a legendary program and a fantastic setting," Oregon State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf said on National Signing Day. "They play in front of 15,000 to 20,000 every week. It's a big-time program. He has played a lot of good football and won a lot of games for them.
"He has experienced a college setting. That place is crazy for football. That will serve him well. We laughed about how tough their fans are and how critical they are each week. That's college football. He's been through that."
Despite existing under a microscope, Kempt flourished. He became Massillon's all-time leading passer, an impressive feat for the kid from the West Coast. When he took over at quarterback, some skeptical fans and media questioned whether he was up to the task of directing the Massillon offense.
He demonstrated that he was.
The 6-foot-5 Kempt threw for 3,100 yards and 32 touchdowns during his senior season, verbally committing to Cincinnati as the campaign unfolded. In the eyes of many, he was destined to become the next great quarterback for the surging Bearcats.
But Kempt's bright college football future took a sudden and unforeseen detour in January when Butch Jones was surprisingly hired as the new coach at Tennessee after several bigger name coaches had publicly turned down the Vols.
Tommy Tuberville was quickly lured away from Texas Tech to become the new Cincinnati coach. Unfortunately for Kempt, he had a quarterback recruit he wanted to take along along with him to the Queen City.
Unexpectedly, Kempt was a highly regarded quarterback without a school to call home.
Had the balloon for the once-time prep phenom burst? Hardly. Kempt simply returned to his Oregon roots. He made the long trip from Ohio to Corvallis, the Beavers offered and he committed.
Stress-free all around.
"I think it's a great story," Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said. "He's a guy we knew about when he was basically in the process of moving. We kept some tabs on it, but early on we heard about his commitment to Cincinnati, which made sense since he was playing in Ohio. They recruited him on a home front basis and won on it."
Voila! Oregon State had their quarterback, one that many would say is a perfect fit for Riley's pro-style offense. He's tall, intelligent, savvy and possesses a rocket arm.
"At that position, there is usually only one guy that's recruited per team," Riley said. "So, we got back into it. His familiarity with us helped us a ton. He made the visit. Obviously, he's a really good fit for what we need as a quarterback. It's pretty exciting how this all turned out with him."
What attracted Riley to Kempt is the fact that he's a football gym rat, always willing to watch more film and work on his accuracy and mechanics.
"The first thing we need is a passer, and then we'll take everything after that," Riley said. "We think he's one of those quarterback junkies. He loves football and loves to talk about football. Based on everything we've learned about him, he spends a ton of time with football. I'm real excited about him coming."
Until Kempt committed, Oregon State has failed to secure a pledge from a quarterback in the 2013 signing class. But Riley didn't panic, calmly waiting for the right prospect to come along.
"We had only recruited basically two quarterbacks to that point," Riley said. "We don't open that thing up too wide at the quarterback position. When it opened back up, we reevaluated him, looked back at his film and said let's go after him. We got him for a visit, he liked it.
"He's smart. He watches our offense. He knows who we are and he knows he's a good fit for what we do."
Kempt's late decision to join Oregon State gives the Beavers five quarterbacks on the 2013 roster - senior Cody Vaz, junior Sean Mannion, redshirt sophomore Richie Harrington, redshirt freshman Brent Vanderveen and Kempt.
Five quarterbacks, five different classes. Exactly how Riley wants it.
"We have a relatively small group (of quarterbacks), which is what I like," Riley said. "There is not going to be a room full of guys. There's going to be about four or five guys. We'll try to get them as many turns (reps) as we can."
With Mannion and Vaz both returning next season, Kempt should be able to redshirt, enabling him to develop physically and mentally as a quarterback in the Pac 12 before competing for a spot on the depth chart in 2014.
"He has good size, but he probably has to put on a little bit of weight," Langsdorf said. "There are some similarities between him and Sean. He is a very good student, an engineering major. The list goes on."
When Kempt seeks out advice about playing quarterback at the major college level, he can look no farther than within his own family. Older brother Cody began his career at Oregon until transferring after his redshirt freshman season (2007) to Montana State, where he was the starting quarterback in 2008-09. His father Mychal played at Montana State as well.
"Kyle is a kid we have known about for a long time," Langsdorf said. "Our recruitment was pretty quick, really, when you look at it."
Today, Cody Kempt is a graduate assistant football coach at Tennessee under - ironically - Jones, the coach whose decision to leave Cincinnati for greener pastures in Knoxville (and the lifestyle of a SEC head coach) put the wheels into motion that propelled Kyle Kempt towards Oregon State.
Somewhere, the football gods are amused.
Will Cincinnati's loss be Oregon State's gain? Riley hopes so.
"A guy makes an early commitment, then the coaching staff changes underneath him," Riley said. "Maybe he doesn't fit exactly what the new coaching staff at that school wants to do and they have another guy in mind. It's already January, so it's pretty hard on kids. But it was fortunate for us because Kyle came back alive for us.
"He had a lot of notoriety as a young kid, so it was hard not to know about him in our football world."