INDIANAPOLIS – Samuel Abraham Kiger had come to grips with the fact that the military might be his best option post-graduation.
Only it wasn’t a fact for the young man who goes by the name Ab.
Kiger didn’t want to go through life with the excuse that he didn’t accomplish his goals because he let injuries get in the way.
Twice Kiger tore the ACL in his left knee. The first one happened in eighth grade. The second came at a summer camp at St. Joseph’s College prior to his junior year.
“When I re-tore my ACL, it was tough because I started thinking I wouldn’t be able to play college football,” Kiger said. “I wasn’t going to get a scholarship and I wasn’t going to be able to pay for me to go (to college).”
He rehabbed quickly. He returned to the football field probably quicker than he should have, but he could see the number of potential opportunities he had to put on a Rensselaer Bombers football helmet again dwindling.
The game wasn’t going to stop and wait for him to recover 100 percent.
Kiger missed three games his junior season and it wasn’t until the end of his junior year that he was even three-fourths healthy.
“Ab is the hardest worker and toughest guy I know,” said Rensselaer classmate Austin Fleming.
Once 100 percent healthy, Kiger showed what he was capable of.
The Bombers safety captained a defense that shut out four opponents on its way to the school’s first state championship.
And then the payoff came.
He was offered a scholarship to play NCAA Division II football in his hometown for St. Joseph’s.
“Ab has an inspirational story,” Fleming said. “Not many people come back from two ACL tears. And I think he might have had some other knee injuries in there, too.”
Kiger gets to continue pursuing his dream.
But first he has one more game with a Rensselaer helmet.
Kiger will join high school and future St. Joseph’s teammate Fleming in Friday’s Indiana Football Coaches Association North/South All-Star Game. Rensselaer’s Chris Meeks will be the North’s head coach and another member of the Bombers’ staff, Eric Nowlin, will coach linebackers.
While Kiger, with a flowing mane he’s grown out so long he has to wear a bandana under his helmet to keep it controlled, turned in an all-star season that seemed unlikely as recent as a year ago, Fleming’s rise may be even more surprising.
Once deemed by his own mother too small to play football, Fleming turned that into a positive by the time he finally was permitted to play in seventh grade.
A charismatic defensive end, Fleming blossomed as a senior by using his speed to feast off hefty offensive tackles licking their chops when they saw a 185-pounder lined up across from them.
As teammates, Kiger and Fleming kept opposing offenses at bay last fall, Kiger now recovered from his second ACL injury and Fleming as a rapidly rising edge rusher who’d be named one of the top 50 seniors in the state by the Indiana Football Coaches Association and as Journal & Courier Defensive Player of the Year, among plenty of other honors.
In November, they dismantled Evansville Mater Dei in the Class 2A state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
If that had been the end of their high school playing days, they were content.
But with both soon to stay in their hometown at the local college as St. Joseph’s Pumas, they want this all-star game at North Central High School in Indianapolis to see how they match up against some of the state’s best players.
“Being an all-star, there’s going to be a lot of speed on the field and we’re playing on turf,” Kiger said. “Both me and Austin play at a high velocity. For me being a safety and getting to go against 6A (Indiana’s largest football class), I get to see what I can really do. It’s a nice preparation for college to see what kind of speed we’ll see there.”
North/South All-Star game
At North Central High School
Time: 7 p.m.
Local participants: Nick Cox and Blake Elming, McCutcheon; Jarin Bush, Carroll; Ab Kiger and Austin Fleming, Rensselaer
If you go: North Central is at 1801 E. 86th St. in Indianapolis.