'It's a pretty good process to trust': Why 2023 QB Lincoln Kienholz chose Ohio State football

Colin Gay
The Columbus Dispatch

Lincoln Kienholz was always a quarterback. It didn’t matter what sport he played. 

He had the eyes of a quarterback on the basketball court, seeing open windows and dishing passes to open teammates. It was the same thing at shortstop during baseball season, using his range, quickness and strength to make throws to consistently beat runners. 

Steve Steele always saw Kienholz as a quarterback who could play Division 1 baseball, Division 1 basketball or even run Division 1 track if he wanted to. 

But Riggs High School’s football coach’s lens of Kienholz never changed. He was always the Governors’ next great quarterback. 

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“That’s a kid that you need to have playing,” Steele said. “You can’t afford to not have that kid play football for you.” 

Kienholz did everything for Riggs football in Pierre, South Dakota, continuing a streak of six straight state titles as a three-year starting quarterback, emerging as a do-it-all ringleader that college football programs couldn’t take their eyes off of. 

And while Kienholz’s path was set, coming into his final high school season committed to Washington, Ohio State football swooped in and gave the South Dakota native the chance to show what he could do on one of the biggest stages possible. 

A chance was all Kienholz wanted, to be the next in line and learn from the best. A chance is why Kienholz became the Buckeyes’ quarterback in the 2023 class. 

“Especially for an 18-year-old, just to picture it right now,” Kienholz said, “it’s really cool.” 

How Lincoln Kienholz became an Ohio State target

Kienholz views himself as a combination of the quarterbacks he likes to watch. 

Whether it was Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud or Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, Kienholz said he watched YouTube clips of both quarterbacks and took things to emulate on the football field

“(Young’s) a really good athlete that can make throws on the run,” Kienholz said. “He can make plays with his feet too. I think that’s a really good one to watch.” 

As a freshman at Riggs, Kienholz watched Garrett Stout, the 2019 South Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year who averaged more than  330 all-purpose yards per game with 61 touchdowns in 12 games as a senior. 

After watching Kienholz learn to love the schemes and strategy of the offense as a freshman, Steele gave him Stout’s job as a sophomore, knowing he had a “good” quarterback on his hands, but not knowing what Kienholz would become. 

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“All the Power 5 and the Big Ten, a lot of them do come out here,” Steele said. “But most of the time when they come out, they’re looking at a lineman… You’re watching film of some of those linemen and this guy pops off the film. 

“He is very, undoubtedly, the best player on the field every single game he played in high school.” 

Watertown's Austin Johnson (9) pushes Pierre's Lincoln Kienholz out of bounds during their Eastern South Dakota Conference football game on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 at Watertown Stadium. Pierre won 47-13.

In three seasons as the Governors’ starting quarterback, Kienholz threw for 7,654 yards, 87 touchdowns and 26 interceptions according to MaxPreps, while adding 2,605 yards and 22 touchdowns in the run game. 

And Kienholz improved, following up a 20-touchdown, 16-interception sophomore season with 67 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his final two seasons combined, boosting his completion percentage to 67.7% as a senior. 

“I think it was a lot of confidence and I think understanding what goes on with each play, and just kind of seeing what’s happening,” Kienholz said. 

Lincoln Kienholz buys into Ohio State's pitch

Washington put Kienholz on college football’s radar first, watching him throw and offering him before Big Ten programs like Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota followed suit. 

Kienholz even got the attention of Notre Dame, saying he respectfully declined the Fighting Irish's interest saying he was happy as a Huskies commit, which he placed in June before his senior season. 

Pierre T.F. Riggs quarterback Lincoln Kienholz is named Most Valuable Player in the 11AA state football championship on Friday, November 13, at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

But as soon as Ohio State quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis reached out to Kienholz on Twitter, the South Dakota native knew he had reached a different level. 

“It’s Ohio State,” Kienholz said. “They have a great track record with their quarterbacks with the past four or five getting drafted and everything. I think they know what they are doing there. It’s a pretty good process to trust.” 

Dennis traveled to Pierre during the Buckeyes’ off week to scout Kienholz, leaving impressed and inviting the quarterback to visit Ohio State, which he did for the Michigan game

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Getting the Ohio State offer after the Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan, Kienholz said his trip to Columbus was everything he wanted it to be, seeing it already as a “second home” where he felt comfortable.

What sold Kienholz on the Buckeyes was the relationships he began to form with 2023 offensive line commit Luke Montgomery, who played a big part in showing what life at Ohio State could be like. 

“What really sold me was just the brotherhood they have there and how determined they are to win,” Kienholz said. “That’s exactly what I want because I’m coming from a high school that’s won six straight titles. So it’s definitely a similar situation.” 

'I can be as good as anyone else'

Kienholz knows Ohio State’s situation at quarterback. 

It wasn’t anything Dennis or head coach Ryan Day hid from the 2023 quarterback, making it clear that he would have to “take a chance” and “bet on himself” to stand out in the Buckeyes’ room currently with Kyle McCord and Devin Brown and Dylan Raiola on the way. 

But Kienholz has always shown Steele his competitive nature in his four years at Riggs. 

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“He just wants to compete all the time,” Steele said. “He wants to play the best people all the time and he wants to be the best person all the time. I think that drive is very unique in the sense of not only does he have the drive, but he has the ability and the work ethic to back it up. 

Recruit Lincoln Kienholz visits Ohio Stadium during the Ohio State, Michigan game.

“He’s always got that chip on his shoulder since this process started of, ‘I’m from small-town South Dakota and I can be as good as anyone else.’” 

Kienholz’s path to success at Ohio State is one he can picture. It’s a path Kienholz believes will happen.

“I know that I can perform at the highest level,” Kienholz said. “I really do have confidence in that.” 

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