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updated: 6/21/2017 9:41 AM

Northwest male athlete of the year: St. Viator's Kmet finds his own level

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  • St. Viator's Cole Kmet returns to the dugout after one of his two doubles against Marmion Academy during the Lions' Class 3A state semifinal victory on Friday in Joliet.

      St. Viator's Cole Kmet returns to the dugout after one of his two doubles against Marmion Academy during the Lions' Class 3A state semifinal victory on Friday in Joliet.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Cole Kmet, left, excelled both as a blocking and pass-catching tight end at St. Viator.

      Cole Kmet, left, excelled both as a blocking and pass-catching tight end at St. Viator.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • St. Viator senior Cole Kmet hoists the Class 3A baseball state championship trophy after Saturday's 10-8 win over Marian Catholic on Saturday in Joliet.

      St. Viator senior Cole Kmet hoists the Class 3A baseball state championship trophy after Saturday's 10-8 win over Marian Catholic on Saturday in Joliet.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

Historically, we've had plenty of diversity in our choices for the Daily Herald's Northwest male high school athlete of the year.

There have been three-sport multi-taskers who manage to elevate each team they're on.

Frequently we see two-sport difference-makers who take one exceptional trait -- speed or strength, usually -- and successfully apply it in different settings.

Sometimes it's a competitor who focuses on one sport and reaches truly exceptional levels in that chosen pursuit.

And then, every once in a long while, along comes an athlete like St. Viator senior Cole Kmet.

A superb football and baseball player who capped his high school experience by winning a state championship, Kmet is our choice for Northwest male athlete of the year honors for 2016-2017.

Simply put, when healthy Kmet was pretty much on his own level this school year.

His baseball achievements have been front and center in recent weeks, as his left-handed pitching prowess and hitting production helped St. Viator claim the program's first baseball state championship with a 10-8 victory over Marian Catholic on Saturday afternoon in Joliet.

On the mound, he was 7-3 with an ERA of 2.11 with 96 strikeouts -- and that was before he got the win against Marmion in one final dominant pitching appearance in Friday's state semifinals.

A punishing force as a hitter, he finished with 12 homers, 46 RBI and 18 doubles. His OBP was over .500, and his slugging percentage was approaching .950.

"He is the best baseball player in the state of Illinois," said St. Viator coach Mike Manno. "Just a pure athlete. You can see that.

"The work he puts in to be a great athlete is as good as I have ever seen. He just does things I have never seen before. I have not been around a lot of 6-foot-5, 255-pound players before, but he can run and he is strong. He had it all. It has been an honor for me to coach him for the last three years."

St. Viator football coach David Archibald didn't have as much total time with Kmet, but he ended up having the same kind of impression of his standout tight end.

Kmet missed some time early in the season as he coped with mono, but he returned to full strength in time to help the Lions qualify for the Class 6A playoffs.

St. Viator then sprung a 24-13 upset in one of the toughest places in the state to play in the first round, at Rockford Boylan, before coming within a single score of making it to the quarterfinals in a season-ending loss at Lake Forest.

"It was a great gift to have a player like Cole as a first-year coach," said Archibald. "There were the obvious physical abilities -- the blocking, the pass-catching -- but I think the best part about him and what I'll miss most is the pure joy he gets from competing. He's constantly asking himself how he can improve. And because he's the kind of person who really cares about his teammates, they end up asking themselves that same question. He puts a priority on helping his teammates get better."

Archibald foresees a successful next phase for Kmet in football.

"The game will speed up around him, and they'll get him deeper into the X's and O's," Archibald said. "But with his frame -- I mean, he's already within about 15 pounds of Gronk (New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski). He'll be fine."

In an athletic program with a proud history of achievement, Kmet certainly stacks up favorably against the all-time best Lions-- and not only in terms of his on-the-field abilities.

"He is the greatest high school athlete I have ever been around," said St. Viator athletic director Marty Jennings. "What people don't see is the impact he has off the field. The leadership he displays in the halls, with his teammates, as a representative of St. Viator -- it doesn't get much better. As a parent who has a daughter, he is the the type of kid you want your daughter to marry. He is all class. He works hard and doesn't expect anything from anybody."

Yet the expectations are high for Kmet at the next levels. He is set to join Brian Kelly's Notre Dame football program soon, and he hopes to be able to stay active in both baseball and football for as long as possible.

He's also been heavily scouted by pro baseball scouts in recent weeks and will certainly be watching this weekend's MLB draft closely.

Cole Kmet's younger brother Casey, a sophomore who frequently hit before his big brother in the Lions' championship baseball lineup, thinks there are at least two important things to remember bout Cole.

"He is a great brother," Casey said. "He is so competitive in everything he plays, from frisbee to basketball."

Cole Kmet, meanwhile, seems to be involved in sports for all the right reasons. And for those who might be envious, it may be comforting to know that he's not a natural at every last athletic endeavor he's attempted.

"I have said this before, I don't do this for the personal accolades," Kmet said. "But to get this is pretty rewarding for the hard work I have put in.

"The only sport I don't think I could play is golf. I am a good bowler -- but awful at golf."

• Dick Quagliano contributed to this report.

Correction: This article was corrected to note that Brian Kelly is Notre Dame's football coach.

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