Better Know a Buckeye: Lincoln Kienholz’s Playmaking Ability As a Dual-Threat Quarterback Gives Him Chance to Be An Ohio State Star

By Josh Poloha on May 4, 2023 at 10:10 am
Lincoln Kienholz

Better Know A Buckeye is our look at every member of Ohio State’s 2023 recruiting class and how they became Buckeyes as they prepare to begin their OSU careers this fall.

A dual-threat quarterback, Lincoln Kienholz showed off his athleticism year-round as a multi-sport star. One of the fastest-rising quarterbacks in the 2023 class, the gunslinger is ranked as the No. 15 quarterback (No. 189 overall) in the cycle.

Lincoln Kienholz

  • Size: 6-2/182
  • Position: QB
  • School: T.F. Riggs (Pierre, South Dakota)
  • 247 Composite: ★★★★
  • Composite Rank: #15 QB
  • Overall Rank: #189

When Ohio State began recruiting Kienholz, he was ranked as the No. 467 prospect in the 2023 class. That rating rose to No. 249 after the Buckeyes offered him, No. 205 after he flipped his commitment and now currently sits at No. 190.

How He Became A Buckeye

Despite having four-star quarterback Brock Glenn already in the fold, Ohio State quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis made a trip to South Dakota last October to visit Kienholz, who was committed to Washington. That trip confirmed to Dennis, Ryan Day and the rest of the coaching staff that they had found the quarterback they wanted in the 2023 cycle, even if it came a bit late in the process.

Once Glenn flipped his commitment from the Buckeyes to Florida State, the full-court press to secure Kienholz's commitment began. Six days after Glenn's decommitment, the South Dakota product visited Columbus for the Michigan game, a visit that made Kienholz realize that Ohio State was for him. After Dennis and Day visited Kienholz in South Dakota in early December, a week after Washington's coaching staff did the same, the quarterback made up his mind.

The dual-threat quarterback decommitted from the Huskies and committed to the Buckeyes on Dec. 14, one week before Early Signing Day.

“He came here, saw the environment, and was like, ‘I want this.’ And that's a huge part of it,” Day said when Ohio State signed Kienholz. “This isn't for everybody. Being the starting quarterback for Ohio State is not for everybody. It's got some unbelievable things, but there are a lot of things that come with it. He kind of looked at it and was like, ‘This is what I want.’ That was important. I liked his makeup. I thought Corey Dennis really did a great job building a relationship with him and his mom … he was like, ‘Oh, I'll go in that room. I'll compete against anybody. Let's go.’ That's awesome. And that's something that I think we're excited about and looking forward to getting to work with him.”

High School Years

Kienholz didn't start playing football as an organized sport until he was in eighth grade after the high school coaching staff realized his athletic ability in other sports, including baseball, basketball and cross country.

As a freshman, Kienholz spent the year as a backup and understudy to starting quarterback Garrett Stout, who was South Dakota’s Gatorade Player of the Year that season and led T.F. Riggs to a perfect 12-0 record.

Kienholz took over the starting quarterback job as a sophomore. The signal-caller threw for 2,163 yards, 20 touchdowns and 16 interceptions while completing 55.8% of his passes and running for 663 yards and four touchdowns. Kienholz also played defense, recording 17 tackles and three interceptions while leading the Governors to a state championship.

As a junior, Kienholz clearly improved as a second-year starter. He threw for 3,359 yards, 37 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 55% of his passes. Kienholz added 1,165 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. Defensively, he totaled 33 tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries while leading T.F. Riggs to another state title.

During his senior season, Kienholz threw for 3,422 yards, 46 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 66.5% of his passes. He also ran for 1,435 yards and 24 touchdowns and added 12 tackles and four interceptions defensively while leading T.F. Riggs to its sixth consecutive state title.

As he continued to get older and gain experience, the Governors added more and more passing concepts to the playbook, one that was mainly comprised of empty, five-wide sets. That, paired with 15-20 designed runs per game and another 5-10 scrambles, allowed Kienholz to show off his athleticism and playmaking ability time and time again, which he continued to do at the All-American Bowl.

"He is an extremely productive guy," Dennis said of Kienholz on Feb. 1. "The guy's a competitor. He does everything. He's extremely athletic. He competes.”

As he was flourishing under the Friday night lights, Kienholz continued to showcase his multi-sport stardom. On the baseball diamond, he batted .472 with six home runs and went 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA on the mound. On the basketball court, Kienholz averaged 19.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game and was a South Dakota 2A all-state basketball selection as a junior.

Immediate Impact

With Kyle McCord and Devin Brown in a competition for the starting job for the 2023 season, Kienholz's first season as a Buckeye will consist of building upon his 6-foot-2, 182-pound frame and continuing to improve his ability as a dual-threat while likely taking a redshirt year.

He’ll need some time to get used to the college game, especially since he didn’t enroll early. While he dominated throughout much of his three years as a starter in South Dakota, the college game will be much faster while also including much better athletes across every position on the defensive side of the ball. He showed off his strong arm and accuracy at T.F. Riggs, but at the next level, his windows will be much smaller and close faster, which will likely be the biggest adjustment he has to make throughout his first year in Columbus and beyond.

Long-Term Impact

Given that Day and Dennis will continue to bring in a top-notch quarterback in every class, which includes four-star commit Air Noland in 2024, Kienholz must continue to sharpen every area of his game while also getting stronger in the weight room in order to push for a spot on the two-deep in 2024.

If McCord wins the starting job and performs well this fall, there's a chance the redshirt sophomore could forgo the rest of his eligibility and declare for the 2024 NFL draft, which would give Kienholz an opportunity to compete for the starting job as a sophomore. If either McCord or Brown is Ohio State’s next starting quarterback for the next two years, Kienholz’s opportunity to compete for the starting job could come in 2025.

While that is certainly looking way ahead, the dual-threat quarterback's ability to be a playmaker both with arm and his legs will give him a chance to stand out in practice early on.

Player Comparison: Joe Burrow

A lofty comparison, but this is more about Burrow as a prospect and his days early on at Ohio State than it is the LSU and NFL version of Burrow. Kienholz has the potential to get there one day, but a lot has to happen in order for that to become a reality.

Kienholz is a multi-sport star, played defensive back in high school along with dominating as a quarterback, is a small-town kid and led his team to state championship glory. The same was true about Burrow.

"He has got some ‘it’ to him," 247Sports director of scouting Andrew Ivins said of Kienholz on 247Sports' National Signing Day Show. "Someone inside that Ohio State building has said (to me), ‘Hey, this kid has got a little Joe Burrow, we think, in him in terms of that edge.’"

Let's be honest: No one predicted Burrow would become the dominant gunslinger he is now and the record-killer he became as a national champion at LSU. And it took time for him to get there, as he spent three years as a backup at Ohio State before transferring to LSU when Dwayne Haskins won the starting job in 2018.

Kienholz seems to have the intangibles, “it” factor and multi-sport athleticism to become an outstanding quarterback for Ohio State. Like Burrow, he’ll have to compete against quarterbacks who were more highly touted recruits and nothing will be handed to him. But with development, he has star potential.

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