MOULTRIE – Just a few short years ago, Hunter Kebler made a huge decision. Little did he know back then how much it would impact his life, especially his future.
A former soccer player, Kebler leaped over to the Moose Moss Aquatic Center and began training to be a Moss Farms Diving Tiger. That took him to several meets around the southeast. While Kebler’s showings at last summer at the USA Diving Zone B Championships in Atlanta didn’t result in the big trip to Nationals, it brought another kind of prize his way.
That is, the chance to dive in the Southeastern Conference.
On Thursday, Kebler, the son of Ryan and Penny Kebler, signed his national letter-of-intent to attend Auburn University and join these Tigers’ swimming and diving team. Moss Farms head coach John Fox said Auburn, under 19-year diving coach Jeff Shaffer, is an elite NCAA Division I program that has produced Olympic level divers, NCAA champions and All-Americans.
“I started diving when I was a sophomore,” said Kebler. “I’ve always wanted to dive in college, but I never thought it would be Auburn. I started talking around with coaches.
“At Zone B this past year (at Georgia Tech), the coach from Auburn walked up to me and introduced himself. I was like, ‘That’s the coach at Auburn.’ Ever since, we emailed back and forth. He let me go on a visit there, and I fell in love with it. The team atmosphere is like a family. There’s a big tradition there. And the pool’s amazing, the school’s amazing.”
About that pool, Kebler said he didn’t jump in or do any kind of tryout dives. He did give the water a feel to check the temperature.
Fox added that Shaffer was actually a judge at the Zone B meet, and it was after Kebler’s showing in the 3-meter springboard that the Auburn coach approached him with interest in recruiting the Moss Farms product.
Fox said it’s Kebler’s grit that’s keyed his success in such a short period of time in the sport, and Kebler has top 10 finishes at this year’s YMCA Nationals (16-21 boys), the GHSA championships for Class 6-7A (eighth in the 1-meter springboard) and the Orlando All-Star Invitational (sixth in 16-18 platform).
2018 was Kebler’s first experience in a run at the USA Diving Junior Olympics Nationals. He was 11th in platform at Region 3 and 13th at Zone B.
But where did the urge to dive come from?
“I played soccer before,” said Kebler. “Lots of (divers) are gymnasts, and then they go to diving. When I was a soccer player, and went to diving, people were like, ‘I don’t know how that works.’ Luckily I picked it up and ran with it.
“I always had fun at sky stuff, like doing trampoline flips and stuff like that. I watched the Olympics and watched trampolining and was like, ‘I want to do that.’ There’s nowhere to do trampolining here. So I guessed diving was the next best thing. I started it just having fun. That carried me here.”
Even Fox said it still amazes him how a soccer player could get so good at diving, that there’s no comparing it to how a former gymnast – like former Diving Tiger Chase Lane who currently dives at Kentucky – can make that transition.
For Kebler, the first and biggest difference he noticed was in the uniform … which for a diver is just a Speedo.
“Getting into that Speedo, it’s uncomfortable,” he said. “Once you get in it, it’s fine.
“Coach Fox and (new assistant coach Tim) Gimm, they’ve been amazing to me. I don’t think I’ve ever had a coach as good as them. They are always there for me. If I had a problem, they would talk it out with me. They are working at the pool all the time, but they would stay after when they could be hanging out with their families to talk with me about things.”
And Kebler didn’t have issues with ‘awe’ factors going to these meets and seeing other divers with more years of training. It was more of a motivator and an inspiration to be just like them.
“I make it my goal to learn how to dive, and that’s how I got better,” he said.
Fox did bring up one issue, and that is losing. As often as the coach is encouraged by what he sees in a rotation, he said Kebler will bring up that he “lost.” But Fox said that’s another way to strive to get better. Kebler will have a chance for a big win early in 2020 for the Colquitt County High program at the GHSA finals, which is also annually held at the Georgia Tech facility.
“I think I’m best at tower (platform),” said Kebler. “That’s where I like to compete.”
And he’s learned about tucks, pikes, twists and all other diving techniques. In the summer, he and the other Diving Tigers spend five hours a day on the weekdays in two separate sessions, and it’s all about repetition.
“I went to Peru for three weeks, and when I came back it was like starting all over,” said Kebler, who plans to study veterinary medicine. “I would say staying active is the best.
“Academics mean a lot to me, especially going into Auburn, so I got to keep that GPA and definitely try to get some academic scholarships too as well as athletic.”