2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 52 of 163

Keeping Busy When the Notre Dame campus was or- dered closed this March because of CO- VID-19 fears, and students told not to return from spring break, finding proper training methods became a difficult challenge for all Irish student-athletes with gyms closed and firm social distancing guidelines in place. To keep active in April while under self- isolation in Sacramento, Calif., Book's private quarterback coach of nine years, Will Hewlett, put together a series of short videos to help Book stay sharp and prepared on his own. Hewlett said these rudimentary drills were designed to keep Book's arm conditioned and ready, but not over-worked. "From a health standpoint, actually giving them a little bit more time off or more time to condition the arm, some guys might come into fall camp with their arms in better shape than ever before," Hewlett explained. Once social distancing guidelines were eased in late May, Book traveled to San Antonio, where he was joined by Irish senior tight end Brock Wright, former Irish wide receiver Chris Finke and student-athletes from the area for a weekend workout with Hewlett. "This time, I just kind of sat back and enjoyed it, to be honest with you," Hewlett said. "[Book] really just threw some great balls. That was fun to watch." Hewlett also appreciated the way Book looked physically, especially given the train- ing limitations COVID-19 created. "He looked as strong as I think he's ever been," Hewlett said. "You wouldn't have known that he had been away from a col- legiate strength program." When allowed, Book also worked this offseason at Playmakers Elite Sports Acad- emy in Sacramento and with former NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels during spring break in March. As for correspondence between Book and his Notre Dame coaches during isolation and distancing, Rees wanted his field general to focus more on cerebral work than tactical improvement. Be it through a self-scout review of last season, or with a peek ahead to a 2020 op- ponent, or by studying NFL quarterbacks — mainly San Francisco 49ers starter and Book's "man crush," Jimmy Garoppolo — Rees and his staff routinely sent Book game tapes and clips to study and review. "There are a ton of good plays in there, but there are certain plays throughout the season that [Book] knows he wants back," Rees said of Book's 2019 review. "He can revisit those by these clips that I am showing him. "It allows him to refocus and see things that he would want to do better." ✦ Talent Awaits Behind Book The transfer of 2019 backup Phil Jurkovec to Boston College and the arrival in January of four-star fresh- man signal-caller Drew Pyne brought a different look and feel to the Notre Dame quarterbacks room head- ing into the 2020 season. And Irish offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees couldn't be happier with his roll call. Fifth-year senior and third-year starter Ian Book will command the most attention in the room. But bringing in the promise of tomorrow with two guys dedicated to get better today, Pyne and sopho- more Brendon Clark neatly take their places next to one of the winningest and most experienced quarter- backs in Notre Dame history. "I'm as excited in that room from top down than any in my time at Notre Dame. I think we have great chemistry in there," Rees said of his pre-COVID meet- ings. "Everybody understands his role. Everybody understands and strives to get better. "The best part of my day are the days that I am able to meet and get in front of that group and really spend time with them." When asked what he likes most about Clark, Rees explained that the 6-2, 212-pound Manchester High School standout from small-town Midlothian, Va. — rated by Rivals as a three-star recruit and the No. 23 pro-style quarterback in his class — brings an insa- tiable appetite to get better. "He is so hungry to learn, and every little thing. He wants to pick up everything," Rees said. "Brendon is a kid that is tremendously talented, and his care factor and want to get better is through the roof." Coming from a hometown outside of Richmond, Va., of only about 55,000 people, Clark arrived at Notre Dame last year after decommitting from Wake Forest. Rare for his generation, Clark takes a quiet approach to his craft, avoiding the social media frenzy that shadows today's student-athletes. Clark doesn't even have a Twitter account. Instead, he is an unassum- ing, blue-collar, no-shortcut kind of guy, with a lively arm. As a senior at Manchester in 2018, Clark threw 35 touchdown passes with just one interception. Clark appeared in two Irish blowout wins last season, completing his one pass for a 22-yard touchdown to wideout Braden Lenzy. Rees recalled that Clark arrived at Notre Dame somewhat starstruck. "It took a little bit to learn exactly what this job really entails," Rees recalled. "And he's from a small town, and for him to come to Notre Dame and really be exposed to what being the quarterback at Notre Dame means, it took him a minute, you're in awe at first." Pyne, on the other hand, brims with confidence, ready to take on all comers who stand in his way of someday becoming the Irish starter. The four-star recruit from New Canaan, Conn., near New York City, was rated by Rivals as the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the country. Not blessed with an overwhelmingly strong arm, Pyne compensates with his passing precision and, according to Rees, his smarts and understanding. "In the [quarterbacks] room," Rees said, "there are times when I know these guys have no freaking clue what I'm talking about; he's the first kid that has been able to pick it up. I'm excited about him." At 5-11½ and 194 pounds, Pyne arrived on campus in January 2020 as an early enrollee in need of some quality time with Irish strength coach Matt Balis. Physical development aside, Pyne's combination of competitiveness and intelligence should still result in a quarterback competition between him and Clark for backup duties, though the lost spring because of COVID-19 will likely hurt Pyne's chances to overtake his older teammate. "From a mental standpoint, he is the best we've had at a young age at picking things up," Rees said of Pyne. "His retention is really good." The player-coach respect is mutual. Upon his April 2018 commitment to Notre Dame, Pyne told Blue & Gold Illustrated that having Rees as his position coach was an important draw. "Coach Rees understands what playing quarterback at the major college level is all about," said Pyne, who also held offers from Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Auburn, Michigan and Penn State, to list a few. "I think he is a really good teacher and someone who could bring out the best in me as a player and a person." — Todd D. Burlage BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 51 Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees noted that sophomore Brendon Clark is "hungry to learn" and "his care fac- tor, and want to get better, is through the roof." PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER

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