Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2017 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 26 of 63 MAY 2017 27 BY MATT JONES I t is Brandon Wimbush's time. All indications are that the ju- nior quarterback is more than ready for his first year as Notre Dame's starter. Tasked with leading a veteran of- fense that rarely hit its stride in 2016, Wimbush will direct Notre Dame's hopes for a bounce-back season. "I couldn't be more excited about this opportunity coming up," he said. Wimbush hasn't been a No. 1 quar- terback in more than two years. The former four-star recruit from St. Pe- ter's Prep in New Jersey was thrust into the backup role as a freshman in 2015, though he saw action in just two games behind DeShone Kizer. Last year he redshirted, taking a back seat to Kizer and Malik Zaire. Difficult? Absolutely, Wimbush said. "It took a lot of self-talk and self- confidence to be able to go out there weekly for 15 weeks and grind your butt off and work with the guys and get yelled at," Wimbush said. "It was all worth it. I feel like I'm more ma- ture. I understand and I know where I'm at. "I know what university I'm at, and I understand the benefits that come with it. Sometimes you've got to go through some struggles to be where you want to be at the end of the day." Wimbush has all the physical tools to succeed. The 6-1, 226-pound right- hander looks more muscular after an offseason with strength and condi- tioning coach Matt Balis. Wimbush has also honed his skills by doing private workouts with renowned quarterback coach George Whitfield, something he did during spring break. Those upgrades have head coach Brian Kelly excited to see the ju- nior quarterback go to work this fall. Spring practice has shown the eighth-year coach that Wimbush can operate with experience beyond his years. "Where I've been most impressed with him is he listens very well," said Kelly. "He's a guy that will listen, make the appropriate adjustments and come back and go to work on what you instructed him. "The second thing is his presence. He runs that offense like he's been running it for a few years. There's no panic, there's a calmness, there's an organization to it. In those two areas, he runs it as if he's been doing it for quite some time." While Wimbush seems to be pick- ing up new offensive coordinator Chip Long's scheme — which incor- porates plenty of run-pass options, much to the pleasure of Wimbush — the progression has been accelerated by the attention to detail. "He's a willing learner. He's very coachable," Long said of Wimbush, who threw for 3,187 yards and 37 touchdowns with only four inter- ceptions as a prep senior. "He does a great job of applying what we go over in the meeting room — cleaning up his mistakes from the first day, and he uses his athleticism to help him out. "He's done a good job with his lead- ership, trying to take control; all the quarterbacks have, in my opinion." Wimbush worked closely and formed a bond with former quar- terbacks coach Mike Sanford, now the head coach at Western Kentucky. The new voice in the quarterbacks room is former Irish signal-caller Tom Rees, who h a s b y a l l a c - c o u n t s m a d e a seamless transi- tion with Wimbush and the other quarterbacks. Rees was a much more limited quarterback than Wimbush in terms of physical tools. Mentally, though, the challenge will be this summer trying to lead the team when the coaches are not around. "Being able to go out there with- out coaches, telling the backs, 'Hey, this is what you've got.' Telling the receivers, 'Hey, this is what you've got,'" Rees said of Wimbush's re- sponsibilities this summer. "Having a big picture conceptually of what we're trying to do and being able to coach those guys on the finer details of the offense. "Can he go out there and execute his stuff right now? Absolutely. But when we're not out there with him and he's running a seven-on-seven period with just the players, can he teach those finer details, can he teach the concept to those guys?" Even Kizer, a close personal friend of Wimbush's, said he's willing to work with the 20-year-old and help him through the challenges of being a Notre Dame quarterback. "We sat in this room and talked about how talented Brandon is, and now it's his time to shine," Kizer said. "He's doing exactly what he's sup- posed to be doing. I'm looking for- ward to helping him through that process, and as long as we continue to talk, I'm going to be his biggest fan." The depth behind Wimbush is much less hyped. The only other scholarship quarterbacks this spring were sophomore Ian Book and senior Montgomery VanGorder. Class of 2017 signee Avery Davis will join the team this summer, but is not expected to challenge for the backup spot, which means Wimbush is all the more im- portant. Wimbush, who enters the 2017 sea- son with 40-to-1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy despite having no career starts, has a world of expecta- tions. He's flashed his potential — a 58- yard touchdown run against Mas- sachusetts in 2015 — but has yet to arrive on college football's biggest stage. Come Sept. 2 against Temple, it'll be Wimbush's team. "He has to have a presence about him," Kelly said. "He's got to have confidence in himself. Those are the areas that I'm spending more time on than him having to take control of the entire football program." ✦ HIS TIME Brandon Wimbush waited his turn and now has a golden opportunity Wimbush, who Rivals ranked as the No. 4 dual- threat quarterback and No. 60 overall player nationally in the class of 2015, is expected to be Notre Dame's starting quarterback in the season opener against Temple Sept. 2. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND "HE RUNS THAT OFFENSE LIKE HE'S BEEN RUNNING IT FOR A FEW YEARS. THERE'S NO PANIC, THERE'S A CALMNESS, THERE'S AN ORGANIZATION TO IT." HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY ON WIMBUSH

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