The race for the Notre Dame QB job is on
“I think he’s the best quarterback in the country. He’s somebody that, you know, I could put up against any quarterback that I’ve ever seen.”
SOUTH BEND – The above quote was how veteran Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly described 2018 Fighting Irish quarterback recruit Phil Jurkovec on National Signing Day in December.
There’ll be no pressure in living up to that level of expectation, right?
Kelly has been known for a number of things throughout his eight seasons in South Bend, and his involvement in – and often antagonizing of – quarterback controversies ranks at the top of that list.
The Irish have avoided having a quarterback dilemma just one time under Kelly and that was forced upon him, as returning starter Everett Golson was ruled academically ineligible, which allowed Tommy Rees to assume the job without too much complication in the 2013 season. And 2018 will be no different.
In fact, next fall – even without the injection of the “best quarterback in the country” – has the potential to top any previous season in terms of drama at the most important position on the field.
Not only will returning players Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book be involved in the race to start, but so will redshirt freshman Avery Davis AND the “best quarterback in the country.”
“I want (Jurkovec) to challenge,” Kelly said. “I want Brandon to feel competition, and I’m sure Brandon wants to be challenged. Any great competitor wants that feeling that somebody is pushing him every day, and not that Ian Book doesn’t, but let’s bring in another really good quarterback, a great quarterback.
“That’s our job here at Notre Dame.”
It remains to be seen how all of those student-athletes handle the competition, but according to Rees, who now coaches the Irish quarterbacks, dealing with the expectations and pressure from Kelly won’t have a negative impact on Jurkovec.
“When you worry about him coming in here and mentally fitting in,” Rees said last week on the second National Signing Day of this year’s class, “that is the least concern that you have.”
Rees ventured to Pennsylvania to watch Jurkovec play basketball earlier this winter, and he is exceptional on the football field, but he is really, really talented on the basketball court, as well, particularly, in how he deals with pressure.
“The mental make-up of him is the most impressive thing,” Rees said. “He’s been a four-year starter in basketball at a really good high school program. He has started in football in the last three.
“I watched him go into a great atmosphere and he has to deal with the pressure of being the guy that everyone knows. The one that the student section is chirping at and you can see his competitive fire and his will to win. When you break him down mentally, that is probably the most impressive trait that he has.”
Jurkovec will need that “competitive fire,” not only to unseat Wimbush or Book, who played very well in relief of Wimbush in guiding Notre Dame to a Citrus Bowl win, but also Davis.
The redshirt freshman only worked with the scout team this past season, but Kelly said he began to stand out during the December practice sessions leading up to the bowl game.
“Avery has done a really nice job,” Kelly said at the time of those sessions. “He is efficient with the football and is a very strong runner. He is an athlete.”
The 5-foot-11 Davis is a different build than Wimbush (6-foot-2) or Jurkovec (6-foot-5), but is similar to Book, who has a strong enough arm to make the necessary throws, but also the agility to keep plays alive.
“Each and every time that (Davis) has the football in his hands,” Kelly said, “he is difficult to defend.”
Rees said that Davis handled sitting out this season well, which sometimes can be a difficult adjustment for players.
“Your freshman year, when you are a redshirt,” Rees explained, “it’s hard for a lot of guys, because you are used to being the guy. When you have to sit him down for a little bit, it’s tough. But Avery did a great job, mentally, of getting himself ready for those (December) practices and he was able to go out there and execute the offense and move the team and play at a high level.
“He has taken another step in his comfort level. He is now able to attack these winter workouts a little bit differently than he did last summer, because he is that much more comfortable. I am really excited for Avery to get more work this spring.”
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