Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wants to see confidence in Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush

Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) throws a pass against LSU during the first half of the Citrus Bowl game last season in Orlando. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly speaks with the media Thursday at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex in South Bend. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book looks for a receiver against LSU during the first half of the Citrus Bowl game last season in Orlando. (By The Associated Press)

SOUTH BEND – If the old adage that an athlete is only as good as their last game is true, then Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush isn’t that dynamic.

However, being benched in each of his last two games hasn’t dissuaded the committee for the coveted Maxwell Award (given to the nation’s top quarterback) from placing the Fighting Irish thrower (and runner) on the award’s “watch list.”

“We want to build on him knowing that we know he’s a great quarterback,” Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said Thursday in his initial press conference for the 2018 season, “and can be the best quarterback in the country.”

The Fighting Irish open training camp Friday with the first of four practices at Culver Academies before returning to South Bend Wednesday for the remainder of the camp. They will host Michigan in their season-opening game Sept. 1 (NBC, 7:30 p.m.).

The people that determine the Maxwell Award winner obviously have some degree of confidence in Wimbush, and Kelly does, as well. After all, he made clear that Wimbush is the starting quarterback at this point, not redshirt sophomore Ian Book, who has outplayed Wimbush on repeated occasions, including in the Citrus Bowl win over LSU.

“I don’t want to go into the game having to play more than one quarterback,” Kelly said of any quarterback controversy. “I think clearly, Brandon comes into preseason camp as the No. 1, Ian’s No. 2, (incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec) is No. 3, and we hope that we have great competition, which we will.”

It seems that a lot of people following the Fighting Irish – and work for the program – have confidence in Wimbush, now Kelly said that it is time for the redshirt junior to believe in himself.

“What I was looking for in this off-season was (Wimbush being) much more vocal and holding players to a high level of accountability,” Kelly said. “He didn’t have that last year. He was kind of trying to figure out himself in a lot of ways, and not that he’s got all the answers, he wouldn’t tell you that, but I think he clearly has a confidence about him that he lacked at times last year.”

That would be understandable given his performance on the field, at times.

Wimbush didn’t complete half of his passes for the season and by the end of the year, he had trouble sustaining any type of offensive success.

In Notre Dame’s final four games, Wimbush completed just 44 percent of his throws and nearly had as many interceptions (four) as he did touchdowns (five).

Kelly forced him into leadership roles this off-season in order to help him mature as a player and a person.

“I love the way he’s been leading,” Kelly said of Wimbush. “One of the things in developing the quarterback position is you go from a position where he came from, where he wasn’t a starter, to being immersed right into the middle of it, and then being able to take a step back and look at his work and what he needs to do. He attacked it in the off-season. He attacked his weaknesses. He continued to sharpen his strengths and what I loved the most about him is that he’s a humble leader. In other words, he took the time to work on any of the things that he felt like he needed to work on, as well as he became much more of a vocal leader for us.

“I would say (he earned an) A-plus in the off-season. Now let’s go put the other pieces of our preparation together.”

Wimbush demonstrated the ability last season to be a dangerous weapon in the Notre Dame run game. In four of his team’s initial nine games, he ran for over 100 yards, including a record-setting 207 yards against Boston College in September. However, that athleticism didn’t show late in the season, as he began to struggle with his play and confidence.

“The season wears on a young player, right,” Kelly said. “Clearly he was physically in a better position earlier than he was late. That’s why it’s been so important for us to physically develop him this second year, to get our guys even better physically, but also mentally.”

Wimbush has improved his conditioning by dropping six pounds (he is down to 222 pounds), so he has made strides physically, now the mental work that Kelly has done with him is expected to show.

“It was his first year playing,” Kelly said. “He was fighting through some ups and downs and that breeds a little bit of hesitation as it relates to letting it go.

“It wasn’t by design that we started to not want to run Brandon. So I think you’ll see a dual threat all season with Brandon.”

Kelly made that last statement with confidence.

For more on Notre Dame football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010, Facebook at Thomas Davis, and Instagram at tomdavis101010.

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