A year on the bench has Brandon Wimbush ready for game action again.
Notre Dame’s hopes for a bounce back 2017 season largely rest on junior quarterback’s shoulders.
“I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity coming up,” Wimbush said Friday.
Wimbush hasn’t been the No. 1 quarterback in over two years. The former four-star recruit from St. Peter’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 mature, so I understand and I know where I’m at. I know what university I’m at and I understander 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’s patience appears to have paid off. The 6-foot-1, 226-pound right-hander is the overwhelming favorite to start the season-opener against Temple. Teammates and coaches have raved about the potential of Wimbush, the most unproven player on an otherwise experience offense.
From his mother and father to his quarterback coach to head coach Brian Kelly and former offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, Wimbush said he leaned on a number of people to mentally get through a trying redshirt year.
Wimbush said he’s taken advice from both Kizer and Zaire about how to handle the job. Wimbush used the example of Kizer being thrust into the starting role in 2015 when Zaire broke his leg in Week 2. It was Kizer’s preparation skills, Wimbush said, that stood out during their time together.
“You prepare yourself then you don’t have to get prepared,” Wimbush said. “If you’re always prepared you don’t have to get prepared.”
Working with Wimbush is Tom Rees, a former Notre Dame quarterback now coaching the position at his alma mater. Wimbush said the 24-year-old Rees will occasionally bring up clips of himself in the film room to illustrate a point.
Rees’ biggest piece of advice to Wimbush: be smart.
“That applies in every aspect of your life to make the right choices,” Wimbush said. “Even on the field and off the field. Especially as the quarterback, you’ve got to make the right choice, you’ve got to make the right read. Off the field, you’ve got to make the right choice, the right reads.”
Kelly inserted Wimbush on the scout team in practice near the end of the 2016 season, having the third-stringer simulate the quarterback for the Virginia Tech and Miami games. Wimbush said he enjoyed the live reps, playing alongside tight end Alize Jones (suspended) and running back Tony Jones Jr. (redshirted).
All three players are now expected to be key contributors this season.
“For me to be able to go down there an kind of get some live reps was huge for me,” Wimbush said. “I was kind of sidelined for the majority of the season until late when he sent me down there to get a reps, which was awesome.”
While it’s too early to form an identity of the 2017 Notre Dame offense, Wimbush said, he’s excited about the weapons that return surrounding him. The Irish bring back four starters on the offensive line, a talented group of running backs and a deep receiving corps.
The biggest change has been the tempo on offense, a byproduct of new offensive coordinator Chip Long. Wimbush said he wants to improve all aspects of his game, specifically his pocket presence.
“It’s day four, so it’s really early,” Wimbush said. “We’re on track right now and we’re at a good spot in the spring to be where we want to be at the end of the spring.”
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