Notre Dame turns to sophomore QB Brandon Wimbush
By MATT FORTUNA
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) The way Brandon Wimbush sees it, the Notre Dame quarterback has already experienced enough ups and downs to last a college career.
Even if he hasn't started a game yet.
Wimbush, the third-year sophomore tasked with resuscitating the Fighting Irish after a 4-8 season, spent most of his first season preparing to be just one snap away from taking over a team that was fighting for a College Football Playoff spot until the very last play of its regular season.
He spent his second year redshirting, relegated to sideline duty as Notre Dame stumbled to a tumultuous 2016 campaign that has left everyone on notice entering 2017.
"For the first two years I feel like I've learned more than anyone ever has learned, at an institution like this, going from the highest of the highs to the lowest of the lows for Notre Dame," Wimbush said. "What we went through, and we don't like to talk about it, was very unacceptable for the standards that we've set here. I learned what Malik (Zaire) went through with the injury, trying to stay tough through it. And DeShone (Kizer) going through his NFL process."
Zaire, who had a 3-0 record during a Notre Dame career marred by injury, is currently training in Arizona before picking a destination for his fifth year as a graduate transfer. Kizer is expected to be a first-round draft pick later this month.
That means the onus is on Wimbush to turn around an offense that finished 62nd nationally last season, despite having the services of Kizer. Wimbush will be the most visible new face in a Notre Dame program that features six new assistant coaches and made several other changes to ensure that something like last season never happens again.
"He's poised, and I think him having that poise and having that calmness about him, it lets the team be more loose and relaxed, and lets us play without worrying about making a mistake - and I think that's huge," said receiver Miles Boykin, who was part of the same recruiting class as Wimbush.
Wimbush entered Notre Dame with sterling credentials: The Teaneck, New Jersey, native was ranked no lower than sixth nationally among dual-threat quarterback prospects from the class of 2015.
He played in two games in 2015 as the No. 2 quarterback after Zaire went down with a season-ending ankle injury, completing 3 of 5 passes for 17 yards and rushing for 96 yards - 58 of which came on a touchdown rush late in a rout of UMass in his first career appearance.
Wimbush is listed at 6-foot-1.5 and 226 pounds, and he seems well-equipped to run new coordinator Chip Long's faster-paced offense on a unit that features an experienced backfield and four returning starters on the offensive line.
"We have so many good backs and the guys up front are so powerful and obviously four of them are returning, so I feel like we're going to be a powerful run team," Wimbush said, "I think a lot of my runs will come off the defense preparing for Josh (Adams), Dexter (Williams) and Tony (Jones) and hopefully they'll let me free, but I can use my legs to my advantage."
New quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees said Wimbush has all of the physical tools to do what the Irish want, and he's been impressed with the way the signal caller has handled a much bigger daily practice workload than he was used to. Coach Brian Kelly has said Wimbush would get 60 percent of the reps this spring, with second-year freshman Ian Book, the only other scholarship quarterback on the spring roster, getting the rest.
"The one thing that jumps is he's really dedicated himself to learning what we're trying to coach and really doing a great job outside of the meetings structure, the practice structure of studying and getting the playbook and understanding what we're doing," Rees said of Wimbush. "He's taking a bunch of steps mentally throughout the spring. Physically you see the talent there, and it's our job to make sure that (he's) having consistent days putting everything together. But from a maturity standpoint and a standpoint of really grasping everything he's been outstanding."
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Updated April 7, 2017