It’s part of the process early in every Notre Dame football season, right there with waiting out practice periods and counting down the days before the return of those press box hot dogs.
Well, one out of two will do.
Somewhere inside that first week or work, when everything is fresh and exciting and injuries have yet to impact the depth chart, well, two out of three will do, something must be penned about the Irish starting quarterback.
Saturday marks the end of the first week of preseason workouts. It will be practice No. 6, and the first on campus for the Irish. So here it goes on senior Ian Book.
He’s bigger and bolder than when he first stepped into that quarterback spotlight last season. Time eventually will tell if he’s better, something we may not see the rest of camp or through the first two weeks of the regular season, which opens Labor Day night at Louisville.
The tough tests will surface soon enough (see Georgia, Sept. 21). Still, camp couldn’t start soon enough for Book. It’s a grind from now until basically Thanksgiving weekend.
“I’ve just been itching to get out here,” Book said to a reporter earlier in the week from Culver Academy, where the Irish held their first five practices. “I know the vibe of the team is the same. It’s camp and it’s long and it’s hard and it’s hot, but I really noticed this year how excited everyone is for it, which is awesome.”
It’s not often Book shows that side of himself. It’s not his style. He’s usually more stoic than style, even in practice. He just stays steady. That’s how he was this week down in Marshall County. That’s how he was last year in Marshall County. It was a routine thing, but there was nothing routine with Book’s second time through at all.
Everything about his place in the program has changed over a calendar year. This time last year, Book may have carried himself like he was the starter, but he wasn’t. This was Brandon Wimbush’s team. His job. He took the first team reps and had the post-practice podium treatment. That all changed three weeks into a 2018 season that saw Notre Dame go to the College Football Playoff for the first time in school history.
Book was a big reason. Should the Irish make another run at the Final Four, he’ll again be a big reason. He knows it. He embraces it.
What does Book have to do to be better? Just be Book.
“I come in here, I’ve got to prove myself,” he said. “I just really want to lead this team and this offense and go as far as I know we can. Definitely not going to take the foot off the gas at all.”
Among the elite
If anything, Book has to push that performance pedal closer to the floor. Be less a game manager and more a game breaker. Make plays with his arm. With his legs. With his decisions and determination. That started in spring when he knew he needed to be more vocal. His voice isn’t as loud as say, offensive coordinator Chip Long, or as distinctive as offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, or as prominent as safety Jalen Elliott, but Book will speak when he needs to speak. His words carry serious weight.
That helped him be more of a presence in the summer as a SWAT team leader, something that could correlate into being named a team captain, perhaps as early as Saturday.
Book was one of about two dozen college quarterbacks to serve as a counselor for the five-day Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La., in late June.
“It was an awesome experience,” Book said.
Awesome to share stories with his fellow college quarterbacks like Stanford’s K.J. Costello and Georgia’s Jake Fromm and some dude named Trevor from Clemson. Awesome to sit for an hour and talk with Peyton Manning. Awesome for Book to realize that he’s among the elite.
Irish coach Brian Kelly noticed a change in Book’s demeanor following those five days in Louisiana. Noticed by the way he carried himself around the Gug. Like he REALLY belongs.
“You come back, and there’s kind of a self-realization that, ‘I’m pretty good; I can hang with anybody in the country, and I’ve got to do these things as well,’” Kelly said. “When you’re exposed to elite players, that’s always a positive thing. It was a positive experience for him.”
Book showed those maniacal Manning-like qualities in Culver. Like wanting to take every meaningful rep. Like wanting every throw to be perfect. On Thursday, getaway day for the program, the quarterbacks were running a basic screen drill with the wide receivers. Book connected with Kendall Abdur-Rahman, but the pass was a little low, which forced the freshman to slow up on his route.
Book reacted as if he’d just thrown an interception. He clapped his hands together. His head dropped. He had a few words for himself. Next throw was on point. That goes to his continued growth as a player and his chase for perfection. Book knows he’ll never be there, but that won’t stop him from working.
“There’s still so much to learn,” he said. “That’s kind of the best part about it, knowing how much room I have to grow. I want to get there.”
Yet part of him has to believe he’s already there He won’t come out and say it, but Book’s good. He has to be if he wants to be.
He completed 68.2 percent of his passes and threw for 2,628 yards with 19 touchdowns last season. Look for him to make a run to surpass all those numbers this season. He believes he can.
“You’ve got to be confident; you’ve got to know that you’re the best one on the field when you’re out there and you can lead this team,” Book said. “You’ve got to consistently tell yourself that.”
Physically, Book looks different than last season, when he played at 203 pounds. He opened camp listed at 212. The added muscle gives him a confidence to weather the rush for a second or two longer, to get out of the pocket and take on would-be tacklers. To push past the bumps and bruises that are bound to surface.
He feels good; he looks good.
“I took pride in wanting to gain some weight,” he said. “I feel strong.”
He looks different, and not just the added weight. Might be from the mustache he’s growing, which puts him straight from 1970s television central casting. The facial hair was the preseason camp idea of the team’s offensive linemen. Those are Book’s guys, so he rolled with it.
“It’s pretty nasty, but I’m working on it,” he said. “Give it a month or so. I’m going to keep it as long as I can handle it, and then I’ll probably get tired of it.”
He’ll handle it. All of it. It’s who he now is.