ARLINGTON, Texas — Ian Book shared his first few seconds as a former Notre Dame quarterback with Robert Hainsey.
Book shared a longtime connection with the senior right tackle. They started 29 games together. They helped the Irish to four consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in program history. They made two College Football Playoff appearances.
So after Book’s final pass fell incomplete and No. 4 Notre Dame (10-2) lost 31-14 to top-ranked Alabama (12-0) in the Rose Bowl CFP semifinal on Friday, Book embraced the only other two-time captain on the Irish team this season.
“I told him I love him to death and love him with all my heart,” said Hainsey about his postgame conversation with Book on the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. “He’s been a great teammate and a great quarterback. And I couldn’t put into words how much fun it’s been having him as a friend. And he’s a true friend. We’re going to be friends forever.
“And it’s been a great four years. I can’t wait to see what he does next. The kid is a winner, and all he’s going to do is go on and be the best he can be, the best Ian Book he can be. And that’s all that he needs to be.”
The Crimson Tide’s stingy secondary limited Book and the vertical passing game. He completed 27-of-39 passes for 229 yards and an interception. Until the fourth quarter, Book attempted just two on-target passes beyond six yards from the line of scrimmage. The graduate senior also turned 15 carries into 55 yards and a touchdown.
Later this month, Book and Hainsey will share the same field again. They plan to play in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 30 in hopes of improving their positions in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Ending his collegiate career with a loss and modest performance didn’t keep Book from staying positive as he reminisced on the experience.
“Making that decision to come to Notre Dame,” Book said, “it’s just been unbelievable. It’s been everything to me. It didn’t finish the way I wanted it to. But I love these guys so much, this whole entire team, the entire program. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into going to Notre Dame, and it’s just exceeded every expectation I’ve had.
“And I’m blessed. It’s awesome. What an unbelievable journey. Definitely going to stay positive. And just some special guys. Met lifelong friends and unbelievable coaches. It’s just been everything I’ve wanted it to be. Super fortunate and super grateful. We’ll keep our heads high.”
The Irish boasted a loaded quarterback room when signing Book in their 2016 recruiting class. The three-star recruit seemed like an afterthought. Book served as the fourth-team quarterback in year one behind DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and Brandon Wimbush.
In the 2017 season, both Book and Hainsey received their first opportunities. After replacing an injured Brandon Wimbush, Book notched his first win as a collegiate starter in a 33-10 victory over North Carolina. Hainsey played in all 13 games as a true freshman.
The only game Hainsey started that season came against LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Book incidentally helped the Irish down the Tigers, 21-17, off the bench. He threw a game-winning 55-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Miles Boykin with less than two minutes remaining.
Then Book supplanted Wimbush as the starter in game 4 of the 2018 season. Now he’s one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in Notre Dame history. Book trails only Brady Quinn as the program’s all-time leader in career passing yards and career passing touchdowns.
“He’s a winner. He’s won more games than any quarterback in Notre Dame history. Period. End of discussion,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly about Book’s 30-5 record as a starter. “The guy is a winner, and we are going to miss him. He just wins football games. And there is no other story. Just a winner.”
Hainsey brought more experience than almost anyone on Notre Dame’s 2020 roster. He made 34 career starts and participated in 47 games. He contributed to the Irish unit in 2017 that claimed the Joe Moore Award, which goes to the nation’s best offensive line. Notre Dame’s offensive line is one of three finalists for the Joe Moore Award this season.
In 2019, Notre Dame awarded Hainsey Offensive Lineman of the Year honors. He missed the last five games of that season after suffering an ankle injury.
“Robert and Ian, they set a great example,” Irish running back Kyren Williams said. “And every other senior set a great example to where we need to be in the future and as players at Notre Dame. So we know what we have to do. We know the work starts tomorrow. So we’re ready for what’s ahead of us and ready to take it on with new leadership.”
Book was not the only Notre Dame player Hainsey embraced. As his Irish teammates headed off the field and toward the locker room, Hainsey greeted them with a hug.
“You guys made this season an absolute blast to play,” Hainsey said while beside Book, Williams and true freshman tight end Michael Mayer. “Kyren, your tenacity and the way you play, it was some of the most fun I’ve had playing football.
"Mike, seeing you step in as a young guy, I did the same thing. It was a blast, and seeing you excel and do that stuff is what made this season so much fun.
“So, thank you guys for being there and doing that.”
Way-too-early 2021 outlook
The search is officially underway for Notre Dame’s new defensive coordinator.
Clark Lea fulfilled his remaining responsibilities in the role against Alabama. He will now serve as the full-time head coach at Vanderbilt, his alma mater.
“We all trust coach Kelly, his judgment and whatever decision he’s going to make, along with the rest of the defensive staff,” said Irish safety Kyle Hamilton about the coordinator search. “But filling coach Lea’s shoes are big shoes to fill. He’s going to do great at Vanderbilt. I believe that with my whole heart. He’s a great guy, great coach, and I think that coach Kelly knows that we respond well to that.
“I think he’ll try to find a guy who is as cerebral, as dedicated and as focused on making us better football players, as well as better men.”
Notre Dame could look a lot different when it begins next season at Florida State on Sept. 5. The Irish will have a new defensive coordinator and starting quarterback after leaning on Book and Lea since 2018.
Sophomore Brendon Clark, true freshman Drew Pyne and incoming four-star recruit Tyler Buchner figure to compete for Notre Dame’s starting quarterback job. Clark and Pyne are the only scholarship quarterbacks returning. Buchner plans to enroll at Notre Dame a semester early after signing in December.
The Irish will have to replace key starters at other positions, too.
“I just told them in the locker room, ‘As one group leaves, another group comes in,’” Hainsey said. “We’ve seen it, and we’ve been through it. We were a younger group in 2018, and we won 12 games. And we’re back here.
“So there’s no doubt in my mind that these guys can step up and play the type of football that they learned how to play from (offensive line) coach (Jeff) Quinn), (offensive coordinator Tommy) Rees and each other. There’s no doubt that they’ll be able to step up and attack.
“And this team’s going to go as the offensive line goes. It always has, always will, as with any team. But they need to be the core of the offense like we were, and I think they’ll do a great job of that as they step up.
“This offseason is going to be huge. They have a great running back, a great group of tight ends and a great quarterback, great couple of young quarterbacks are going to come in and compete. So this offense is only going up with the coaching we have and the players we have. I’m excited to watch it.”
• Alabama scored its lowest point total since its 44-16 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game to cap the 2018 season. The Irish limited the Crimson Tide to just nine possessions, their fewest in a game since the 2015 season.
• With his one-yard score, Williams finished with 13 rushing touchdowns on the season. No Notre Dame running back has rushed for more touchdowns since Autry Denson’s 15 in 1998. Williams is tied for No. 9 all-time in Irish history for single-season rushing touchdowns.
• Alabama gained 318 yards on first downs, averaging 10.6 yards per play across 30 first-down situations. Notre Dame gained 95 yards across 33 first-down plays.
• By completing 25 of 30 passes (83.3 percent), Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones broke the record for highest completion percentage in a Rose Bowl game. Former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez held the previous record, completing 28 of his 35 passes against Penn State in 2009.
• For the 17th time in Rose Bowl history, a team produced a 100-yard receiver and 100-yard rusher. This time, it came from Alabama running back Najee Harris (15 rushes for 125 yards) and wide receiver DeVonta Smith (seven catches for 130 yards and three touchdowns).
• The total attendance of 18,373 is the highest to date of this college football bowl season. The second-highest total came from the same venue. Oklahoma’s 55-20 win over Florida in the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday drew 17,323 fans.
• Hainsey represented the Irish as a captain for the opening coin toss.