Recruiting Reset: Early work paying off for Notre Dame at quarterback

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The final judgement on Phil Jurkovec won’t come for a few more years.

Yet the 6-foot-5, 202-pound quarterback recruit has already been verbally committed to Notre Dame for 15 months.

That’s how far ahead the Irish have been working in recruiting. The chase for the top quarterbacks in the country demands early projections on young players. It also means the coaches left to develop those quarterbacks in college might not be the same who recruited them.

Former Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, currently the offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, recruited Brandon Wimbush to the Irish in the 2015 class. Wimbush will have known three different Notre Dame quarterbacks coaches by the time he makes his first start for the Irish on Sept. 2.

Former Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford started the pursuit of Jurkovec to be the Irish quarterback in the 2018 class. Sanford, now the head coach at Western Kentucky, has also moved on from Notre Dame.

Current Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees has only been on the job for seven months, but he too has landed his first quarterback commitment. In July, Cade McNamara, a 2019 recruit, gave his pledge to the Irish.

With coaches being asked to scout quarterbacks as early as their freshman year, the possibility of inaccurate projections remains high. And there are no signs of the process slowing down.

The uncertainty of quarterback recruiting won’t go away, but if the current Notre Dame commitments meet their projected potential, the Irish should be in good shape for the next several years.

2018 class

• QB Phil Jurkovec, 6-5, 202; Gibsonia (Pa.) Pine-Richland: Notre Dame’s trip to play Pittsburgh in November of the 2015 season probably doesn’t stand out as one of the more memorable games in recent years for the Irish. But if Jurkovec becomes a star at Notre Dame, it will have a much greater significance.

The night before the Irish beat the Panthers, Sanford headed out to Pine-Richland to watch Jurkovec play a game during his sophomore season. A day later, Jurkovec received an offer from the Irish. Jurkovec had already been on the Irish radar, but the trip to Pittsburgh allowed Sanford to make one last evaluation and show Jurkovec how much he valued him.

By the end of Jurkovec’s sophomore season, he had landed on the national recruiting radar. Jurkovec completed 176 of his 264 passes (67 percent) for 2,560 yards and 20 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He also rushed for 1,250 and 11 touchdowns.

Top programs like Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson, would join the chase for Jurkovec, but he saw a future home at Notre Dame. Jurkovec remained such a high priority for the Irish, that Sanford never offered another quarterback in the class.

When Jurkovec committed to the Irish on May 16, 2016, 247Sports slated him as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2018 class. Jurkovec’s standing has slipped since then.

A torn ligament in his right thumb shortened the four-star recruit’s junior season to just six games, but he still managed to throw for 1,673 yards and 12 touchdowns by completing 104 of his 167 passes (62 percent) with only two interceptions. Jurkovec also rushed for 481 yards and eight touchdowns. In the winter, Jurkovec played a major role on Pine-Richland’s basketball team, finishing with a 32-3 record as state runner-up.

By the time spring and summer camp season rolled around, other quarterbacks in the 2018 class surged ahead of him in the rankings. Jurkovec did not receive one of the 25 invites given to top quarterback recruits nationally to compete in the Elite 11 Finals. By most accounts, his performance at The Opening regional camp in Cleveland, which serves as an Elite 11 audition, underwhelmed.

A camp setting, especially outside of football season, might not be the best way to evaluate the right-handed Jurkovec. His ability to extend plays can’t fully be measured, and his accuracy might not be as sharp after playing another sport in the offseason. Yet a camp can illustrate technical areas for improvement.

Currently, Rivals ranks Jurkovec as the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback and No. 80 overall in the 2018 class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 6 dual-threat QB and No. 99 overall.

As his stats indicate, Jurkovec plays his best in true game scenarios. He can throw on the run, deliver passes with touch and make plays with his legs. His instincts allow him allow him to keep plays alive and make the right decision on when to run or throw.

Jurkovec should have time to develop at Notre Dame, but he could quickly enter the competition to be the next starting quarterback after Wimbush departs.

2019 class

• Cade McNamara, 6-1, 186; Reno (Nev.) Damonte Ranch: Like Jurkovec, McNamara produced major numbers in his sophomore season. Unlike Jurkovec, McNamara didn’t become a hot commodity before committing to Notre Dame.

Despite McNamara throwing for 3,577 yards and 46 touchdowns on 218-of-374 passing (58 percent) with 11 interceptions as a sophomore, college programs didn’t rush to throw scholarship offers his way. McNamara entered June with only Wisconsin, Nevada, Hawaii and San Diego State on his offer list.

But Rees and the Notre Dame coaching staff saw something to like in McNamara. After McNamara threw at an Irish camp in June, he received an offer later that month. One more visit to South Bend led to his commitment on July 17.

A strong push for McNamara could be considered a risk by Notre Dame. The Irish likely could have waited to see him develop more with so few other scholarship offers on the table. McNamara hadn’t even received a star rating from Rivals and 247Sports by the time Notre Dame offered in June.

Nonetheless, the Irish committed to bringing in McNamara. His film shows a confident quarterback willing to make throws all over the field. He’ll have the chance to convince doubters — whether due to his size, lack of talented opponents or something else — in his next two seasons.

Rivals has already been swayed on McNamara’s potential. When the recruiting site released its first Rivals 250 for the 2019 class earlier this month, it pegged McNamara as a four-star recruit, the No. 6 pro-style quarterback and No. 236 overall.

247Sports has been a bit more tepid on McNamara with a three-star rating and positioning him as the No. 8 pro-style quarterback and No. 304 overall in the 2019 class.


Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame quarterback commit Phil Jurkovec surpassed 7,000 career passing yards last week. (Photo courtesy of Trib Total Media/Christopher Horner)

In the coming days, the ND Insider Recruiting Reset series will take a position-by-position look at Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts in the 2018 class. This is the first story of the series.