Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly eager for QB signee Phil Jurkovec to push Brandon Wimbush

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Less than 24 hours before he faxed in his signed national letter-of-intent to the Notre Dame football offices on Wednesday morning, Phil Jurkovec dusted off his dormant basketball prowess and produced a double-double in a 62-54 win over North Allegheny (Pa.) High.

That’s a mere 10 days after quarterbacking his Pine-Richland football squad to a 41-21 rout of St. Joseph’s Prep in the Pennsylvania high school Class 6A state championship game and capping all kinds of statistical milestones along the way.

In a December streak of remarkable feats for the 6-foot-5, 204-pound Gibsonia, Pa. product, though, finding his way into a discussion about where he stands versus current Notre Dame starting QB Brandon Wimbush certainly fits right in.

Which is exactly what happened during Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s Wednesday morning press conference, shortly after Jurkovec and 19 other Irish verbal commitments officially signed during the first hours of the new early, three-day signing period for college football.

''Brian, obviously you're very high on Phil Jurkovec,” came the question. “Do you think he has the ability at this point to challenge for the starting job right out of the gate, in August?”

“I want him to challenge,” Kelly unabashedly responded.

That’s a compliment to both the potential of Jurkovec — who has been verbally committed to the Irish for 19 months, since the end of his sophomore year in high school — and how Kelly thinks Wimbush would respond to that talent climbing up the Irish depth chart next summer.

“I want Brandon to feel competition, and I'm sure Brandon wants to be challenged,” Kelly continued. “Any great competitor wants that feeling that somebody is pushing him every day. And not that (current No. 2) Ian Book doesn't.

“But let's bring in another really good quarterback — a great quarterback. That's our job here at Notre Dame. I'm not doing a good enough job if I don't bring in a great quarterback to challenge the incumbent quarterback.

“If that threatens Brandon, then he's not the guy I think he is. I'm pretty certain he's going to be excited about Phil being here and the competition.”

Kelly is certainly excited, and with good reason.

In 2017, Jurkovec set a Pennsylvania state record for single-season offensive yardage (passing, throwing, receiving) with 5,180. He completed 73 percent of his pass attempts (243-of-334) for 3,969 yards and 39 TDs. As a runner, he churned out 1,211 yards (9.2 yards per attempt) and 24 rushing touchdowns.

“He probably is the best quarterback I’ve seen in high school,” former North Hills coach Jack McCurry (1978-2012), who faced NFL Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino among others, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Marino certainly could throw and Marino could run, but not run like this kid,” McCurry said. “I’m certainly not saying that this kid will do what Marino did in college (Pitt) or the pros. We have to wait to see. I’m just saying in high school, I haven’t seen anyone do what this kid has done.”

Jurkovec is rated as a four-star prospect by and 247Sports, with an overall No. 55 Rivals ranking regardless of position. Wimbush was No. 60 coming out of St. Peter’s (N.J.) Prep three recruiting cycles ago. The other two returning QBs on the Irish roster — sophomore Ian Book and freshman Avery Davis — didn’t crack the Rivals top 250 in their respective senior seasons.

Kelly's first response Wednesday was actually Jurkovec (and then three-star cornerback Tariq Bracy) when asked about which players among Wednesday’s 20 signees were the most underrated.

“I think he's the best quarterback in the country,” Kelly said. “He's somebody that I could put up against any quarterback that I've ever seen.”

Kelly said he thought Jurkovec’s star rating was suppressed by the fact that he didn’t participate in the national exposure camps and events. Others pointed out that the few regional camps in which he participated were staged close to the end of basketball season, when Jurkovec wasn’t yet back in football form.

“I think he’s a five-star quarterback and a tremendous talent for Notre Dame,” CBS Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “I don’t care about those camps and what he did there. I’ve seen him in person in actual games, and I’ve seen his film.

“Once you look at him, you know he’s five-star. And anybody that doesn’t have him as a five-star player just doesn’t do their homework.”

Part of what makes Jurkovec special in Kelly’s eyes is basketball.

The eighth-year Irish head coach is glad he has rejoined his team five games into its 2017-18 season as a fourth-year starter, though he’ll have to take some time away in early January, when Jurkovec is in San Antonio, Texas, for the U.S. Army All-American Game on Jan. 6 and the days or practice leading up to it.

In the North Allegheny game Tuesday night, Jurkovec had 13 points and 17 rebounds in his season debut. In each of his previous three seasons, he’s averaged at least 15 points and eight boards per game, and earned third-team All-State honors last season after helping lead Pine-Richland into the Class 6A state title game.

“I love guys playing another sport, competing,” Kelly said of Jurkovec, who has been dunking since the seventh grade. “There is nothing that can replace the ability to lead and the ability to compete that another sport gives you.

“When I got a chance to go watch him play basketball, just his drive, his competitive best, his interaction with his teammates — those things you can't get (lifting and training) in the gym.

“Yeah, you can get a little stronger. Certainly you can continue to throw and build relationships in one-on-one, but you can't get those traits that separate the good from the great.”


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Pine-Richland quarterback Phil Jurkovec runs into the end zone for a touchdown against Central Catholic in the fourth quarter of the WPIAL 6A championship at Heinz Field Saturday, November 18, 2017 in Pittsburgh. (Photo courtesy Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)