Notre Dame quarterback commit Tyler Buchner still unsatisfied after historic junior season
What set the stage for one of the more impressive high school football seasons in recent history can be best explained by a text message.
“Man, I wish I had a couple of those throws back,” Tyler Buchner’s message began to read from the phone of Danny Mitchell, his offensive coordinator at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Calif.
The Notre Dame commit continued the message with a few thoughts on how he should have been better. All Mitchell could do was laugh. Anything negative about Buchner’s play seemed like nitpicking.
In his first full year as a starting varsity quarterback, Buchner finished No. 3 all-time among high school players nationally in total yards (6,084) and yards per game (468) in a single season.
But that attitude of remaining unsatisfied is how Buchner bounced back from a torn ACL in his left knee — an injury suffered four plays into his 2018 season.
Last Friday’s 75-59 loss to El Camino in the California Interscholastic Federation San Diego section Division II championship game prompted the text. The Knights (12-1) blew a 59-35 lead in the third quarter after allowing four one-play touchdown drives.
Yet Buchner felt it was he who required improvement. He saw a need to be better after tallying a career-high 353 rushing yards on just 18 carries and going 22-of-46 passing for 296 yards. He saw a need to be better after an eight-touchdown performance elevated his season total to 81.
“That’s what separates him from everyone else,” Mitchell said. “A lot of high school kids would look at these numbers and say, ‘Oh, I did such a great job this year.’”
Buchner showed no signs of rust following his return from the injury, at least not after the first two games. The four-star junior began this season limited for precautionary reasons. That meant donning a knee brace and running the football only when necessary.
In his first game without the knee brace and limitations, Buchner fell one yard short of the California high school football total yardage record held by Jorge Amaya of Los Angeles Hawkins (761). Buchner finished 24-of-36 for 465 passing yards and five touchdowns with 295 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 20 attempts in a 71-42 victory over Chula Vista Mater Dei Catholic on Sept. 7.
“Once that brace came off — it was like a hindrance to him,” Mitchell said. “It was almost like a mental thing. He would run but when the brace came off, he became what everyone now sees.”
Buchner’s unique skill set makes him a handful to defend. He specializes in delivering off-platform throws — passes that are released at unusual arm angles or off-balance. Buchner’s 1,628 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on 128 carries this season were a product of his downhill running style as a 6-foot-2, 212-pounder.
Defenders must account for Buchner as an impromptu passer in and out of the pocket and as a bruising but elusive runner in space and in close quarters. He ran a 4.65 40-yard dash in March of 2018. One of Buchner’s five touchdowns against El Camino involved him lowering his shoulder at the goal line and knocking a linebacker off his feet.
“I haven’t seen a run yet where he’s the one that’s taking the blow,” Mitchell said. “Where you see how violent he is when he’s running, it’s not those longer runs. If you watch those runs where he’s stopped for no gain, he will dive through a guy’s chest or he’ll find a way to make sure you are punished for tackling him.
“You can’t find a guy that can throw the ball and run like that unless you create him on (the video game) Madden.”
Now Buchner figures to be one of the best members of the 2021 recruiting class. Rivals ranks Buchner as its No. 8 pro-style quarterback and No. 65 overall player, while 247Sports pegs him No. 9 at the position and No. 103 overall.
Doubts may linger because of the competition Buchner faces. He doesn’t compete against teams loaded with recruits primed for Power Five football. But Buchner’s best games this season came against the top three teams on the schedule: Poway and the aforementioned Mater Dei Catholic and El Camino.
“The guy is a gamer,” Mitchell said. “The bigger the stage, the better he is. That to me is the big separator with him.”
One of Tommy Rees’ first major recruiting decisions as Notre Dame’s quarterbacks coach was to take a chance on Buchner, particularly over four-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy, committed to Michigan. At the time Rees offered Buchner a scholarship in June of 2018 and accepted his commitment the following March, he had no meaningful high school tape.
Having the sample size of this season has only cemented Buchner’s status as a high priority. Rees spent his first day back on the recruiting trail visiting The Bishop’s School on Monday. He shared with the Knights coaching staff about how he sees Buchner developing in college.
Notre Dame’s Ian Book and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts were the only Division I quarterbacks to finish the 2019 regular season with at least 2,500 yards passing, 30 passing touchdowns and 500 yards rushing. Rees mentioned to Mitchell that those numbers seem attainable for Buchner one day.
Book, like Buchner, came to South Bend as a former lacrosse star boasting skills Notre Dame coveted: quick decision-making and accuracy. But he didn’t come with the recruiting pedigree and potential to start in year one like Buchner likely will.
“I think they see him being a big time help early on the day he steps on campus,” Mitchell said. “Tyler is the type of player that they are going to see and say, ‘How do we keep him off the field?’
“There’s no way. He is that good.”