Drew Pyne's leadership and work ethic has him in contention to start for ND at quarterback

SOUTH BEND — After just a handful of spring practices for Notre Dame, the question of who will be the starting quarterback Sept. 3 at Ohio State remains.

Head coach Marcus Freeman and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees are going to let the spring play out before making that decision.

"The things I'm going to be looking for," Freeman said last week, "(are) who's taking care of the ball, who's making good decisions, who's able to extend plays at times when the pocket maybe fails."

The top two candidates — sophomore Tyler Buchner and junior Drew Pyne — will have to show coaches what they bring to the table and why each should start.

"I think it's a very healthy quarterback competition," Pyne said. "But at the same time Tyler and I are very close, and the main thing that we care about is getting the team better every single day."

Just because the two quarterbacks are friends doesn't mean that either is going to let the other have the job. This will be a real quarterback battle between two players with different styles.

Pyne stated numerous times how competitive he is playing ping pong or football. That only grew after last season.

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"I'm as competitive as anyone could possibly be," Pyne explained. "When I'm on the field, I'm going to do everything I possibly can to succeed. I work out as hard as I possibly can. I put myself in the position to succeed and compete as hard as I possibly can. I've been that way my whole entire life."

Last season, Pyne was inserted into games twice by former head coach Brian Kelly — against Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago and at home vs. eventual College Football Playoff qualifier Cincinnati. He went 6 for 8 for 81 yards and a touchdown in the victory against Wisconsin. The Bearcats gave him more trouble, but he was able to lead a small comeback toward the end of the game, but it fell short. 

These two games showed Pyne that he could hang in there with the best of them.

"I go into those two games (against) two of the top five defenses in the country," Pyne recalled. "I was pretty pleased with the way I played, so I was very confident those two games, and I'll always be ready to play."

Becoming a leader for the Irish

When reading up on Pyne or speaking to those closest to him, a strength that jumps out is leadership. 

"Drew's always had that," Rees said. "He's just that kid. He's that personality. He has that energy that people gravitate to. He's loud, and he knows how to communicate."

While Pyne, a former standout at New Cannan (Conn.) High School, credits a good family upbringing for some of that, both he and Rees point to a more recent and direct influences in Jack Coan and Ian Book. 

Book was a three-year starter at quarterback for the Irish and left after the 2020 season as the program's all-time leader in wins, going 30-5.

Notre Dame’s Drew Pyne (10) during the 2022 Playstation Fiesta Bowl Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Coan, a graduate transfer from Wisconsin, started every game in 2021 in leading the Irish to a spot in the Fiesta Bowl where he threw 68 passes in a 35-33 loss to Oklahoma State.

"For Drew, he saw Ian and Jack," Rees said. "I think those are two great examples of guys handling their business the right way and not being caught off guard or pushed off the tracks when things weren't perfect. We have the example set."

Book was the starter when Pyne was a freshman, so he recalls that the now New Orleans Saints quarterback encouraged him to hang out with everyone on the team, not just quarterbacks or offensive players.

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He observed how Book and Coan led their teams, and he took some pointers and has incorporated it into his way of leading.

"If one guy messes up, everyone else isn't gonna succeed," Pyne said. "So having each other's back is something that I've always had as a big portion of my life to be able to succeed. So, I think you can't do anything without other people, especially in this sport."

Dreamed of leading Notre Dame

Pyne dreamed of starting at Notre Dame since he was 4. There's even a video of him standing on a chair in his living room chanting "Rudy, Rudy, Rudy" while imitating a scene from the famous 1993 sports movie.

He's prepared for this opportunity since the eighth grade when Pyne began working with David Morris — founder of the national quarterback development company QB Country — and Morris' brother, Thomas. They have all been together for about eight years now.

Notre Dame's Drew Pyne during Notre Dame’s spring football practice on Thursday, March 17, 2022, inside the Irish Athletic Complex in South Bend.

In the offseason, Pyne and the Morrises watch the film from the previous year, go over what the coaches have asked Pyne to work on and come up with their own evaluation. 

"He's one of those guys that has this spirit about him that he's going to go out, and he's going to fix the problem," Thomas Morris said. "He'll go to the sideline, he'll fix that problem. He'll go back and throw a touchdown. That's just the guy Drew is."

Pyne heads down to one of QB Country various locations every chance he gets in an effort to improve. 

Pyne said the Morris brothers have become family, and they even take trips together. On those trips, Pyne brings along a football so they can work even during relax time.

"Whatever he does, he wants to win, and he will fight with every fiber. He has to win," Thomas Morris said. "He just has that competitive spirit that is special."

The Morris brothers have worked with such quarterbacks as two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning, XFL star/current Carolina Panther P.J. Walker and former Alabama national champion A.J. McCarron, who still plays in the NFL.

"I've been around the hall of famers. I think Drew has something that's really, really special," Thomas Morris said. "I just hope that everybody else can see it and feel it because I do."

Notre Dame's Drew Pyne during Notre Dame’s spring football practice on Thursday, March 17, 2022, inside the Irish Athletic Complex in South Bend.

Thomas even gave a quick, top-of-mind evaluation on some of the critical tools a quarterback needs for success.

Footwork: "Perfect."

Arm strength: "Getting there."

Decision making: "Spot on."

Mentality: "Warrior."

Likeability: "If you have a pulse, you will like this kid."

Work ethic: "Fierce."

'Make History': National championship goals

As Pyne sat in the Irish Athletic Center surrounded by reporters, he kept fiddling with his bracelet, which read "Make History."

When asked about it, he didn't know where he got it or if someone had gifted it to him. The bracelet, though, is special. It reminds him of what his ultimate goal is while at Notre Dame.

"This is actually really growing on me, and I look at it quite a lot," Pyne explained. "I know we can make history here at Notre Dame. If we win a national championship, it will be remembered forever because it's been a long time since that happened. I think this team is a team that can do it."

Pyne kept bringing up the fact that Notre Dame hasn't won a national championship since Lou Holtz coached the 1988 Irish to a win over West Virginia in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl.

That bothers him.

"The goal of every single player on the team is to win a national championship," Pyne said. "We're going to work for that every single day. That's the overall goal. One day, one life, we're trying to get better every single day to reach that goal."