Notre Dame football: Offense not a mystery to Hendrix

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - When Andrew Hendrix thinks back almost two years ago to his first extended playing time against Stanford, he just shakes his head and rolls his eyes.

At the time, the Notre Dame football team’s backup quarterback thought he had a grasp of the Irish offense.

Now, he can admit he really didn’t have a clue.

Back then, with Everett Golson riding out a redshirt year, Hendrix was a welcome relief from the turnover machine that was Tommy Rees.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

After a year of relative inactivity as a third-stringer last season (3 games, 5-of-7 passing for 55 yards), Hendrix, a 6-foot-2, 226-pound senior (with another year of eligibility remaining), is in a similar position. Golson, again, is a non-factor - this time on an academically-induced hiatus from the university. Rees is the No. 1 quarterback and Hendrix is one play away from being the starter.

The main difference: This time Hendrix understands what’s going on.

Hendrix threw up a pretty good smoke screen in the second half of a 28-14 loss at Stanford in 2011. Trailing 21-0 at halftime, Irish head coach Brian Kelly turned to Hendrix. He responded by completing 11 of 24 passes (one interception) for 192 yards, a six-yard TD pass to Michael Floyd and 20 yards rushing on 12 carries, including a two-yard touchdown burst.

“I played well (against Stanford), but I was nowhere near as good as I am now,” Hendrix said after Saturday’s practice. “There were a lot of intricacies to the game that I didn’t know. I didn’t know that I didn’t know them.

“Looking back, it’s funny, because I didn’t have any idea like I do now. It just comes from learning.”

The problem came about a month later when the Florida State defense called his bluff. Hendrix completed 3 of 8 passes for 24 yards and ran four times for 26 yards in a Champs Sports Bowl loss to the Seminoles.

Back to the drawing board, so to speak.

A pre-med major, Hendrix’s strong point has always been in the classroom. Time to learn what’s going on before he can make something good happen on the field.

Once Golson emerged as a dynamic playmaker and starting quarterback from a three-man derby to start last season, Hendrix was relegated to “red-hat” duty, signaling in the plays with the rest of the unused QBs.

“I think I could have run the offense last year,” Hendrix said. “I’m trying to perfect it now.”

Why didn’t the frustration level boil over? Why didn’t he pack his bags and bail out of this quarterback quagmire, following Gunner Kiel’s lead?

“You would have to be out of your mind to leave here,” Hendrix said with a smile. “At all times, you’re just a number of plays away from being the guy on the field. If you have confidence in yourself, it’s not hard to stay here.

“The school is unbelievable. The people are unbelievable. This organization is great. (Transferring) was really never an option in my mind.”

What a refreshing approach to a very difficult situation. He could have moped. He could have been a cancer on the team. He could have been a guy who destroyed more chemistry than he studied.

But ... he wasn’t.

“(Hendrix) probably wasn’t happy about (not playing much last season),” Kelly said. “He’s such a great character kid, he focused on what he could do to help the team in whatever capacity. Sometimes he went over and helped the scout team. Whatever role he was asked, he really was a team guy.

“I don’t know that he really enjoyed it, but he’s such a great kid and a great teammate, that he did whatever was necessary. I’m sure he went home at night going, ‘This stinks.’ Nobody really likes it, but he accepted his role.”

He did more than accept it. Hendrix allowed himself to embrace it, and constantly worked to better his plight.

“The kind of person I am, I’m not really one to get down on myself,” Hendrix said. “Competitively speaking, I have it pretty good. It was never hard to stay positive. If you relax and become complacent, you’re two plays away from not knowing what you’re doing out there. I prepared like I was the guy. That’s what I’ll do this year, as well.”

The big picture goes way beyond the next snap; the next practice; the next game; or the next season. It’s about life, and a guy determined to make the most out of it.

“Being a quarterback’s an art,” Hendrix said of his philosophy toward the position. “It’s not rules, rules, rules - like a chemistry test.”

Still, execution of that art must be done within the parameters of those rules. That’s why gaining a solid working knowledge of the Irish offense has been so important to prepare Hendrix for the challenge ahead.

“Knowledge of the game (has been Hendix’s most significant development),” said Kelly. “He’s more aware of circumstances of the game itself - down and distance; pressures; what defenses are trying to do. Just an overall understanding of the game.

“He’s not that prototypical gym rat, if you will. I don’t want to say that’s a negative, but he didn’t grow up with the game. He’s become so much more understanding of the game itself.

“He can recognize things so much easier, when you’re talking about different looks; understanding the concept. It’s just film study, being in the film room, all those things. It’s just come a little bit later for him, but it’s coming.”

“The position is relatively new to me - reading defenses, throwing the ball around,” said Hendrix, who ran quite a bit in high school at Cincinnati Moeller. “It’s something I didn’t do growing up. I was always more of a physical guy growing up. I’ve come a long way (in reading defenses), even since the beginning of camp.

“Now, learning the offense, there are still a lot of things I’m getting to know. My (comfort) level is so much better than what it was. It just comes with reps.”

Rees still has that edge in knowledge, which is why he’s No. 1.

“The difference between Tommy and I is that he has grown up with (football, as a coach’s kid),” Hendrix said. “He’s seen defenses. He’s watched tape for a while. I’m a step behind him. I’m working to close that gap. Sitting in the film room, and translating it to the field, is where I’m slightly behind.”

But light years ahead of where he was two years ago.

And wise enough to recognize it.

Notre Dame quarterback Andrew Hendrix (12) walks into practice Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, at LaBar Practice Complex. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ