Former Notre Dame QB Andrew Hendrix had plan he hoped to never use
Editor’s note: In the coming semester, a number of Notre Dame players with fifth-year options, perhaps including QB Everett Golson, will have to make a decision whether to finish their careers in an Irish uniform or walk away and start over somewhere else.
In this two-part series, we take a look at two recent Notre Dame quarterbacks who faced that decision and how it now looks in the rear-view mirror. Here’s part II, Andrew Hendrix, who finished at Miami, Ohio.
In the weeks that followed the Blue-Gold Game in April of 2012, Andrew Hendrix knew in the pit of his stomach what his mind kept trying to talk him out of.
That at some point the then-Notre Dame quarterback needed a Plan B, a Plan B he hoped never to use, mind you, but one that would perhaps keep his NFL aspirations alive if the tumblers at ND never perfectly aligned for him.
“In my mind I’d like to think I was close to being the No. 1 quarterback at a couple of points in my Notre Dame career,” said Hendrix, who was indisputably the top option two years after his epiphany, during his single season as a grad school-style transfer (no sitting out) at Miami, Ohio, this past season.
That Hendrix will be applying to medical schools to study to be a doctor, while the pre-NFL Draft auditions take place this winter and quite likely as the undrafted free agent scramble plays out in late spring, shows how two seemingly divergent dreams can co-exist.
If the product of storied high school power Cincinnati Moeller was going to step through the transfer trap door at some point, it was never going to be at the expense of building momentum for the highest tract possible for his medical training and education.
“People ask me all the time, what kind of doctor I want to be,” Hendrix said via telephone from the other Miami, in Florida, where he trained the past month for Saturday’s upcoming NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Carson, Calif., and any other pre-draft showcase opportunities that may come his way.
“There are so many different medical fields,” he said. “There are things I may love that I don’t even know exist yet, so I’m fairly open to the process and excited to get it going, whenever that might be.”
He can certainly pinpoint those times when he thought he was close to defining himself as ND’s starting quarterback. There was a late-season slide by classmate Tommy Rees in 2011 after Rees had usurped 2010’s starter, Dayne Crist, early that season.
Hendrix had outdueled then-freshman Everett Golson to be the “changeup QB” in 2011, offering a skill set that included running skills and more mobility, though Golson hurt himself with sagging academics that helped seal coach Brian Kelly’s decision to exile him to the scout team.
Then, in a 28-14 loss at Stanford in the regular-season finale, Kelly pulled Rees and inserted Hendrix, who threw for 192 yards and what turned out to be his only Irish TD pass. Yet the 24 passes he attempted in that game would end up being more than he would throw over his final two seasons at ND — combined.
He came off the bench to relieve Rees again against Florida State in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl, an offensive implosion where ineptitude allowed the Seminoles to rally for an 18-14 win. And there was the promise of an open QB competition in the spring of 2012.
“I thought I played well in the back end of that Stanford game,” Hendrix said. “But for the bowl game, it was still Tommy’s job, and coach Kelly made that very clear to me and pretty much everyone else — that was Tommy’s bowl game, Tommy’s season, and I was going to come in and do the best I could.
“And then the next spring, if you went to those early practices, Everett was taking every rep. So from the outside, it might have seemed closer than it was. But at end of the day, I was just fighting for playing time, trying to find my niche in that offense.
“I kind of got to thinking that this really isn’t going the way I thought it was going to. I haven’t started a game for two years. It’s not going great.”
So he accelerated his academic pace, to be able to graduate in 3½ years — just in case.
“I wasn’t set on leaving at that point,” Hendrix said, “but I wanted that opportunity and go play spring ball at the new place.
“If I was going to go somewhere else, then that’s how I needed to do it, to have spring ball and learn that new system and get it down and be comfortable with those guys going into summer, you know being the guy in the summer. That would go a long way toward playing and me having that situation go the way I wanted it.”
And if his fortunes turned at ND, he figured, he could stay and get an early start on grad school at ND. But midway through the 2013 season, reality tugged at him. Even with Golson, the 2012 starter, exiled for the 2013 season for academic misconduct, Hendrix’s opportunities were few behind de facto starter Rees.
And when they did come, he regressed markedly from the QB on the verge, late in 2011.
“I forgot how good I was at times at ND,” he said. “Coming to Miami gave me that back. Just to remember that now is something I’ll never forget ever again.”
Late in the 2013 season he would occasionally look online at other teams’ rosters to size up what might be a good situation. Virginia Tech and Boston College were two schools that caught his attention early. But his bigger focus was being ready to come in and be the No. 1, with Rees playing through pain and injury in the season’s second half, all the way through his final game in the Pinstripe Bowl.
So that left Hendrix with a tiny two-week window to seriously shop for options and decide whether he wanted to jump through it before classes started in January. Eventually, he found Chuck Martin, the offensive coordinator at ND in 2012 and 2013, who landed the head coaching job at Miami, Ohio, which was coming off a winless season.
Tight end Alex Welch and defensive back Lo Wood also left ND after the 2013 season, as grad school-style transfers, to help Martin build.
“Even with all that, it was definitely difficult leaving someplace that you fell in love with,” Hendrix said. “I was at ND for 3½ years, and it was the best times of my life, no doubt about it.
“It was an unbelievable school and an unbelievable football program, and I have friends from there that I’ll have for the rest of my life, so it definitely was a tough decision.”
But ultimately the right decision — for him.
Hendrix started all 12 games for the RedHawks. He threw for 3,280 yards with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 329 yards on 157 carries with six rushing TDs.
Miami still lost 10 games, three more than Martin amassed in six seasons while the head coach at Division II bully Grand Valley State. But the RedHawks did win two games in 2014 and were within eight points in five others.
Statistically, they made quantum leaps on the offensive side of the ball — from No. 122 to 79 in team passing efficiency, 122 to 85 in total offense, 79 to 51 in turnover margin, and, most dramatically, 119 to 29 in passing offense.
Welch, who caught one pass for eight yards during an injury-diluted four years at ND, had 24 for 312 and two TDs in 214. Wood chipped in on defense to the tune of 32 tackles, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
“It was something I had dreamed about since I was a little kid, just being able to go there and be the guy, just to go out there and not have to look over your shoulder at any point,” Hendrix said. “It was everything I thought it was going to be and more. I’m so sad to see it go.”
And yet Hendrix knows not all fifth-year sagas turn out that way. Jake Heaps was rated the No. 1 pro-style quarterback nationally per Rivals.com in the same recruiting cycle that netted ND Rees, Hendrix and Luke Massa — rated nos. 31, 13 and 28, respectively at the position per Rivals.
Charlie Weis was ND’s coach through most of that cycle before behind fired and replaced by Kelly in December of 2009, and Heaps was Weis’ No. 1 target. The Washington state standout ended up choosing BYU.
He later joined up with Weis at Kansas, but when that experience went south, so did Heaps, to Miami (Fla.) for his fifth year. There, this fall, he got beaten out by freshman Brad Kaaya and threw for just 51 yards on six completions.
“The quarterback position, it’s such a delicate position,'' Hendrix said. "No matter how good you are or how good you think you are, you need a break and you need timing,” Hendrix said. “When you get that break, you’ve got to perform, but it may never come for some guys.
“So I really think that’s what I really didn’t understand and know coming in, that I know now is really the case more than anything.”
During the 2014 season, Hendrix faced ND transfer Gunner Kiel, now at Cincinnati. The two were roommates during Kiel’s only summer in South Bend during his abbreviated, statistic-less 14 months at Notre Dame. Miami nearly pulled the upset before falling, 31-24.
The week before that game, Miami faced Michigan in Ann Arbor. That just happened to be the week after the Irish took down the Wolverines, 31-0.
“So our film study is Notre Dame,” Hendrix said. “And that was really weird. Later, during the game, the announcers would say at times, ‘Miami took that out of Notre Dame’s playbook,’ which was funny, because there’s nothing to take — it’s the exact same playbook.
“But watching that film, it was cool to see how young pups Will Fuller and Corey Robinson were just excelling. And Everett looked so much better than he did in 2012. And it’s hard to imagine that he’s not going to get things together in the spring and finish at ND and finish strong.”
Golson started the first 12 games of 2014 for the Irish, but sophomore Malik Zaire started ND’s 31-28 win over LSU in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 and won game MVP honors while tag-teaming with Golson in that game.
“Malik played a phenomenal football game against LSU,” Hendrix said, “and they are neck and neck. I think that competition is going to bring out the best in both of them, and ND will be better overall for it.
“But at the end of the day, I still think it’s Everett’s job to lose. He’s done some great things for that school. I don’t think he’s going to go down the same path as me. He’s not finished there.”