Noie: Brandon Wimbush ready for life as the Notre Dame starting quarterback

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Good, bad or a little of both Saturday as he starts a football game for the first time in 1,003 days, Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush understands that life is about to change.

Some more.

During his previous two seasons, Wimbush was just one of the guys on the roster. Not a starter and not expected to challenge for serious playing time as a backup/scout team contributor, Wimbush was concerned only with being a good teammate. Someone that worked hard in practice. In the weight room. Good in the locker room. Someone who took steps toward one day doing more.

That day has arrived for the 6-foot-2, 228-pound kid from Teaneck, N.J., as Notre Dame opens the 2017 regular season Saturday at home against Temple.

Everything about the day takes on a little more meaning for Wimbush. The Irish Walk from the Guglielmino Athletic Complex west to the Hesburgh Library and then south into Notre Dame Stadium. Getting taped in the training room. Warming up. The national anthem. Even his most anticipated part of his first game as the starter — singing the alma mater at game’s end. At win’s end.

Once A Notre Dame quarterback, Wimbush is THE Notre Dame quarterback.

He’s already drawn far more stares and whispers from fellow students walking through campus this week. Soon his pictures and plays will be on the new video board inside Notre Dame Stadium for all to see. He’ll likely be stopped outside the stadium gates afterward for an autograph or two or three — dozen.

This is Wimbush’s life.

“Yeah, it’s a whole new experience for me,” he said earlier this week. “It’s my first week going through it. I feel like a rookie.”

Wimbush told running backs Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, two guys who have already run the college football gauntlet, as much this week. They’ve done what Wimbush has to do for the first time Saturday. Then again the following Saturday and for the weeks and months and possibly years to come.

Play. Produce. Prosper.

“I’m just trying to prepare and be on the same level as those guys,” he said. “And hopefully, perform to the level of expectation that the rest of the offense and the team needs for me.”

When Wimbush was still just one of the guys, there already were rumblings that he really wasn’t. He was pegged as the first quarterback who truly fit what coach Brian Kelly wanted to do offensively. He’s big and strong and can make all the throws. Accurately. Easily. He will take off and get some bonus yardage when plays break down. He can improvise and make quick decisions — the right decisions — on the run. He plays without having to process all the information and the options that are coming at him at light speed.

He just has “it,” whatever “it” is.

He did it during preseason. Did it with the same calm and cool and collected demeanor that tells teammates, 'I’ve got this. We’ve got this.'

“We’re lucky to have Brandon,” said senor offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, who’s in charge of protecting his quarterback’s blind side.

“He knows exactly what he’s going to be doing and knows exactly what he’s capable of and he’s going to let it shine on Saturday. Brandon’s going to be just fine.

“He’s the coolest kid I know.”

Handling it all

One aspect that Kelly likes in Wimbush is the ability to not only make the big/right plays, but set aside the bad ones. Quickly. There’s a resilience. He’s going to focus more on completing that third-and-long slant with a blitz in his face instead of a previous play’s misstep.

“He’s got a passion for the game and he’s got perseverance,” Kelly said. “He loves what he does.”

Still, it’s likely not going to be so easy. There will be hiccups. Three-and-outs. Missed chances. It’s all part of the learning curve of being the guy who now holds the keys to an offense that has a chance to be special. It’s up to him to make sure it keeps humming.

Everything on the outside may change for Wimbush, but he doesn’t plan for that to change who he is on the inside.

“I hope to handle it all with grace,” he said.

Whether standing in front of a microphone or hunkered down under center in a goal-line situation, Wimbush carries a confidence tinged with a hint of cockiness. Has to. It’s part of the job. He may not always know what the next question is coming his way, but he’s prepared with an answer.

McGlinchey said there’s an “aura” about him.

Adams tends to agree. Somewhat.

“I’ve not seen him physically glow,” he said. “(But) we can’t wait to see what he’s going to do Saturday.

“That’s definitely my guy right there.”

As the guy, Wimbush made it a point in the previous months to talk with other guys who played the position. They know the expectations. They know how life changes when you’re in the shoes that Wimbush laces up Saturday afternoon. So he’s huddled with Rick Mirer. He’s conferred with Joe Theismann. For the previous two years, he watched DeShone Kizer go from someone who thought about giving up the game in favor of baseball to a second-round NFL draft pick to now the starter for the Cleveland Browns.

He embraces that being the quarterback for this football program isn’t so much a right as it is a privilege.

“I look forward to uphold that, the standard that those guys have left here,” Wimbush said. “You really want to be the next person with those names.”

One quarterback name not on the list that has helped Wimbush is Florida State’s Deondre Francois. Wimbush considers the sophomore a good friend. Like Wimbush, Francois sat before getting his chance. When he did, Francois threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns and ran for five more to earn Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year honors.

Now, he’s on every major quarterback Watch List after going from an unknown to known game-breaker.

“That’s what I hope to do,” Wimbush said. “I think having a full game under my belt will be huge for me and my confidence.”

Ready to roll

The position of Notre Dame quarterback can be all-consuming. Twenty-four/seven during the season. Always in the spotlight and under the microscope. But there has to be quiet moments. When it’s time to get away from it and unwind, Wimbush returns to his dorm room, pulls out a pad of paper and a pencil and just draws.

Seldom is it football X’s and O’s. It’s people and places. Things.

“I draw anything that comes to mind,” said Wimbush, who carries a minor of studio art with his accounting major.

Wimbush recently sketched a collection of random images — a police officer and a lady who was stealing a safe. There were some flowers in the background.

“It was weird, but it was cool,” he said.

The extent of Wimbush’s collegiate career consists of all of two games with three non-descript bullet points in the team’s weekly media release:

• Did not see the field in 2016

• Played in two games as a true freshman

• Had 109 yards of total offense in collegiate debut against UMass, rushing for 92 yards and a 58-yard touchdown

That’s it.

Wimbush can still recite chapter and verse the last time he started at quarterback. It was Dec. 4, 2014, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. A Thursday. It was raining. Wimbush and his St. Peter’s Prep team beat Paramus Catholic, 34-18, for the school’s first state championship since 2005.

Wimbush remembers being “kind of on top of the world.”

Reality then arrived when he arrived at Notre Dame.

“You come into college and you’re back to the bottom of the totem pole,” he said. “It’s a slow rise back to the top. Hopefully toward the end of this year, I’ll be back in the same position.”

As a prep freshman, he wasn’t physically or mentally ready to play varsity. Really wasn’t ready as a sophomore. By the time he was a junior, he was ready. To lead. To play. To star. To embrace the role.

Same goes for Notre Dame.

It’s his time. His team.

“I feel like I’m ready,” Wimbush said, “to take over the reins and do something special here.”

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Twitter: @tnoieNDI

Brandon Wimbush is ready for life as the starting quarterback at Notre Dame. (Tribune File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)