Former QB Andrew Hendrix brings a heart divided back to Notre Dame Stadium

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — An upcoming med school exam, an impending move into a house and the normal run of honey-do projects that wife Kate has for him couldn’t keep Andrew Hendrix from a date in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.

He and Kate will make the 2½-hour drive from Toledo, Ohio, to revisit the place where his quarterback dreams went to die and watch the 22nd-ranked host Irish (3-1) play the school where all the what-ifs congealed into a second chance, Miami (Ohio).

Start time is the odd 5 p.m. EDT time slot, and the telecast will be on NBC’s sister station, NBC Sports Network.

Hendrix, a career backup at ND (2010-13) and a revelation as a starter for the RedHawks in 2014, never fell out of love with Notre Dame, and so he claims divided loyalties Saturday for the first football matchup between the programs since 1909.

What he refuses to do is express those divided loyalties by wearing a split jersey, as Kate suggested he do, a la Laura (Quinn) Hawk. The concept was popularized by the sister of former ND quarterback Brady Quinn heading into the Jan. 2, 2006 Fiesta Bowl and just as quickly unpopularized by how much overplay it received during the telecast.

“I told my wife it’s ridiculous. It’s absurd,” Hendrix said via telephone from the University of Toledo, where he’s in his first year of med school.

Not so absurd in Hendrix’s mind is the notion the three-touchdown underdog RedHawks (2-2) can hang with the Irish.

Miami does feature the top-ranked defense (27th in total defense nationally in this week’s snapshot) the Irish will face the rest of the season.

They’ve got a quarterback, in redshirt junior Gus Ragland, who would have ranked in the top 10 nationally in pass efficiency (166.6) in 2016 had he played in enough games to qualify. As it was, Ragland came back from a knee injury to lead the RedHawks to six straight wins last season after an 0-6 start without him.

Mississippi State edged Miami, 17-16, in the St. Petersburg Bowl.

Ragland comes from the same high school, Cincinnati Moeller, where Hendrix starred, but was in middle school when Hendrix was in high school. Their paths crossed briefly at Miami in 2014, with Hendrix becoming a starter and Ragland redshirting as a freshman.

“He is a great quarterback,” Hendrix said of Ragland. “He didn’t garner a lot of the big Division I attention that maybe he should have. He’s not the tallest guy, the biggest or the fastest, but he’s just a gamer.

“I think all of his skill sets coming out of high school were extremely underrated, and now people are seeing that now.”

People finally got a chance to see that in Hendrix when he, tight end Alex Welch and cornerback Lo Wood, as grad transfers, all followed Irish offensive coordinator and QBs coach Chuck Martin to Miami in 2014. Martin is now in his fourth season as head coach.

The RedHawks were coming off an 0-12 season and hadn’t won a game since October 2012. The losing streak reached 21 before Hendrix rallied Miami from a 41-14 deficit to beat UMass, 42-41, on Oct. 4, 2014.

Hendrix ended up starting all 12 games for the RedHawks in his only season with them. 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.

“A lot of the person I am today is because of what I was able to accomplish at Miami,” he said. “At Notre Dame, a lot of times I lost confidence. Whether I got caught behind a bunch of players on the depth chart or I didn’t get the practice time, I was really down a lot of the time.

“Miami was my opportunity to prove to myself that not only was I a great quarterback, but I had the ability to take a bad situation and turn it into what I knew would be a good one. And that’s exactly what we accomplished at Miami.

“We only won two games, but I thought we made a lot of strides and we played extremely good football. And it was just a blast accomplishing what I dreamed about doing. I thank everyone at Miami and coach Martin for that.”

He’ll reunite Saturday with Irish quarterback coach Tommy Rees, who as a player he almost overtook late in the 2011 season but couldn’t gain ground in the two seasons that followed.

“If there ever was a bigger inevitability than Tommy becoming the quarterbacks coach at ND, let me know,” Hendrix said, “because he was born to do that job. Obviously at Notre Dame, he was always a field general. He always had such a good rapport on the team with the coaches and everyone.

“I think it’s a great fit. Obviously, I don’t think even he thought it was going to be this fast. But it couldn’t come soon enough. I know he’s having the time of his life.

“I think he has an enormous advantage, because of the way he can relate to players. Not only was he a quarterback there recently, but he was literally in their exact shoes, playing for the exact same head coach.”

Or is Brian Kelly the exact same head coach? Hendrix likes the changes the eighth-year Irish head coach made in the offseason, but more importantly how the team has responded to them.

“I loved the video of him celebrating with the team, dancing in the locker room after the Michigan State game,” Hendrix said, referring to ND’s 38-18 win last Saturday in East Lansing. “I think it’s a change for the better and gives them something to rally around. And I think if that’s truly the identity of the team and the relationships that they have, that would be great.”

After the game, Hendrix will return his focus to med school, of which he has three more years after this one.

“I’ve wanted to be a physician for a long time,” Hendrix said. “When I was at Notre Dame, there were times when I maybe wanted to look at going someplace else before I actually did as a grad transfer.

“But 50 percent or more of my initial decision to go to Notre Dame was its reputation as an academic institution. And it aligned with my long-term goals.

“Even though playing in the NFL would have been great, I knew I wanted to become a physician. So even in the times I wanted to transfer, I knew deep down that wasn’t the best decision.”

Former Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) quarterback Andrew Hendrix returns to Notre Dame Stadium Saturday with divided loyalties when the Irish host the RedHawks. (AP Photo/TONY DING)