Future Irish QB Phil Jurkovec catches Notre Dame's fantastic Citrus Bowl finish

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SAN ANTONIO — Phil Jurkovec emerged from the offensive meeting room on the first day of preparation for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl just in time to catch the end of the Citrus Bowl.

The future Notre Dame quarterback, who signed with the Irish on Dec. 20, stood and watched a live stream on a reporter’s laptop as ND wide receiver Miles Boykin stuck out his right hand to pull in a pass from quarterback Ian Book, evade a pair of LSU defenders and score a 55-yard, game-winning touchdown with 1:28 left in what turned out to be a 21-17 Irish victory in Orlando, Fla.

“That was wild,” Jurkovec said following play. “That was sick.”

Jurkovec didn’t get a chance to watch much of Monday's Irish bowl win. He started the morning with his first practice for the Army Bowl’s East team and spent the early afternoon in meetings. But he knew Book had entered the game after Brandon Wimbush made his 12th start of the season.

“I didn't get to watch any of Brandon, but I saw Book for a couple series,” Jurkovec said. “He looked really good. He's a baller."

Book leading Notre Dame for two touchdown drives in the final eight minutes launched what will almost certainly be an open quarterback competition in the offseason. And one Kelly has stated he wants Jurkovec to impact.

Jurkovec, who arrives at ND in June, is ready for the challenge, but he’s not going to make any proclamations about his future.

“I have no expectations for myself,” Jurkovec said. “I'm going in, I'm competing. Nothing's going to be given to me. So I'll earn whatever I get."

The 6-foot-5, 204-pound quarterback from Gibsonia (Pa.) Pine-Richland High is coming off an undefeated, state championship season in which he threw for 3,969 yards and 39 touchdowns and ran for 1,211 yards and 24 touchdowns. He’s one of six finalists for the U.S. Army Player of the Year, which will be announced Friday.

Yet Kelly pointed to Jurkovec as an underrated recruit during his early-signing period press conference in December.

Rivals ranks Jurkovec as the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback and No. 55 prospect overall in the 2018 class. 247Sports slates Jurkovec as the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback and No. 101 overall.

Still, Jurkovec didn’t receive one of the 25 invitations to the Elite 11 Finals, a national quarterback competition that has included several Notre Dame quarterbacks in the past including Wimbush, DeShone Kizer and Avery Davis.

“He didn't get into a lot of national competition,” Kelly said of Jurkovec. “I think he's the best quarterback in the country. He's somebody that I could put up against any quarterback that I've ever seen.”

Jurkovec heard Kelly’s praise.

"It meant a lot to me. It shows that he has confidence in me,” Jurkovec said. “He's telling the truth. I definitely put more of an emphasis on the Pine-Richland High School games. The college stuff, all the camps and everything, I didn't really work enough for that."

That’s in part because Jurkovec plays basketball as soon as football season ends. Even though he’s preparing to enroll at Notre Dame in June, he’s still finishing out his high school career on the court. He never considered not playing basketball his senior year.

“I've been playing my whole life, so I wanted to play,” Jurkovec said. “It helps me too. For me, it shows I'm not really tapped out with football, because I don't play football year-round. Playing basketball has really helped me develop athletically."

Jurkovec will play his last high school football game on Saturday in the Alamodome. Then he’ll return home to continue his basketball season. He’s missing two games this week as he prepares for the Army Bowl.

But he still has a focus on improving his football skill set. Because he has signed, he can get more information about Notre Dame’s strength and conditioning program and details about the Irish offense from offensive coordinator Chip Long and quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees.

“I'm going to throw a lot and work for it,” Jurkovec said. “I know I'm going to be contacting coach Long and coach Rees. Now I'll be able to get the playbook and everything like that. The usual stuff, but everything ramped up."

Jurkovec has been waiting to play for Notre Dame for quite some time. He was the first commitment in Notre Dame’s 2018 class in May of 2016. He never wavered in his pledge through the lows of the following 4-8 season.

"I have a vision of what Notre Dame could be,” Jurkovec said. “I really think that they're on the edge of being very good. The mixture of great academics and great football is what draws me. The football is going to be better, too."

Monday’s win over LSU in the Citrus Bowl was more proof of that, as far Jurkovec is concerned. The entire 2017 season helped Jurkovec believe he had made the right decision.

"It was a confidence boost,” Jurkovec said. “The 4-8 season was rough for all the commits to go through, with other schools contacting you.

“For where they were last year at 4-8 and not even making a bowl game to now going 10-3 — 10 wins and beating LSU — it's a huge turnaround. They're only going to keep progressing."

Whether that progression includes Jurkovec seeing the field next season remains to be seen. For now, he’s just enjoying the moment.

“It's important to win the bowl games,” he said, “You have to cap the season off the right way. That was big to win that.”

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Notre Dame quarterback signee Phil Jurkovec, in San Antonio this week for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, was impressed with ND's 21-17 Citrus Bowl win over LSU. Monday in Orlando. Fla. (Photo courtesy of Trib Total Media/CHRISTOPHER HORNER)