Freshman QB Phil Jurkovec was made to embrace the Notre Dame hate

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

GIBSONIA, Pa. — Phil Jurkovec loves the hate.

Loves it. Lives for it. Stretches his arms out underneath it, like Andy Dufresne laughing in a lightning storm after successfully escaping Shawshank State Prison.

Jurkovec — a 6-foot-5, 228-pound freshman quarterback, who starts summer classes at Notre Dame on Monday — was greeted with a heaping helping of hostile crowds throughout a prolific, historic prep career at Gibsonia (Pa.) Pine-Richland High School.

And not just on the football field.

“When you talk about Phil, the mental makeup of him might be the most impressive thing,” Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Tom Rees said after Jurkovec signed with ND on Dec. 20. “You touch on the ‘big man on campus’ part, he’s been a four-year starter in basketball at a really good high school program. He started in football for the last three, so he’s dealt with that.

“I watched him play hoops in this recruiting cycle, and he goes into (Pittsburgh) Central Catholic, into a great atmosphere and has to deal with the pressure of being the guy that everyone knows, the guy the student section is chirping at. You see his competitive fire and his will to win.”

Unfortunately, a will to win — however ferocious — isn’t everything. It certainly wasn’t on March 26, 2017, when Pine-Richland’s basketball team fell 64-60 to the Reading (Pa.) Red Knights in the PIAA Class 6A state championship game.

Why, then, did a devastating loss double as one of Jurkovec’s favorite moments?

“That atmosphere was something that I’ll never experience again in high school,” said Notre Dame 2019 offensive line commit Andrew Kristofic, another member of the Pine-Richland basketball team. “I can say that very confidently.

“For a high school basketball game, when you and your teammates are announced, with 9,000 people booing us as loudly as they can, it’s not something that you ever get to experience unless you’re extremely lucky. Phil and I share in this mindset, whether it’s football or basketball: we love going into those hostile away crowds.”

Love it. Live for it. Despite the defeat, Jurkovec — who finished second in school history with 1,656 career points — led the Rams with 14 points, connecting on 7 of 12 field goal attempts. described the crowd of 9,531 in Hershey, Pa., as “a rolling sea of Reading Red.”

Alliteration? Check. Exaggeration? Not a chance.

“They took the court, and the whole place booed,” Phil’s mother, Sara Jurkovec, confirmed.

Sitting at his family’s dining room table, Jurkovec unfurled a nostalgic smile.

“They were all yelling at us,” he said, before adding, “I loved it.”

That mindset, perhaps, is what meshes most perfectly with Notre Dame. It’s part of why Jurkovec was able to amass 11,144 career yards of total offense, which ranked second in Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) history. It’s why he set a state record for single-season yardage (5,180) in 2017, passing for 3,969 yards and accounting for 63 touchdowns while leading the undefeated Rams to a 6A state title.

It’s why he committed to a place that’s so enthusiastically beloved, or belittled.

“One of my favorite things about Notre Dame, if not the favorite, is that people either love them or they hate them,” Jurkovec explained with a growing grin. (Offensive coordinator Chip) Long was telling me that last year against Miami how they were on the bus and people were chucking things at the bus.

“I think that’s great. I think that’s awesome. That just makes it more fun.”

In that case, Phil should have no shortage of … “fun” … in the next four years at Notre Dame.

And, while it wasn’t on the same scale, that feeling will be familiar.

“Notre Dame is always the biggest game on your schedule whenever they come to town,” Kristofic said. “For us the last couple years of high school for football and basketball it’s been the same way, with the success that we’ve had and all the attention that we’ve gotten.

“Whether you want to admit to it or not, you feed off of that negative energy. Hearing every time you touch the ball someone chant ‘Overrated!’ or people screaming and yelling from the second you get off the bus will get you going that much more.”

It won’t be easy, of course, for Jurkovec to supplant returning starter Brandon Wimbush and Citrus Bowl hero Ian Book on Notre Dame’s quarterbacks depth chart in the fall.

He’ll have to wait for his opportunity … and bask in all the boos.

Pine-Richland head coach Eric Kasperowicz (left) hugs quarterback Phil Jurkovec after the Rams defeated St. Joseph’s Prep, 41-21, in the PIAA Class 6A state championship.

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