Noie: Present moment, not past noise, matters most to Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush

Staff reports
ND Insider

{child_flags:featured}Living in the here and now

Windows into the worlds of Notre Dame football players rarely open during allotted media sessions.

It’s simply another time for the Irish to toe the proverbial company line. They dress the same, and pretty much say the same for the 10, 11, 12 minutes that they’re in front of the cameras and microphones and notepads. Every once in a while there’s an exception to the rule — say nothing of consequence, or suffer them — which surfaces out of nowhere.

Something like that happened last month with quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Something that strayed from the middle-of-the-football-road script and offered a unique look at someone who plays one of the most demanding, unique, opined positions in college football.

It was a nice departure from the norm.

Working through a session that included a question about how his mother and the mother of Michigan all-world defensive tackle Rashan Gary are close friends (an understandable angle) and another about Wimbush’s best friends on the Irish (sigh), the senior fielded a simple query about life as the Notre Dame quarterback.

Is it fun?

“One hundred percent,” Wimbush said. “It’s fun and it’s an honor and it’s truly a blessing because there’s one quarterback at the University of Notre Dame. I don’t think there’s a better position in the country on a sports team.”

Wimbush was just getting warmed up. He stepped further out onto the ledge, explaining that the fun comes at a price, one that Wimbush understands he has to pay. The job’s not easy. It’s just that — a job. Every day is a grind. Days when Wimbush sets aside everything and just is the accounting major from New Jersey? Those don’t exist. They can’t. People around campus and around town see him, but never really know him. He doesn’t let them in. He can’t. When he’s in Northern Indiana, when he’s on campus, he’s playing his role — the Notre Dame quarterback. Only on those rare occasions when he’s back in New Jersey among family and friends and the people he most trusts can Wimbush truly be Wimbush.

Why not out here? Somebody’s always watching. It’s something that Wimbush thought he was prepared to handle, but still had to adjust to last season in his first as a starter.

Eyes are everywhere.

“I don’t want to say pressure because it’s a privilege to play here,” Wimbush said. “You always have to be on your ‘A” game no matter what. You can’t get out of the spotlight.”

Even last month during media day. With a half-dozen Irish seated at tables scattered around the Haggar Fitness Center, Wimbush held court longer and in front of more media than anyone not named Drue Tranquill. Twenty minutes in and defensive lineman Jerry Tillery already was sitting solo at his round table. Same for punter Tyler Newsome. and tight end Nick Weishar. Anyone want Tillery? Newsome? Weishar? All were allowed to exit early as Wimbush talked. and kept talking. About life as the Irish quarterback. About the spotlight that always shines.

It will be as bright as ever Saturday when Wimbush takes the field for No. 12 Notre Dame against No. 14 Michigan. Everyone will again be watching No. 7. Every reaction. Every throw. Every decision. Is he the same? Is he better? Can the Irish win with him? Last time Wimbush was in a game that mattered, he finished it on the sideline as backup Ian Book directed a winning drive on Jan. 1 in the Citrus Bowl.

Wimbush didn’t deliver that day for myriad reasons. He’s waited 243 days to deliver. It’s there for him Saturday. Under the lights. Against one of the nation’s most dominant defenses. In a big game. Everyone’s watching. Waiting. Wondering.

Book might be a play or a series away from the call — go get Wimbush. Same as he did against Miami. Same as he did against LSU. Irish coach Brian Kelly won’t close the door on playing both, though he’s made it clear to Wimbush — it’s his game to go and win. Go and be who he is. The quarterback. The play-maker.

“We can’t have a fear of failure at that position; we’re going to make mistakes,” Kelly said. “You have to be a guy that’s out there making plays. He cares.”

In an entirely different way than this time last year when he was the starter in the season opener against Temple. That’s when everything about the role was fresh and exciting. Everyone talked about Wimbush. Wrote about Wimbush. Swamped social media about Wimbush. He devoured it all. The comments. The tweets. The stories. Why not? He wanted to hear what people said about him, wanted to read what they wrote about him, wanted to digest how they felt about him.

Good, bad or indifferent, Wimbush needed to know. He had to know.

Now? No.

The longer 2017 went on, the shorter he stayed on social media. By season’s end, he was completely off it. He walked by a little bit in the spring and summer, but the minute August arrived, he again vanished. It doesn’t matter to him now. It did then. It can’t now. He’s moved beyond what others say, because someone’s always going to have something to say.

“Staying away from it has definitely helped me,” he said. “It’s definitely a mental game. First year, there’s a lot of external stuff going on that you don’t understand is affecting you.”

The more Wimbush scanned social media comments last season, the more it messed with his head. Did people like him? Hate him? Want to see him succeed? Fail?

“You’re reading them and reading them and keep reading them and you’re like, ‘Damn.’” Wimbush said. “It kind of gets too much as a first-year guy. As a quarterback, especially at this school, you have so much going on already you don’t need another thing on your plate that’s not going to help you.

“I allow that to be its own entity and understand that I’m in the present moment.”

That moment is Michigan. Here. Now. What happened — or didn’t happen against LSU in the bowl game — is gone. What didn’t happen in preseason drills when Wimbush struggled to complete even the simplest of screen passes, also is gone. Over. All that matters are the next four quarters.

It’s a chance to go and play. To have fun.

“I’m playing quarterback,” Wimbush said. “I’m blessed. I’m fortunate to be here.

“Every day is another day to be great.”

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tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

Twitter: @tnoieNDI

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Notre Dame senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush understands the demands that come with playing the position — something he needed to learn about last season, his first as a starter.