Notre Dame freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec won't stop competing while waiting his turn

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Phil Jurkovec has been a Notre Dame football player for less than seven months.

But it feels much longer for the freshman quarterback.

“For us, it feels like forever,” Jurkovec said last week. “The young guys, we’ve been here forever. We’ve been at Notre Dame for so long.

“A lot of us are just itching to play. We’re going to see that in this offseason. We’re going to see how hard we work and how we take advantage of any opportunities we get.”

Opportunities for the former four-star recruit may still be limited next season. Jurkovec, who played in only two games as a freshman, will likely become the No. 2 quarterback behind Ian Book next season with Brandon Wimbush expected to pursue a graduate transfer.

The returning status of Book, who still has two seasons of eligibility remaining, won’t deter Jurkovec. He said he intends to stay at Notre Dame and push for playing time.

“It’s hard not playing, but I’m never going to stop competing,” Jurkovec said. “I’m always going to keep testing the defenses and keep competing with Ian. I’m going to try my hardest to get on that field somehow.”

That doesn’t mean Book needs to be looking over his shoulder.

“I’m always going to be supportive of him,” Jurkovec said. “We’re all gunning. All the young guys here, we’re all gunning for the starting spots. We’re never going to stop that.”

The past season showed Jurkovec that Notre Dame’s coaching staff won’t be afraid to play a less-experienced quarterback if he gives the offense a better chance of succeeding. Head coach Brian Kelly, offensive coordinator Chip Long and quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees decided to bench Wimbush and his 12-3 record as a starter in September in favor of Book, who had started only one game previously.

“They’re going to play the best guy whoever it is,” Jurkovec said. “That’s why you’re never out of the fight. You just have to keep working. Ian has had such a great year. He’s had so much success. It’s all a credit to him and how he works.”

At some point, Jurkovec, who was ranked as one of the top five dual-threat quarterbacks in the 2018 class by Rivals and 247Sports, should be the best quarterback on Notre Dame’s roster. It could come soon depending on Book’s development or a potential NFL decision in the future.

As a senior at Gibsonia (Pa.) Pine-Richland, Jurkovec completed 243 of his 334 passes (72.8 percent) for 3,969 yards and 39 touchdowns with six interceptions. He also rushed 132 times for 1,211 yards and 24 touchdowns.

If he reaches his potential, Jurkovec could give Notre Dame a combination of the best traits from Book and Wimbush. Plus at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he brings better size than either of them.

But the most important thing Jurkovec learned from Book and Wimbush this past season was how to handle a quarterback competition.

“The strongest test of character is if you can remain yourself through the ups and the downs, the successes and the failures,” Jurkovec said. “I was able to see them in both not playing and playing. They both remained the same guys. That’s the test that I saw. It really says a lot about their character.”

Jurkovec’s game action came in two blowout wins for Notre Dame: a 56-27 victory at Wake Forest and a 42-13 victory over Florida State on Senior Night. The Wake Forest game was Book’s first as Notre Dame’s starter this season. The Florida State game featured Wimbush in the starting lineup as Book was sidelined with a rib injury.

When Jurkovec entered the Florida State game in the fourth quarter, he received a cheer from the Notre Dame Stadium crowd. Kelly took a timeout prior to that in order to let the crowd give Wimbush an ovation.

“That was really cool,” Jurkovec said. “Everybody who was on that field with me, they all loved it. We’re really looking forward to playing, making plays and getting that crowd riled up.”

Jurkovec took 10 snaps in the two games. He totaled four handoffs, two quarterback rushes for nine yards, two incomplete passes and two kneel-downs.

The lack of production didn’t take away from the experience.

“All it took was one rep,” Jurkovec said. “I was just so excited to be out there, be on the field and be able to experience it. It wasn’t much, but I was still able to experience what it was like to go up against a live defense on the field.”

At the start of preseason camp with the Irish, Jurkovec was throwing with a bit of a sidearm motion. Jurkovec said he worked to correct that this past season. He’s now throwing more over the top for a more accurate, consistent ball.

Jurkovec said the sidearm motion may have developed because he had taken some time off from throwing before coming to Notre Dame.

“I just always have to keep tuning up my form,” Jurkovec said. “Whenever I stop thinking about my form too much and just go out there and play, that’s when I’m the best: in game, in scenarios when it’s live, where I can just play and not think.”

Rees will be tasked with preparing Jurkovec for when Notre Dame’s offense needs him. After guiding Ian Book to a season completing a school-record 68.2 percent of his passes, Rees has garnered a bit of praise. named him Quarterbacks Coach of the Year after conducting a poll of the award’s previous winners since 2008.

“He’s a brilliant mind,” Jurkovec said. “He really is so good tactically, being able to break down defenses. He’s been a huge part of our success. You can see with his award, best QB coach in the country. He’s totally deserving of that. He really is wholeheartedly devoted to football, which is so important as a positional coach. You need that.”

With all the lessons learned, the time spent waiting and a trip to the College Football Playoff, it’s a bit easier to understand how nearly seven months can feel like forever.

“This is why you come to Notre Dame,” Jurkovec said before the CFP semifinal last Saturday in Arlington, Texas. “You want to play in these types of games. In the years ahead, these are the games that all the young guys and I want to be playing in and want to be winning.”

Opportunities for Notre Dame freshman Phil Jurkovec (15) were limited in 2018, but he’ll have a chance to improve his mechanics this spring.
Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec answers questions during the Cotton Bowl media day, Dec. 27 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.