Noie: Notre Dame QB Ian Book adds new chapter or two for 2019
Sweats barely were broken and the pre-practice tunes (Oh, baby, why don’t you just meet me in the middle?) still were going strong, but something already was obvious the first day out in spring for the Notre Dame football team.
There’s something different about senior quarterback Ian Book.
That was apparent as the Irish lined up in single-file rows for their stretching and moving exercises. A year ago, as he quietly and confidently pushed and then replaced Brandon Wimbush for arguably the most visible starting position in college football, Book often was somewhere in the back of the warmup pack. There were others like offensive guard Alex Bars and center Sam Mustipher and linebacker Drew Tranquill, ahead of him in line. In leadership.
Not anymore. Bars and Mustipher and Tranquill are preparing for football life at the ultimate level. They leave behind a legacy of stability, yet also a void in leadership. One that has to be filled. This year. By these guys. By Book.
So when the Irish convened inside Loftus Center for spring’s first practice earlier this month, Book was front and center and first, leading his line of guys that included his new center, Jarrett Patterson and offensive lineman Josh Lugg and linebacker Drew White, through drills.
Welcome to 2019, the year when Book turns the page and becomes less another guy and more a voice in the program for a Notre Dame team coming off consecutive double-digit win seasons for the first time since before Book was born. Can Notre Dame make it a third-straight season of double-digit wins for the first time since the 1991-93 run? The Irish have a chance if Book has his say, and he plans to have it.
It’s time for him to talk more. In workouts as one of the team’s eight offseason SWAT team leaders. In huddles. In the quarterback room. In Isban Auditorium. Anywhere these guys go, No. 12 must be heard. They know it. He knows it.
“Definitely an area I want to improve at,” Book said. “Something that I’ve really just been testing myself to do, be a vocal leader. Let the guys hear who I am and always have someone to lean on.”
As is his nature, Book didn’t dive too deeply into specifics when pressed for how he’s become a better, more confident leader. The evolution started long before March, shortly after Notre Dame’s 30-3 loss to Clemson in a national semifinal in late December. Those first few winter sessions after the Cotton Bowl, Book spoke more, spoke louder than ever during workouts. With Wimbush off to Central Florida as a graduate transfer and those other main guys no longer main guys, Book had to have a stronger voice. He couldn’t just be seen; he had to be heard.
It remains the proverbial work in progress, but doing what Book did last year (214-for-314, 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns) has allowed him to find his voice.
“It is a little easier, I guess, to lead,” he said. “The years go on, you get older. It’s something I’ve pushed myself to do.”
Taking more chances
The 6-foot, 208-pound Book also plans to push himself in the offense. A year ago, he made it look easy by making all the easy throws. The safe throws. By coloring inside the lines. It was completion after completion, first down after first down, yards gained after yards gained. He was who he was — a high-percentage, low-risk dude. That consistency came at a cost — in this case, a lack of big plays. Explosive plays. Game-changing plays.
Only three Irish pass plays (to three different receivers) went for over 50 yards last season. Book wants more of those in 2019. If that means taking additional risks by bypassing check-down throws for deeper ones, that’s what he’ll do. Wants to do. Needs to do.
“He’s got to get a lot better,’ said offensive coordinator Chip Long. “It’s his next time where he is the guy.”
When spring practice revs back up next week — the Irish have only had three workouts and only one in full pads — Long will challenge Book more than ever. Today. Tomorrow. The following week. Challenge him to be a leader. To make the throws that he otherwise would have declined to make last season. To see where his ceiling, this offense’s ceiling, might be. Then break beyond it.
Book’s numbers for efficiency (153.97) and completion percentage (68.2) ranked among the nation’s Top 20 last season. He rarely took chances. Now he wants to explore what might be behind that door. Live a little dangerously when required.
“I want to make those even harder throws in those smaller windows,” Book said. “That’s what it takes to be an elite offense and elite quarterback.”
Book’s first meeting with the media since the Cotton Bowl ran nearly 10 minutes and Wimbush’s name never was mentioned. Last year, Book seldom went a session without a Wimbush question or comparison or comment. This is a new year. A new opportunity. Maybe even a few new chapters ready for Book to write.
He’ll still be sure and steady, but maybe a little more of a gambler. Take a risk with a call, a throw and a moment. See where it takes him. Takes the Irish.
“I’m not going to go too crazy,” he said. “I want to push the offense, push the guys, show them that I can make some of those throws.”
Last year, like the previous one, is done for Book. He exists only in the here and now. That was the case last spring when all everyone wanted to talk about was his late-game throw to Miles Boykin to help win the 2018 Citrus Bowl. Great throw. Great moment. Not so great to recall. Internally, Book cringed every time it was mentioned. Like, move on already. He wasn’t going to let one play define his career. He wanted more.
Same goes for 2019. He’s not going to let one bad day outside Dallas (17-for-34, 160 yards, one interception, zero touchdowns) deter him. That game’s over. Twelve more await. More challenges. More opportunity. For the Irish. For Book.
“It’s a whole new year; we’ve flipped the page,” Book said. “I still have to go out there every day and prove myself.”