Hansen: Who is Brendon Clark and what does his football future look like at Notre Dame?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

That Brendon Clark had spent an inordinate amount of time with private QB tutor Malcolm Bell back in the Richmond, Va., area since Notre Dame’s Dec. 28 Camping World Bowl appearance was actually just business as usual.

And not at all a move prompted by anticipating that ND’s No. 2 quarterback, Phil Jurkovec, would be wading into the NCAA transfer portal less than two weeks after the Irish recorded their 11th and final win of the season.

“I think Brendon was surprised,” said Clark’s high school coach, Tom Hall, at Manchester High in Midlothian, Va., of Jurkovec’s exit from the Irish roster on Wednesday.

“But if you’re asking me, is he ready to be Notre Dame’s No. 2 quarterback, I’ll tell you what, I think he’s ready to be the guy, period — whether it’s 1 or 2. He’s a rarity.”

Hall went on to speak about the 6-foot-2, 217-pound sophomore-to-be’s toughness, his work ethic that earned him ND’s Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year honors last month, his leadership, and the notion that in Hall’s 31 years of coaching that he’s never seen anyone like him — on his team or anyone else’s.

Perhaps the defining point in the last part of that sentence is the fearlessness of Clark to take the path of MOST resistance.

When Clark narrowed his college choices to a pair of finalists, he picked two schools in which a phenom quarterback was signed in the class immediately before his — Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, and a QB whom ND coach Brian Kelly asserted during his National Signing Day press conference two years ago was even better, Jurkovec.

“Brendon knew wherever he went there was going to be competition,” Hall said. “There are always going to be four- and five-star kids being brought in, and he was going to have to compete yearly. And I think he really relishes that. I think that’s what makes him so special.”

He’ll certainly be in the mix to be third-year starting quarterback Ian Book’s successor in 2021. For now he is the primary safety net at the QB position in 2020. Technically, Clark will still be a freshman from an eligibility standpoint.

Clark saw action in two games in 2019, two fewer than the NCAA allowable maximum to redshirt. He ran the ball nine times for 34 yards (3.8 per carry) and completed his only pass attempt, a 22-yard touchdown strike to Braden Lenzy in a 66-14 romp over New Mexico on Sept. 14.

Early-enrolling freshman Drew Pyne starts classes Tuesday to complete the 2020 QB depth chart. A source told the Tribune Jurkovec was entering the portal with the expectation of transferring, not merely checking out other options.

Of those staying, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Pyne was the highest-rated prospect per Rivals, a four-star and No 118 overall regardless of position. Book and Clark were both three-star prospects, and both originally committed to other programs before the Irish got involved.

Book spent time in Washington State’s class in the 2016 recruiting cycle. Clark initially committed to Wake Forest.

Both were overlooked, but for different reasons. For Clark, it seemed to be more about exposure, or lack of it for a player who started as the Manchester High School JV quarterback as an eighth-grader and became a four-year captain and varsity starter after that.

The only temporary detour was a torn ACL four games into his freshman season.

“Recruiting has changed a lot during my three decades of coaching, and a lot of it at his position is about going to camps, and he is not much of a camp kid,” Hall said.

“He came back from the torn ACL and led us to a regional championship his sophomore year. He just kept getting better and better, but the only camp he went to really was that Elite 11 Camp he went to his senior year.

“A lot of these guys, especially at the quarterback position, they go to these camps, they get their stars and everything. He was just never a star guy. He was never into that.”

He was into leading Midlothian to the Class 6A Virginia state championship in 2018. During their playoff run the Lancers routed Thomas Dale High, where ND running back signee Chris Tyree is finishing his senior year, by a 48-7 count.

For the season, Clark completed 136 of 229 (59 percent) for 2,327 yards with a TD-to-interception ratio of 35-to-1. He rushed for 774 yards on 105 carries and 17 TDs.

“I call him Tim Tebow who can throw the ball,” Hall said, referring to the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner from Florida. “And that includes the character he has and the toughness.”

Hall spotted the arm talent in Clark at a young age. Hall’s daughter and Clark’s sister are close friends to this day, and at the time were teammates on a travel softball team. Hall noticed Clark’s father was nudging his son toward baseball, so he bought Brendon a Nerf football at Walmart.

“Then I made him my ball boy,” Hall said. “He was 5 or 6 years old. He was pretty much a sponge, soaking up the dos and don’ts of how we coach our system. People thought it was cute, but I knew where this was headed, especially when he’d throw that high school football out to midfield to the referee.

“And the referee would look at me like, ‘What in the world?’ And I’m like, ‘Yup, that’s my future quarterback.’

“I can’t wait to see what his future turns out to be at Notre Dame.”

Notre Dame QB Brendon Clark (7) moves up to No. 2 on the Irish depth chart after sophomore Phil Jurkovec entered the NCAA transfer portal on Wednesday.