Reinvented and rebranded, Brandon Wimbush isn't finished with football or his ND connection

Eric Hansen | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

Brandon Wimbush is navigating California traffic, talking on the phone hands-free, and finally living care-free.

The most pressing part of his agenda on this day is continuing to train in an effort to knock his 40-yard dash time down to 4.4 seconds by the time he shows up at Notre Dame’s Pro Day audition for NFL scouts, coaches and personnel decision-makers, tentatively scheduled for April 1.

If the former Notre Dame and UCF quarterback can actually shave the less than a 10th of a second off his last chronicled clocking, he’ll be able to accomplish something only three players with Notre Dame ties have been able to match or better in a pro day, documented private workout or scouting combine setting since 2010.

Two of the others to do so, Darrin Walls (4.39) and Bennett Jackson (4.40), were cornerbacks. The other is the king of the 40s in this era of ND Football, wide receiver Will Fuller (4.32).

The fastest Irish QB in the past decade? Jimmy Clausen (4.76), surprisingly, given his career rushing total of minus-355 yards. Everett Golson, who came back to ND’s Pro Day four years ago after a truncated grad transfer venture with Florida State, is a not-so close second at 4.82 seconds.

But Wimbush no longer considers himself strictly a quarterback.

The 6-foot-2, 222-pounder has reinvented and rebranded himself as a football version of a Swiss Army Knife of sorts. Think New Orleans Saint Taysom Hill, a former BYU QB who threw a TD pass in the playoffs, caught 19 passes during the regular season, rushed for 156 yards and blocked a punt, among other statistical variances.

“I want to be a guy who can do a lot of things for an organization, and I think there’s value in that,” Wimbush said. “So at the pro day, I’ll throw the ball, but more so I will be catching, running and doing whatever the scouts want me to.”

What he won’t be doing is getting past any awkwardness of being around his former Irish teammates again after spending his final season of college eligibility at UCF in 2019.

In some ways, it’s as if he never left.

Five days after UCF overwhelmed Marshall, 48-25, in something called the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa — a game and prep Wimbush skipped to get a head start on his positional transformation — Wimbush was on the Notre Dame sideline for much of a 33-9 Irish romp over Iowa State at the Camping World Bowl in Orlando.

During the Knights’ bye week in October, Wimbush was taking in ND’s 30-27 escape over USC on Oct. 12 at Notre Dame Stadium, spending much of the game again with Irish players and coaches.

“I love all those guys,” Wimbush said. “I was fortunate to be able to play with all of those guys. I look back on it, it’s like one in a million. It’s ridiculous the chance you get, the opportunities you get at that school — to be in those type of environments, to play with those type of people.

“I’m really glad to have the chance to do that, and the chance to go back. To be able to go back and have that chemistry with those guys, be able to fire them up a little bit, is a great experience, a great feeling.”

He still talks to Ian Book, the player who supplanted him as a starter in week four of ND’s run to the 2018 College Football Playoff, about once a week. Wimbush calls the ND grad senior-to-be his best buddy.

“We just have a connection that’s beyond football,” he said, “although we do talk about football, too. We talk game plans, the experiences we both have been through. It’s a useful friendship and it’s something that I value.”

Wimbush embraces Notre Dame’s new offensive coordinator, Tommy Rees, Wimbush’s position coach during his 2017 and 2018 seasons. He’s effusive about Rees’ ability to connect with the ND players — not just the QBs — and marveled about how advanced his football knowledge seems to be.

“There’s just something very special about him,” Wimbush said of deposed coordinator Chip Long’s replacement.

Special is also a descriptor he uses when talking about Phil Jurkovec’s potential at Boston College after the sophomore transferred there earlier this month. Wimbush said he would have faced a similar decision heading into his own junior year had two-year starter DeShone Kizer opted to return to ND in 2017 instead of bolting for the NFL.

“I think my degree was a little more forefront than a lot of people who go through this collegiate process, quarterbacking,” he said. “But I would have been the same guy. I would have been in the same position.

“There’s a small time period, such a small window, to fulfill your dreams on the collegiate level. So you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. It would have been a difficult decision, and you have to look at it as a business.”

Wimbush made his own business decision after the 2018 season to see if the grad transfer route could regenerate his stock as a quarterback with a promising future. It ended with him starting UCF’s opener against Florida A&M, and then quickly being overtaken on the depth chart by freshman Dillon Gabriel.

Wimbush ended up logging action in five games, threw 24 passes and ran the ball 11 times for UCF. He is vague about what went wrong, but places “the why” on his own shoulders. Personal issues away from football, that he felt he needed and wanted to give his full attention, was the trade-off for potential playing time, he suggested, even if it might have come at a different position than QB.

“Even though it worked out the way it did,” Wimbush said, “I needed to listen to my heart, venture out and see if I still had something left to give at the quarterback position.”

Including his one start at UCF, Wimbush finishes his college career with a 14-3 mark as a starter and as a valuable cog in ND’s 2017 renaissance season in which he threw for 1,870 yards and 16 TDs and ran for 803 yards and 14 more scores, the latter a school-record for quarterbacks.

He already knows what life is going to be like when football ends, and he realizes it may end quickly. Just two weeks ago he had lunch with long-time mentor Tom Mendoza, the man after whom Notre Dame’s prestigious business school is named.

His post-football self, at least initially, will get involved in the venture capital game, preferably in New York, not too far from where he went to high school in Jersey City, N.J.

It was there, at St. Peter’s Prep, where he became the No. 60 player nationally, regardless of position in the 2015 recruiting cycle, per, and the No. 4 dual-threat QB in that class.

At No. 5 in the same category that cycle was 2018 Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray. Twenty spots below Wimbush in the dual-threat QB rankings was 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.

If Wimbush was ever tormented by who he was supposed to turn into not syncing up to where he stands in the current football stratosphere, he’s certainly made peace with it.

“It’s hard for me to look back in hindsight and regret anything or try to change anything,” he said, “because the life I live is so luxurious, compared to a lot of other people.

“I’m excited for the next chapter and to move on and to take those lessons with me.”

Former Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush (3) quietly finished his college football career at UCF in 2019, but he’s not finished with chasing football dreams.
Former Notre Dame quarterbacks DeShone Kizer (left) and Brandon Wimbush makes themselves at home during ND’s 30-27 win over USC, Oct. 12 at Notre Dame Stadium.