What Ian Book's spring break trip to Nebraska revealed about the Notre Dame QB

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

While residing in a basement in Omaha, Neb., last week, Ian Book watched as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic began to materialize in the United States.

The response from Notre Dame and the NCAA alone impacted Book. No spring football or in-person classes the rest of this semester meant the Irish quarterback would indefinitely return to his home in El Dorado Hills, Calif.

With government officials now recommending citizens to avoid attending gatherings of more than 10 people, Book realized he will likely have to rely on private training going forward.

Sage Rosenfels observed Book’s handling of the news in real time. Book’s spring break included a two-and-a-half day trip to Omaha so he could work with Rosenfels, a former NFL journeyman quarterback.

“I look at situations like the coronavirus, where it’s all about leadership,” Rosenfels said. “Leadership is about staying calm, having a plan and executing that plan. Through the whole thing, he was exactly that.

“For him, it was about what’s next. As things are moving, what’s going to happen? It was all about trying to figure out what’s going to happen and going from there.”

That approach helps explain why Book arrived at Rosenfels’ doorstep last Wednesday in the first place.

Book learned of Rosenfels from the private quarterback coach he’s trained with since high school, Will Hewlett. Rosenfels started training quarterbacks with Hewlett for QB Collective Academy four years ago. Hewlett works with mechanics. Rosenfels deals with the mental aspect, incorporating what he learned from the NFL in a schematic sense.

“It’s like having a swing coach, but my job isn’t to teach you how to swing,” Rosenfels said. “My job is to teach you how to play the course for the lowest score.”

Rosenfels’ first dose of Book came at the Camping World Bowl last December. He met the Book family and watched Ian handle his alma mater, Iowa State, 33-9 in Orlando, Fla. The experience helped cement their plans to work together for the first time.

Rosenfels had limited prior knowledge of Book. Each day entailed a similar routine. Book joined Rosenfels when he dropped his daughters off at school and when picking them up. They ate three meals together. They watched six hours of film and trained at an indoor facility for two hours.

Book even helped make dinner one night and bonded with Rosenfels’ 10-year-old daughter over TikTok, a social media app. Rosenfels, 42, wanted Book to learn what life may look like after football.

“He got the full experience,” Rosenfels said. “It was the best way to do it instead of putting him up in a hotel and going back and forth.

“He’s a guy who is humble enough to know that he has a lot to learn. You don’t always get that from quarterbacks who have had a lot of success at a major college football program. He was very interested in learning as much as he could and soaking up anything I was saying like a sponge.”

Some of Book’s work included prep for the next level. Book practiced his footwork when snapping the ball from under center. Film sessions featured a breakdown of coverages and studying how they were attacked by NFL quarterbacks and offenses, particularly the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, and the San Francisco 49ers.

At 6-foot, 206 pounds, Book observed shorter quarterbacks that compare with him in size, like Russell Wilson (5-11, 206) of the Seattle Seahawks and Drew Brees (6-0, 209) of the Saints.

“Maybe after watching all that NFL film,” Rosenfels said, “he probably got to think, ‘OK, I probably need to move around the pocket better and stay in throwing position like Drew Brees does, rather than taking off and running.’”

The main criticism surrounding Book last season became apparent to Rosenfels after they studied his games against Georgia and USC. Book sometimes struggled with anticipating open wide receivers and leaving the pocket prematurely.

After receiving context from Book on why some of those shortcomings occurred, Rosenfels believes next year could be different under first-year offensive coordinator Tommy Rees.

“There was sometimes this gray area in his reads,” said Rosenfels about the Irish offense under deposed coordinator Chip Long. “In talking with (Book), it seems like Tommy Rees is really trying to make the position a little bit more black-and-white. It’s more, this is your read, this is your footwork and this is your rule.

“It allows for less gray area, and I think that’s huge for a quarterback. You don’t want to be guessing yourself. You want to be sure about knowing exactly what you are doing. We will see if that changes at all this year.”

Following Notre Dame’s first — and only — spring practice earlier this month, head coach Brian Kelly told reporters that Book’s leadership style does not require an overhaul. Book’s lead-by-example approach earned credibility with a 20-3 record as a starter and 3,034 passing yards with 34 touchdowns and six interceptions last season.

“He doesn’t really want to walk around and scream and yell,” Kelly said. “He’s got a presence about him, and he just needs to be Ian Book. Complete a (boat)load of passes. That would be great, you know, if he keeps doing that stuff.”

Rosenfels sees a budding star in Book, one who unabashedly addresses his errors and learns from them. To bring the Irish to another College Football Playoff appearance and increase his draft stock, Book requires improvement in all phases, but especially the mental aspect.

Rees’ simplification of the offense may help, but Book will need to make sure his old habits don’t continue.

“Now with this power and information that I can help Ian with,” Rosenfels said, “it will help with his senior year. To hopefully have the best year of his college career and obviously give him a head start so that a year from now, he will probably be preparing for the NFL Draft.

“To start that process early is commendable. I’m guessing a lot of his friends were going to Cancún (Mexico) or Miami. That he would come to Omaha, Nebraska of all places and live with me and my kids, live in my basement and spend most of our time while my kids were at school in my basement and movie room watching film hours on end.

“I don’t know if I would have been that dedicated when I was a 21-year-old.”

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Notre Dame’s Ian Book (12) scrambles against Iowa State at the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 28, 2019.
Notre Dame’s Ian Book greets fans during the player walk before the Oct. 5, 2019 game against Bowling Green at Notre Dame Stadium.