Former Notre Dame QB Phil Jurkovec putting his own brand on Boston College's offense

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The song choice felt too on the nose to be a coincidence.

This week on Instagram, Boston College starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec shared a highlight video with Mac Miller’s “Brand Name” serving as the soundtrack. The lyrics may have shed light on how he feels about playing his former team, No. 2 Notre Dame (7-0, 6-0), on Saturday in Chestnut Hill, Mass. (3:30 p.m. EST on ABC).

“Everything we think we love, it ain't nothin' but a brand name,” so the chorus goes.

There’s no bigger brand name in college football than Notre Dame. But it didn’t work out for Jurkovec in his two seasons with the Irish. So when it came time to choose his transfer destination earlier this year, Jurkovec threw brand out the window.

“It was not a good situation for me at Notre Dame,” Jurkovec told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in August. “The second time around, I didn’t go for the brand. I went for nothing other than the people.”

Jurkovec went on to name head coach Jeff Hafley and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti as two major reasons why he felt comfortable at Boston College. Hafley, most recently a co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, was taking over as a head coach for the first time. Cignetti, whose last three stops were in the NFL, had ties to Jurkovec’s hometown of Pittsburgh.

They won the former four-star recruit over despite his initial hesitance.

“Honestly, I never watched Boston College in my life,” Jurkovec told the Post-Gazette, “I never rooted for them, and I did not give one crap about Boston College. My first reaction was ‘No.’ Nothing about it was appealing.”

Jurkovec already made the easy decision once. When he committed to play at Notre Dame at the end of his sophomore year at Gibsonia (Pa.) Pine-Richland, Jurkovec picked his dream school.

"Obviously Notre Dame has a great brand for its school and football,” Jurkovec said Wednesday. “Whenever I hit the transfer portal, I didn't want to go to a school based off the school, based off the fans, anything that really didn't matter to me.

“Sitting down with my parents, they said you have to throw everything out of the window other than what coaches are really looking to help you out and are really going to develop you and be on your side. That's really the main thing I was looking for. I found it with coach Hafley and coach Cignetti."

American Ninja to these obstacles, no stoppin' me, we on the move

The situation at Notre Dame was so dire that the 6-foot-5, 226-pound Jurkovec even considered switching positions.

He was an Army All-American and state champion quarterback at Pine-Richland. He finished his senior season with preposterous numbers: 243-of-334 passing (72.8 percent) for 3,969 yards and 39 touchdowns with six interceptions and 132 rushes for 1,211 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Yet his confidence was so wrecked and his patience was wearing so thin waiting behind starting quarterback Ian Book.

“Football was really changing for me,” Jurkovec said. “I was debating about switching positions, because I don't think I could have done another year sitting the bench. I had to go play somewhere.

“I was really down. I was basically on the brink of not playing quarterback. At that point, I was talking to my family. They were like, 'You have to go somewhere to play.'"

Jurkovec wasn’t interested in doing any finger-pointing this week. It’s easier to move past how his career at Notre Dame went after how his Boston College career started. Through eight games, Jurkovec has thrown for 2,083 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions with 172 completions on 277 attempts.

Only five FBS quarterbacks have thrown for more yards this season than Jurkovec, though he has played in more games than most quarterbacks with the Eagles playing in eight consecutive weeks so far.

“There were a number of reasons why it wasn't working out at Notre Dame,” Jurkovec said Wednesday, “and I grew very frustrated, but now I'm having fun with it and looking forward to keep getting better.”

Jurkovec was a little more blunt in August.

“But really, the main reason why I left was the frustration of not progressing,” he told the Post-Gazette. “I knew coming out of high school, I needed to go somewhere and develop. I thought Notre Dame was the place.

“I think I developed in a lot of ways. But in quarterback play, I think I regressed in certain areas over time. It was incredibly frustrating. … At times, it got to the point where I could not even throw the ball at all. My footwork was all jacked up.”

I work harder than anybody you know

Chip Long once described the development gap between Ian Book and Phil Jurkovec using mathematics.

“One’s on advanced calculus, the other one’s still getting past algebra right now,” Long said in April 2019 with Book coming off an 8-1 slate as a starter in 2018 and Jurkovec finishing his freshman year.

Even as Book worked through a rough stretch of play last season, Kelly was adamant in sticking with Book after the 45-14 loss to Michigan.

“If I thought for a second that Phil Jurkovec would be on the field to help us winning in some fashion, he would be on the field,” Kelly said days after the loss.

Jurkovec didn’t need to read between the lines to understand how far he was from unseating Book. When Book opted in late December to return for a fifth year at Notre Dame following a six-game winning streak to end the season, Jurkovec knew it was time to leave.

The math at Boston College made more sense. Beating out former walk-on Dennis Grosel for the starting quarterback job was more of a formality. Once cleared by the NCAA to play immediately at Boston College, Jurkovec was given the keys to Cignetti’s offense. He did it all with an unusual offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For Phil without really a spring ball and training camp to come in and learn our system and take command of our system this early and have this somewhat success that he's had,” Hafley said, “it says a ton about how smart the kid is as far as football goes and what he's been able to learn and execute because that position in our offense is really hard.

“That's something that I probably haven't given him enough credit for, which he deserves. His football intelligence and IQ, they're pretty good now.”

Kelly offered praise for Jurkovec this week but steered away from charting his development since he left Notre Dame by leaning on the differences between the two offensive schemes.

“It’s really hard to compare where he is compared to where he was last year, because they are so dissimilar from an offensive perspective,” Kelly said. “What he's doing this year on film is he's making plays outside the realm of the offense. Which he was very accustomed to doing in high school and when he was here as well.

“Outside the pocket, he's a great scrambler. He can throw on the run. He has a strong arm, great size and he's a tough kid. But I would say that the offenses are so dissimilar it's hard to really compare where that progression is, but the one constant is he can make plays outside the pocket.”

Only five FBS quarterbacks have thrown for more yardage than Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec (2,083) so far this season.

Deadly aim, self-contained, superstar, they yell the name

Kelly never discussed a position switch with Jurkovec. He understood Jurkovec’s competitive nature but remained committed to Book.

“At the end of the day, whatever the narratives are, he’s a competitive kid that wanted to play,” Kelly said. “And he wasn’t going to play this year in front of Ian Book. So that’s kind of the bottom line as to where he was in our program.”

Though Boston College didn’t list Jurkovec as its clear starting quarterback on its first depth chart in September, there was no hiding that the job was his. The raw talent was there, but could Jurkovec put everything together to run an NFL-style offense at Boston College?

“I'd be lying to you if I told you like the first day I met him I knew,” Hafley said. “I had no idea. You know when I found out, probably? Probably the Duke game. Because no one had any clue."

Jurkovec completed 17 of his 23 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in a 26-6 win at Duke in the season opener. He’s thrown for at least 300 yards in three games since then.

Boston College’s offense revolves around Jurkovec and his ability to distribute the ball. The Eagles have struggled to run the football — No. 111 in FBS with 106.6 yards per game — and the offensive line hasn’t been sharp in pass protection — No. 91 in FBS for allowing 2.75 sacks per game.

Jurkovec has been as good at playing quarterback as he is with deciphering Mac Miller lyrics. The late Mac Miller, a Pittsburgh product like Jurkovec, summarized the message behind his “Brand Name” song in 2015 for Genius.

"It’s a song about finding my own place in the world of brands and names,” Miller said. “It’s like creating my own niche rather than trying to be a part of something else.”

Jurkovec has done that at Boston College. That’s probably why Jurkovec asked Preston Polk, the 15-year-old behind @917productions on Instagram, to use that specific song for the highlight video Polk wanted to produce.

Jurkovec gets to show his former teammates in person what he created for himself at Boston College on Saturday. The highlight video will give way to the real thing.

Doing it against old friends, Jurkovec said, will make it a little bit more fun. Brands don’t matter between the white lines.

"We've been talking throughout the year, especially the guys in my class,” Jurkovec said. “We're still pretty tight. This week though we haven't talked too much.

“I know they want to beat me badly. Same with me. We're not friends out on the field, but I have good relationships with a lot of those guys."

Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec has had plenty to smile about after finally getting a chance to be a starting quarterback following a transfer out of Notre Dame.