At Notre Dame, Kenny Minchey tries to find the 'normal' after the whirlwind

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Pope John Paul II quarterback Kenny Minchey talks with well-wishers prior to the start of his signing day ceremony Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022 at the preparatory school in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Minchey signed to play football at Notre Dame.

SOUTH BEND — On a recent evening at Notre Dame’s indoor practice facility, Kenny Minchey quietly took a seat at an empty round table, looked straight ahead and smiled.

A few yards away, a fellow quarterback was casually holding court for the first time since transferring in from Wake Forest. For a few moments, Minchey sat silently and observed.

This wasn’t the first time he’d caught himself watching Sam Hartman.

The old guy now one of the new guys in some ways for Notre Dame

“It’s just pretty cool, him coming here,” said Minchey, the four-star freshman signee from the Nashville suburb of Hendersonville, Tenn. “Last year and in years past, I’d always turn on Wake Forest just to watch Sam play. He’s a pretty good quarterback.”

Hartman, the FBS level’s active leader in career passing yards and touchdowns, will turn 24 in late July. Minchey, one of a dozen early enrollees in this 2023 signing class, just turned 18 last month.

His mother and two sisters made an unannounced visit to his dorm room to mark the occasion, then posted the heartwarming video on social media.

Hartman, during his freewheeling session with local media, noted the Wake Forest campus in Winston-Salem, N.C. was a 50-minute drive from his family outside Charlotte, N.C.

“When I was young, I didn’t want to go home,” Hartman said. “When I got older, I was like, ‘Shoot, Mom, you coming up? Going to do my laundry or whatnot?’ ”

Said Minchey: “It’s cool to be in the same room as him, be able to learn from him, because he has experience.”

Experience? When Hartman made his college debut in September of 2018, Minchey was in the eighth grade. Now they’re teammates.

How wild is that?

Offensive coordinator:Sam Hartman on Tommy Rees leaving Notre Dame for Alabama: 'Business decision'

“It’s just normal interaction,” Minchey said. “We’re around each other 24/7, really, because we do the same stuff every single day. We’re friends. It’s normal.”

As normal as anything gets in the Musical Quarterbacks Era of college football.

Drew Pyne and QB Country

Four months earlier, Minchey seemed solidly committed to Pittsburgh, Drew Pyne was leading Notre Dame past Clemson and Hartman’s next stop was presumed to be the NFL.

Then the dominoes started tumbling.

On Nov. 12, Navy sacked Pyne five times in a second-half shutout as the Irish held on for a 35-32 win in Baltimore.

Two days later, Minchey announced he was backing off the nonbinding commitment he made to Pittsburgh 6 ½ months earlier.

On Nov. 15, Hartman famously said “No shot” when asked if he might return for a sixth season at Wake Forest.

“I want to test my luck and see what happens,” Hartman said. “I think I have an opportunity to do it, but obviously we’ve still got some football left to play here.”

On Nov. 19, Minchey was at Notre Dame Stadium for a snowy Senior Day shutout of Boston College.

Pyne and Minchey posed for a photo in the winning locker room. QB Country, the training program that counts both players among its long list of successful clients, shared that picture on social media.

Minchey privately committed to Notre Dame afterward. By midday on Nov. 22, Minchey had publicly flipped to the Irish.

Six hours later, Pyne declined comment when asked if he’d had a chance to congratulate Minchey.

“I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about recruits right now,” Pyne said flatly.

Ten days later, on Dec. 2, Pyne announced his intention to enter the transfer portal with three remaining years of eligibility. By Dec. 19 Pyne announced he was transferring to Arizona State, and two days after that Minchey officially signed his national letter of intent.

How instrumental was Pyne in helping Notre Dame land another Thomas Morris protégé from QB Country?

“We train with Quarterback Country; I haven’t actually trained with (Pyne),” Minchey said. “We haven’t thrown together or anything, but we know the same people. I had texted my quarterback coach (Morris), who knows Drew and who trains Drew, about Notre Dame and where I should go.

“He gave me Drew’s number, so I texted Drew, asking about Coach (Tommy) Rees, Coach (Marcus) Freeman and what (Morris) thought about how they coached, everything like that, just trying to get a feel for it before I actually got here.”

Pyne did all he could to pay it forward.

“I feel like he gave me a lot of good advice,” Minchey said, “and then I got to see him on my visit, too, so that was pretty cool.”

The two haven’t talked since that official visit, but Minchey still has that QB Country connection with Pyne.

“I feel like I could reach out,” Minchey said, “if I needed something or had a question.”

Unfazed by the upheaval

By the time Minchey sat down to watch Hartman’s Wake Forest finale in Tampa Bay’s Gasparilla Bowl on the night of Dec. 23, the rumors were flying. The ESPN broadcast was filled with innuendo about the ACC’s career passing leader being fitted for a new gold helmet.

From there, it was just a matter of watching the rest of the dominoes fall.

Hartman, of course, didn’t just commit to Notre Dame by early January. He was right there with Minchey and the other quarterbacks, including Gator Bowl MVP Tyler Buchner, as they tried to process Rees’ departure for Alabama on Feb. 3.

Then came the ensuing whirlwind that included on-campus interviews with potential replacements Collin Klein (Kansas State) and Andy Ludwig (Utah) and culminated with the promotion of Gerad Parker to offensive coordinator and the hiring of Gino Guidugli as quarterbacks coach.

Minchey, who thinks the game as well as he plays it, seems unfazed by all that upheaval.

“Most quarterbacks say they’ve played quarterback their whole life,” he said. “I ended up (as the) starting quarterback when I was in third grade. Every day before school, me and my dad would go out and throw before the bus came and picked me up.”

Kennith Minchey Sr. continued teaching his son the finer points of competition in the family living room.

“There was always sports on (TV) in my house,” Kenny said. “My dad loves watching sports, so I’m always watching something with him. Growing up, football, basketball, anything. Not baseball, though. I’m not a big baseball guy.”

Former Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate, who played college baseball as well before an 11-year career in the NFL, was a 2006 all-state selection at Hendersonville’s Pope John Paul II High School.

“He actually hit me up right after I decommitted from Pittsburgh,” Minchey said of his Knights predecessor. “He was just telling me about Notre Dame and why I should go there. It was pretty cool to talk to him and get words from him leading up to it.”

'Football junkie'

On early signing day in December, Rees raved about the advanced grasp Minchey has for the game.

“He’s a football junkie, which we love,” Rees said. “That’s something you learn as you spend time with him. He’s a guy that we look to in the future as someone who could lead our program.”

Rees made multiple visits to the Minchey home, not just to solidify the prospect’s commitment but to help expedite his mastery of the Irish offense.

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees during Notre Dame Spring Practice on Saturday, April 02, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Minchey turned down Notre Dame’s first offer in late July, shortly after his breakout at the Elite 11 showcase in California.

“In the moment, I loved Pitt; there’s where I wanted to go,” Minchey said. “I was sold on them, and I had to tell Notre Dame no.”

Freeman and Rees kept at it.

“As the season went on, I kept having conversations with my parents, who kept pushing for Notre Dame, but I was the one kind of pushing away from it,” Minchey said. “I just kept having talks with them and throughout all this, Coach Rees and Coach Freeman were hitting me up every day, just trying to get in contact with me, get on the phone. After a bunch of talks with my parents, Coach Rees had texted me again, randomly, out of the blue and I told my parents. Then I was up there (in South Bend) the next weekend.”

In the end, persistence paid off.

“You look at the mental makeup of Kenny, his parents and the family he’s surrounded by, the school and the culture he’s surrounded by,” Rees said in December. “You look at a guy that loves the game of football. That is so critical to that position. He is constantly talking about football, constantly monitoring, asking questions.

“When you can care that much and have your work ethic be something that shines through at the quarterback position, that is going to earn the respect of your teammates right away and that is going to drive your leadership position. That work habit and the way he is about the game of football is what’s going to resonate with his teammates.”

Even the one who’s been showing up on Minchey’s TV since he was in the eighth grade.

JPII quarterback Kenny Minchey (4) passes against Independence during a high school football game on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, in Thompson's Station, Tenn.

Nas Jpii Vs Independence Prep Football 020

“I guess you could say football came easy to me,” Minchey said. “I love watching football. If I’m not here, I’m in my dorm. Maybe (I’ll) turn on a game, watching games from last year, watching good quarterbacks. Once you watch something enough, it makes sense to you.”

Minchey paused and smiled. His inner football junkie was shining through.

“Listening to my coaches from high school and other trainers I’ve had talk football with me — actually talk ball and breaking stuff down — it was good but it’s not as much as I’m getting here,” Minchey said. ”If I didn’t have the tools, I wouldn’t be at a place like this. The mental part — coverages, learning the playbook — that’s big. You’ve got to know that and everything that goes with it.”

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.