March 23, 2017
By John Heisler
Brandon Wimbush vividly recalls the circumstances when his football life at the University of Notre Dame changed a little after noon on a Monday in December.
“We were all there when I got the news. My Twitter started blowing up–all the social media feeds started going nuts. I got a message from my mom and called her and she was pretty excited about it.”
The “news” that day said incumbent Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer was headed to the NFL. That meant Wimbush qualified as the “next man up” on the depth chart.
“I knew a couple of days in advance,” says the 6-1, 225-pounder from Teaneck, New Jersey. “We had had a conversation, so I knew what he was doing. He gave me a heads-up.
“But the announcement still had that `wow’ effect. This could be my chance.”
While Kizer’s probably not-too-surprising decision elicited its share of headlines and reaction, the sidebar involved Wimbush. In one fell swoop he was being viewed through a different lens than he had been during a 2015 season in which he played briefly in two games (he completed three of five passes versus Massachusetts, also ran for a 58-yard touchdown and saw action later that fall against Pittsburgh) and a planned 2016 campaign that he watched entirely from the sidelines. Around 100 of his hometown fans came to MetLife Stadium last fall to see the Irish defeat Syracuse–knowing Wimbush would not play.
“Brady Quinn (former Irish quarterback) got in contact with me,” says Wimbush. “And a couple of other former guys. To be able to reach out to guys who have done this and been in my position, I think that will be huge for me. I heard from my family and lots of good friends back home.
“DeShone and I were tight. He taught me so much the last two years, as did Malik. I saw his dreams come to fruition and then the NFL come to reality. And then me in a position to possibly become the quarterback. I saw both sides of it. It was a pretty good day for both of us.”
An accounting major who did a three-week internship with KPMG in New York after the 2016 spring semester ended, Wimbush feels like he’s learned a ton from watching all the different episodes the last two years featuring Kizer, Zaire and even Everett Golson.
“When I first committed Everett was still here, so I was really the fourth guy,” says Wimbush. “Then eventually I became the backup (in 2015) and I learned from that experience, having to mature earlier, learning from DeShone, learning from Malik, seeing the trials and tribulations he went through the year he was injured and then had to fight his way back. Then, with everything that went into the last two seasons, I’ve seen a lot in my year and a half here. Things I can pass on to the next group of guys that come in here.”
Wimbush already understands full well that he’s no longer the quarterback in-waiting over in the background. He also believes he has a good sense for being able to handle all that comes with playing quarterback at Notre Dame.
“I try to keep everything the same,” he says. “That’s one thing I pride myself on, being even-keeled and level-headed no matter what the situation–whether I’m going through a tough time in my life or whether I could possibly be the Notre Dame quarterback. I think I’ve done a good job with that. I understand what comes with the position. I know there will be more people who want to be my friend.
“I try to keep my life normal. Definitely there have been certain people who have reached out who I haven’t spoken to in I don’t know how many years. But I see that, and I know I’ve got to stay focused on what I’m doing. You just learn from all those experiences.”
In a sense, Wimbush hasn’t had time to think much about all those other aspects of his role. He’s been too busy learning an offense with some new wrinkles and working hand in hand with a new offensive coordinator (Chip Long) and a new quarterback coach (former Irish signal-caller Tom Rees).
“I actually called Coach (Brian) Kelly one day just to get in his ear and see what he was thinking about there,” says Wimbush. “And now with Coach Rees and Coach Long, we’re excited about this offense. We think it can be pretty special. I think we have the best coaching staff in the country–I stand firmly behind that.
“As soon as I got back we met and it all clicked from there. Having Coach Rees here, it’s huge for us because he’s fresh out of Coach Kelly’s offense. He knows exactly what we’re going through and exactly what’s expected of us. He had so much on his plate with his football IQ, doing checks at the line. And from what I hear there was a real faith about (Rees) as far as the team was concerned.”
Wimbush, like his teammates, appreciates the different vibe since January.
“In terms of the program there’s been a whole new culture these last few months,” he says. “Everybody has bought in with what (new strength and conditioning) Coach (Matt) Balis is doing, with what Coach Kelly is doing, what this new entire coaching staff is bringing to us. We’re excited–maybe my life would have been about the same without the changes, but it seems like there’s maybe a little more excitement, a little more urgency.”
Kizer Decision Prompts Wimbush Reactions
|Here’s what the Twitter-sphere had to say about Brandon Wimbush on December 5:|
|–Offered Jarron Jones: You up next @WimbushB12 !! Time to show off bro like I know you can! #TicToc
–Former player Aaron Taylor said: “ND fans should be excited re the Brandon Wimbush era.”
–Shaun Crawford: “That’s my quarterback!!! That’s OUR quarterback.”
–Tom Mendoza: “I have had the privilege of spending time with @WimbushB12. Few young people handle themselves as well. Classy, smart, all ND. Happy for him.”
–Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated: “Privately, Notre Dame’s staff has always been a big believer in Brandon Wimbush. Now we’ll see publically how much of that faith is warranted.”
Wimbush also understands there’s more to his role than simply learning the plays.
“I think it’s been imperative for the quarterbacks to get into the meeting rooms and get in tight with the guys,” he says. “Everything is new and we’ve got to rally together. Let’s build the culture and understand each other. Coach Kelly had us go through these leadership programs, and the quarterbacks got into each of the position rooms and spoke with the running backs and the receivers and we’re implementing a new offense. We had to get on the same page so that when we got to practice we were already rolling.”
For Kelly’s part, he wants to nurture Wimbush without heaping too much on his plate at any one time.
Said the Irish head coach in his pre-spring football press conference, “The quarterback position, whether it’s at Notre Dame or anywhere else, requires an incredible spirit in itself that you’ve got to be able to handle so many other things that are outside of football. What I’m asking him to do is probably more focused on him just taking care of himself. And we’ve got a lot of good leaders. I’m giving him some leadership opportunities, and I think he’s doing quite well.
“But we’re not asking him to come in here and lead the entire building. We’re going to probably have as many as seven captains. So he’s well supported in that role.
“He has to have a presence about him. Body language. He’s got to have confidence in himself. So those are the areas that I’m spending more time on than him having to take control of the entire football program.”
Wimbush seconds that notion:
“I’m not a freshman, I’ve been through two falls, so my class–we’re going to be upperclassmen now. We’ve grown together, we’ve seen each other have success and we’ve seen each other fall. We’ve got a bunch of guys like (offensive tackle) Mike McGlinchey and (tight end) Durham Smythe and they’re leading out there and we’re following their lead.”
Adds Rees: “He’s a very humble person, he’s very down to earth–and I don’t think the outside distractions are going to really affect him all that much. He’s very mature in the sense that he understands his priorities and what’s important and who to rely on. So I don’t anticipate the outside noise being too much for him.”
The best advice Wimbush has received? Filter the noise.
“A big thing I’ve heard is not to let too many voices get to me. Coach Kelly and I have had a lot of conversations about that,” he says.
“Understand who is in your corner. We’ve (the quarterbacks) had mental development classes which have been huge. We focus on who has your best interests at heart. Focus on the things that matter, the things at hand, the things that are going to benefit the team.
“Don’t worry about all the criticism and don’t take all the advice that may not always be good advice. But understand the good advice that does comes into your life.”
Wimbush is savvy enough to know he doesn’t have all the answers. So instead of spending spring break at the beach, he worked all week perfecting his fundamentals with quarterback guru George Whitfield (who also helped tutor Golson).
“We did a lot of talking and a lot of ball,” says Wimbush.
He brings an easy smile and a calm disposition to his work each day. He also was confident enough to wear a bright ascot and a fancy fedora to Notre Dame’s “Echoes” football awards show in December.
No one can predict exactly what the journey ahead will bring, and Wimbush knows it’s a long way until game day in September.
So, for now, Wimbush knows a big part of that journey is earning the trust of his teammates.
“Given the (quarterback) position, you’ve got to be vocal, even though I may not call myself the most vocal guy,” he says. “But I hope guys will respect me. They’ll understand and they’ll hear my voice and they’ll respond.
“And I have to be there for them, for each individual, and that means coming to understand each individual’s background.
“Without saying anything, I feel like the guys around me are comfortable with me.”
The manila folder with Wimbush’s name on it in a file drawer in the Notre Dame media relations office currently contains a handful of clippings, most from his high school days at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, where he helped his team to a state title in 2014.
Wimbush hopes his future football life at Notre Dame will change that.
If it does, he won’t forget that December day.