Ian Book

Irish Quarterback Plays It by the Book

Always behave like a duck, keep calm and unruffled on the surface, but paddle like the devil underneath.
–late author and Chicago Circuit Court judge Jacob M. Braude

The Ian Book story at Notre Dame has been well-documented:

  • Became off-the-bench Citrus Bowl hero to end the 2017 season, thanks to a late touchdown pass to Miles Boykin to defeat LSU
  • Promoted to Irish quarterback starter four games into the 2018 season
  • Completed 70.4 percent of his passes in 2018, ranking sixth nationally
  • Finished regular season eighth in NCAA passing efficiency
  • Named semifinalist for Maxwell Award and Davey O’Brien Award
  • Played key role in Notre Dame’s unbeaten regular season and College Football Playoff berth

That’s where the details, especially on a personal level, dissolve to a very slow drip.

Book has been unable to avoid the spotlight completely. His consistent, high-level play turned enough heads to land him on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Presents CFP preview as well as a Lindy’s Notre Dame commemorative magazine.

Yet, whether by design or not, the El Dorado Hills, California, product plays it all close to the vest — very close to the vest.

Book came to Notre Dame from Oak Ridge High School, a public school about 20 miles east of Sacramento.

What he accomplished on the football field there was eerily similar to what he has done in South Bend. His completion percentage for the Irish in 2018? It’s 70.4. His completion percentage as a high school senior? It was 70.5.

Yet, with DeShone Kizer, Brandon Wimbush and now current freshman Phil Jurkovec seemingly thrust into all the quarterback conversations held by Irish fans, outside expectations for Book appeared minimal.

Irish junior walk-on running back Mick Assaf, a close friend and current roommate of Book, says they used to kid about Book’s place on the Notre Dame depth chart.  

“I met him my first day on campus and we’ve been friends ever since,” says Assaf.

“In 2016 (as freshmen), we were both redshirting. We were not traveling to the road games so we would just watch the games on TV. That’s a lot different — not traveling and not being with the team.

“Ian always said he came here to start, and that’s what he thought all along. It did not really change that season. He was either the fifth or sixth quarterback, and we would joke about that.

“We were on the scout team together most of the year — it was a tough year but we didn’t think much about it because we knew we were going to be good in the future. We were losing games by one possession — it’s not like we were getting blown out.”

Book’s approach didn’t change in 2017, after Kizer left for the NFL and Book became the backup to Wimbush.

“His thoughts were just to do whatever he could to help us win,” says Assaf. “He wasn’t worried about being in the spotlight or that he needed to start — because we were winning games. He was happy with any role he had to help us win. I think he played a snap in every game but one or two, and I don’t think he was upset by that. Plus, until the end we were a top-five team in the country.

“He had a little bit more time to show what he could do in practice and they gave him a chance. Sometimes the change of pace can be helpful in some games.”

Next came the 2018 campaign, with Book again listed No. 2 behind Wimbush on the depth chart.

The Irish beat rival Michigan in prime time to open the year and worked their way to a 3-0 mark after home wins over Ball State and Vanderbilt.

Then, the week Notre Dame was slated to play on the road for the first time in 2018, the Irish coaches decided to give Book a bigger role.

“I think on the Monday before the Wake Forest game it was being discussed, but we were 3-0,” says Assaf. “I think the coaches definitely thought they would play Ian more against Wake. I’m not sure when he found out, but he probably did not tell anyone. They’d been splitting reps with the ones.

“When he did find out, he was super-confident about the situation. That’s how he’s always been. That’s just his personality — he’s unfazed and very confident. He did not seem nervous at all — he just wanted to go out there and play his best game possible and dominate Wake Forest.  And that’s how it went.”

Assaf says not much has changed for Book since he became the starter — despite all the trimmings that fans associate with the role.

“We’ve been doing the same things during the week, it’s the same schedule. I don’t think anything has changed from not starting to starting,” says Assaf. “We do the same things and stay as much the same as possible. Same mindset. Maybe someone stops him in Chipotle.

“It was funny, though, because after his first start at home (Sept. 29 versus Stanford) he probably underestimated how many people wanted autographs. It took him a good hour before he was done signing all the autographs. It’s insane out there — it can be a long while, but he signs them all.

“Then some elderly lady at the Pancake House had him sign two napkins for her grandson. Someone else walked up to us and said, ‘Beat ‘Bama.’

“He just takes it in stride like everything else. Nothing affects him much.”

Irish punter Tyler Newsome is another of Book’s roommates this fall.

“We go get a bite to eat, but we don’t really talk about football much,” Newsome says.

“He’s a heck of a competitor — he’s a great dude and an awesome teammate. He’s a guy you want to be around.

“We just live our lives outside of football. We just say every week, ‘We’ve got to beat these guys.’ Other than that we’re just college kids. We just do what everybody else does. To me he’s just my friend, my teammate. We all play a role in some way, shape or form. We don’t talk about ball that much.

“He’s just a great competitor and he cares.”

Another Book roommate, tight end Nic Weishar, recalls watching Book the week of the Wake Forest game.

“The way he handles himself is just about his calmness — he’s cool, calm and collected in everything thing he does. Nothing changes — he always prepares as if he’s the starter. When he was named the starter, when everyone else didn’t know that, he was unbelievable in the way he acted.

“He just has that ability to get others to follow him in everything he does. It’s the way he carries himself. The other players on the offense see that and it’s like, ‘Wow, this guy can lead us to victory, for sure.'”

Adds yet another Book roommate, All-America safety Julian Love, “The week of the Wake game, he was excited but he was chill. He was pumped that he was going to get his chance.”

Weishar, who has known Irish quarterback coach Tom Rees since Weishar’s high school days in suburban Chicago, sees a marked similarity in how Book and Rees approach things on and off the field.

Like Rees did, Book approaches the quarterback job with aplomb. There’s no excessive emotion or drama — just a singular, almost hidden, passion to succeed. He deals with the media the same way, understanding it’s part of the role. He answers questions in a polite and professional fashion, not often offering more than is required. He seems to know exactly what his role is and he doesn’t appear to view himself as any sort of star or celebrity, despite the trappings that come with being the Notre Dame quarterback.  

“They (Book and Rees) are similar, on the football field and the way they carry themselves off the field, too,” says Weishar. “They have some of the same mannerisms, the way they respond to certain questions. They are extremely similar.

“That’s why the quarterback room is so great this year because they have Coach Rees and he’s been through all this before. He’s been on undefeated teams—he’s been through the best and the worst of media scrutiny. That’s valuable for sure.”

Has anyone seen Book get really excited?

Offers Assaf, “The most excited I’ve seen him? The Stanford game this year he was pretty excited — it was his first prime-time start and they were ranked. And having that performance in the second half (Book completed two scoring passes in 14 seconds to cement the verdict)? That TD to Alize (Mack) was big.

“The second most excited I’ve seen him was when he got a 98 on our consumer behavior project a few weeks ago.”

Says Weishar, “He does not give away a lot of secrets. He stays pretty even-keeled through everything. The most excited I’ve seen him personally was in 2017 when he threw me his first touchdown pass. It was against Wake Forest. I remember just seeing that smile on his face.”

But, seriously, there has to be more to the Book personality profile, doesn’t there?

“He and Mick make Dairy Queen runs very frequently at night — the $4 chicken finger box,” admits Weishar. “They love the chicken fingers. They’ll go at halftime of football games at night.”

Adds Love, “He plays the soundtrack for our house. His music tastes are like this commercial where you see a bunch of teenagers with long blonde hair and a Jeep and the beach and the whole California vibe. That’s him. We joke about it all the time.

“He gets excited when we make late-night Chipotle runs. Ian is a big food guy.

“He likes his hang-out-with-the-guys time. Most weekends it’s watching a lot football, a lot of NFL games. It’s fun.”

One enduring image of Book came late in the regular-season finale at USC.

With the Irish trailing 10-0 more than halfway through the second period, Book — on a second-and-nine snap — flung the football 24 yards toward the left sideline to Chris Finke, who tip-toed past the pylon for Notre Dame’s first points.

For Book, there were no high-fives, no leaping into the air. He simply turned and walked to the Irish sideline, his job done for now.

“He’s kind of unfazed by the highs and the lows,” says Assaf. “At that point, all we really cared about was beating SC, and it was 10-6 so there was nothing to celebrate yet.

“We were still behind and it was one play at a time. He just wanted to get the W, stay locked in until the final whistle.”

That’s Ian Book. What you see is what you get.

Sometimes, despite his excellence on the field and the subtle, matter-of-fact way he relates with his teammates, he doesn’t give much else away.

And that seems to be okay with just about everybody.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books (one a New York Times bestseller) and editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.