Sept. 26, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush tried to make his mark for the University of Notre Dame football team during summer camp.
Wimbush broke into the open, and faced Fighting Irish All-American linebacker Jaylon Smith.
“I had the leverage … he tried to shake-and-bake … I made the play,” Smith remember about teaching the freshman a lesson.
On Saturday, in his first action for the Fighting Irish, Wimbush faked a handoff late in the third quarter against Massachusetts. He pulled off one juke, evaded the grasp of a would-be tackler, and sprinted 58 yards for a touchdown.
No. 6/8 Notre Dame crushed Massachusetts, 62-27, the most points the Irish have scored since 1996.
Notre Dame scored nine touchdowns, and on four of the touchdowns, the ball was in the hands of a freshman.
Punter returner C.J. Sanders started an Irish breakaway with a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown as the Irish pulled away from a UMass team that closed to 21-20 midway through the second quarter.
Running back Dexter Williams slashed through the Minutemen for a 14-yard TD run in the third quarter, capping a flurry of 27 Irish points in 9:58, as the Irish pulled ahead 48-20.
Wimbush, subbing in for starting quarterback DeShone Kizer, worked his magic on the 58-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
Notre Dame’s final lightning bolt was a 70-yard scoring run by Josh Adams.
Wimbush loved the immediate impact that the freshmen were able to make when they got their chance.
“That was a surreal moment for me,” Wimbush said of the 58-yard touchdown run. “You have 80,000 people screaming … what else could you wish for as an 18-year old?
“Last week, they had this run implemented in the offense for me, as one of my package plays. I had the dream and vision of scoring on this exact play.”
Wimbush said that the Irish freshman arrived on the Notre Dame campus as a close group.
“We got here on June 12th, and right from then, we bonded as a freshman class,” Wimbush said. “We had memories from previous summers, at these camps, and we always got in extra work. We knew we were going to be special, and it’s playing out now.
“When we’re off the football field, I think we’re even closer. We want to do community service together. There’s so much that Notre Dame offers, and we try to get each other involved in all of these different activities on campus. I think our togetherness will make us very successful in the future.”
Adams said that the Notre Dame coaches have built a family feeling for the freshmen to step into when they arrive on campus. That has been a huge factor in helping the freshmen feel at home, and facilitating success. Williams said that he looks at his fellow freshmen like brothers, knowing that they have his back, and he has theirs.
Wimbush feels that social media helped the freshmen create bonds before they put on the golden helmet.
“Through social media, we were able to meet each other and start building bonds, even though we were from different parts of the country,” Wimbush said. “I would probably never meet Equanimeous St. Brown before we came here if it weren’t for social media, him being from California, me being from New Jersey. All the freshmen were doing group chats before we got here.”
Notre Dame’s coaching staff has played a key role in helping the freshmen develop into students of the game. Different teaching techniques have helped the freshmen pick up the college game quickly.
“Coach (Brian) Kelly, coach (Mike) Sanford, coach (Mike) Denbrock have done a great job of preparing me,” Wimbush said. “I was probably as comfortable as ever when I came out onto the field. No jitters.”
Notre Dame’s upperclassmen have also helped the freshmen transition to the college game, and light up the scoreboard.
“The older players have been great about helping us,” Williams said. “They play a big part in taking their time to work with us, and walk us through things step-by-step.”
Adams said that the freshmen had a great day thanks to the older players.
“We’re just trying to do our job and step up,” Adams said. “We’re looking at the examples that have been set before us, and try to achieve what our coaches and teammates believe we can do. We just look to the older guys and try to learn from them and take it to the next level. That’s the great thing about this team, the older players look out for us and take care of us.”
Smith knows that the freshmen have a chance to carve out a special legacy in an Irish uniform.
“We’re going to be in good hands in the future with those guys,” said Smith. “Will Fuller and I were talking about it toward the end of the game. There is so much potential with this class. Time will tell, but I definitely see the potential. I understand what they’re capable of. I get to go against them and see them every day. They can be very special.”
By Curt Rallo/special correspondent