There was a time when Ian Book stayed away from football.
“When he was seven or eight years old he was watching his older brother, who was bigger and tougher than him get tackled,” said Rick Book, Ian’s father. “He wanted nothing to do with it. We would play catch on the sidelines at his brother’s practice. And he had a significantly better arm than the older kids, so the coaches would come over and ask why he wasn’t playing. And he always said no, he didn’t want to.”
Ten years later Book is heading to Notre Dame on scholarship. He was the only quarterback to sign with the Irish today.
“Around nine years old, he decided to give football a shot,” Rick said. “I told him he would be wearing a lot of pads and he’d be protected. We convinced him to give it a shot. Well in his first game, he got absolutely nailed. It was a blind hit and he was put in the dirt … grass all in his helmet. He gets up and looks right at me - not pleased.
“From then on through middle school and high school, he’s only ever played quarterback. They called him the young gun because of his arm.”
From the onset, the future Irish quarterback was the model of a multi-sport youth athlete.
“He was a very good basketball player and played travel AAU for the longest time,” Rick said. “His mom and I actually thought that was going to be the sport that he stuck with. But then he picked up lacrosse and baseball, and it was lacrosse and football that he liked the most.”
Book first knew his son had a talented arm watching him play baseball as a nine-year-old, which carried over to success on the gridiron.
“He was pitching, and they won the league championship,” Rick said. “His teammates marched him around the bases with him on their shoulders. We got in the car on the ride home, and he told us that he didn’t want to play baseball anymore. He wanted to play lacrosse. He had just won this big game, and I asked him, doesn’t that feel good to win like that? But he wanted to try lacrosse, and they were the same seasons.
“His zip and his accuracy were uncanny. He can throw from all over the field and be incredibly accurate. It’s not that he can throw it 70 yards – it’s not his arm strength – it’s his uncanny ability to be accurate. He had that going back to pitching. Over and over again he could place the ball right where he wanted it. That’s when I knew his arm was pretty special.”
Book started as a sophomore at El Dorado Hills (Calif.) Oak Ridge, something that hadn’t been done in more than 30 years of the school’s existence. Book led Oak Ridge to a 12-2 record that year, and it was that sophomore tape that caught the attention of then Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.
“The Director of Player Personnel at Boise State got a hold of his tape and walked into Sanford’s office and told him you’ve got to see this kid,” Rick said. “Sanford said he wanted to see him right away after that. Then they offered Ian over the phone. Never had seen him play in person, but they were just fundamentally impressed.
“I asked Sanford if it was a committable offer, and he said, ‘not only yes, but hell yes.’”
Book visited Boise State during the latter half of his junior season.
Sanford saw him again in-person that spring, although representing a different program.
“He couldn’t believe how big he had gotten,” Rick said. “He was all bundled up for the cold when he first visited Boise, but that spring, Sanford got to see him in just a t-shirt and shorts.”
Around that same time period is when the Cougars entered the picture.
“Washington State saw him throw during a spring practice of his junior year, and they compared him to Jake Browning, who was a year older and at Washington,” Rick said. “They told us they thought Ian was better than Browning was right now even though he’s a year younger.”
Washington State head coach Mike Leach offered Book last spring, and a close relationship soon developed.
“Quarterback recruiting happens pretty quickly,” Rick said. “We were keeping our eyes on all of the quarterbacks in California. The door was closing on some of his favorite schools. So we decided to take a trip and check out Washington State.
“Believe it or not, we absolutely hit it off with Mike Leach. He has a lot of same characteristics as his high school quarterback coach. He puts football in a life perspective.
“Pullman is a little bit like South Bend. It’s in the middle of nowhere. It gets very cold. Ian liked the air raid where he could throw the heck out of the ball. Ian told me, ‘Dad this feels right.’ He was fully committed.”
Book committed to Leach last April. But that wasn’t the end of his recruiting process.
“When Sanford went to Notre Dame, we weren’t going to chase that offer,” Rick said. “We knew we couldn’t hold our breath there because he was at a new place. Ian was 110 percent committed to Washington State.
“Sanford always stayed in touch, though. He told us to be patient and let the dust settle. But again, we never held our breath.”
After chasing and missing blue-chip quarterbacks in the spring and early summer, it appeared Notre Dame would pass at the position this cycle. That’s when Book got a call from Sanford, who was three months on the job in South Bend.
“He walking off the field in Oregon that summer after winning MVP of a 7-on-7 camp in Oregon, and he got a call from Sanford,” Rick said. “Ian told me Sanford said he was ready. I said, ‘ready for what?’ Ian said, ‘ready to offer.’
“Sanford wanted him to come see the campus first before doing anything and meet Brian Kelly. At first, Ian told Sanford he didn’t think the visit could happen because of a family vacation that coincided with when they wanted him to visit. He was pretty naïve about the whole thing because he had given his word to Washington State and was fully committed.
“I told him we could make the visit work. It’s Notre Dame.”
After his vacation, Book headed straight from Florida to northern Indiana. It was a visit that not many outside the Irish program knew about.
“After the Notre Dame visit, there was a turnaround of three days,” Rick said. “My wife and I left him alone and didn’t bother him about a decision. Sunday night at dinner, he came down and said he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to go to Notre Dame.
“I asked him why. He said because he wanted to be coached by Sanford. He thought Sanford could get him to where he wanted to be. He said Notre Dame was way more than he imagined it to be. He just knew.”
Before Book went public with his decision, he had to inform Washington State.
“It almost made him ill,” Rick said. “He was sick to his stomach. He absolutely dreaded it. But Leach was such a professional about it. He told Ian that if something changed at Notre Dame, he would still have a spot at Washington State.”
To say Sanford was a key reason in Book signing with Notre Dame would be a colossal understatement.
“I’m a retired cop of 35 years, so I sized him up, and he passed,” Rick laughed. “We knew we liked him at Boise State. We were escorted to his office on our visit, and he was jumping up and down when we got there because his dad had just won a playoff game at Indiana State. He was thrilled for his dad. We knew he was family man.
“He doesn’t feel the need to BS you. He’s very genuine. Out of almost 20 coaches we dealt with, there were only two or three we really trusted, and Sanford was one of them.”
Book threw for 2,664 yards, 26 touchdowns and just three interceptions as a senior. He tacked on 679 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He won Sierra Foothill League MVP with a confident personality that seems like a fit inside the quarterback meeting rooms at Notre Dame.
“Ian’s the most upbeat person I’ve ever been around,” Rick said. “He’s our alarm clock in the mornings. He’ll come down playing music. One day it’ll be rap, the next day Motown, and then Classical. If he’s up, the rest of the world should be, too. He’s a happy kid. Our house is filled with different boys and girls all the time. He probably has over 20 close friends, and they freely walk in and out of our home.”
The boy who once refused to step on the gridiron will soon begin a new chapter in his athletic career.
He’ll do it wearing a gold helmet.
“Even though Notre Dame felt so right, our family never imagined that he’d be playing at the highest level like Notre Dame,” Rick said. “I believe good things happen to good people. You earn your opportunity. And Ian fully earned it.”