Notre Dame landed its first verbal commitment of the incoming class of 2018 Monday. He is the centerpiece of the class today and will be two years from now, regardless who else joins him down the road.
Phil Jurkovec, a 6-foot-5 ½, 200-pound junior-to-be quarterback from Pine-Richland High School in Gibsonia, Pa., chose Notre Dame over Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama and many others Monday when he made his decision public.
The significance of Jurkovec’s commitment to the Irish is difficult to overestimate. Not only does he give Notre Dame the leverage on the back end of its quarterback position well down the road, regardless how the depth chart shakes out long-term, but he gives the Irish a continuous line of signalcallers literally through the majority of the next decade.
Jurkovec is a dual-threat quarterback in the truest sense of the phrase. His running skills and read-option assets out of the shotgun formation will provide Brian Kelly with everything he needs from his quarterback, mixed with the size and tremendous long-term throwing prowess that current Irish signalcaller DeShone Kizer offers.
In some respects, Jurkovec’s ability in the ground game is even more impressive than the level of his passing game at the present time. He is an explosive runner, particularly when he accurately reads his keys in the read-option and decisively turns it into a keeper.
When Jurkovec gets into the open field, he has a long, athletic stride that allows him to run away from the competition. His read-option instincts will be very advanced when he arrives at Notre Dame.
His 4.91 time in the 40 at The Opening in Columbus is a useless number. It doesn’t come close to accurately depicting his athletic ability and escapability. He rushed for 1,250 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore, cracking the 100-yard mark in 10 of 11 games.
He has exceptionally light feet in the pocket with the footwork to find breathing room within the massive amount of space that he creates by his feel for daylight. Jurkovec has a basketball player’s athleticism – he also plays basketball for Pine-Richland -- on the football field.
In the process, much like Kizer and former Irish quarterback Everett Golson, he can go from scramble mode to finding an open receiver downfield in a heartbeat because he keeps his eyes up when the pocket breaks down.
Jurkovec’s arm strength was very good for a sophomore in high school when he threw for 2,560 yards, 20 touchdowns and four interceptions. It’s also his greatest “shortcoming” at the present time as it relates to projecting where he will be two high schools seasons from now.
Due to a lack of overall strength that will come as he grows into his teenage body – he has very narrow shoulders at this stage of his development -- he has a tendency to pull his head to the left as he muscles up on throws. Some of the deep balls he threw as a sophomore lacked depth, partly due to a lack of overall physical strength and probably also because he’s trying to find the right touch on a wide open receiver.
Time, strength training and reps will take care of that.
And yet when Jurkovec has time to square up in the pocket – as he stays light and nimble on his feet – he comes over the top with a nice, tight delivery and has outstanding accuracy for such a young quarterback prospect.
Scout National Recruiting Analyst Brian Dohn – who has spent considerable time evaluating Jurkovec – calls him the perfect fit for the style Kelly built his offensive reputation around prior to his arrival at Notre Dame. In terms of physical makeup, the logical comparison is former Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike. That’s where the comparison ends. Jurkovec runs much better than Pike and has greater upside in the passing game.
The only real downside in Jurkovec’s verbal commitment to the Irish – and it’s not a downside as much as it is a fact of life in college football – is the log-jam of quarterbacks the Irish will have down the road, which almost undoubtedly will create roster movement. It always does.
Right now, Notre Dame has six quarterbacks present and future – Kizer, Malik Zaire, Brandon Wimbush, June arrival Ian Book, verbally committed 2017 quarterback Avery Davis and Jurkovec.
By the time Jurkovic arrives, Zaire will be out of eligibility, Kizer likely will be off to the pros, Wimbush will be the starter, and Book and Davis will be battling for their piece of the pie. It’s the recipe for transfers, which is the natural flipside of creating a deep nest of quarterbacks.
Notre Dame continues to make great inroads in Western Pennsylvania, which was a breeding ground for Fighting Irish success for decades. Linebacker David Adams, defensive lineman Kurt Hinish and offensive lineman Josh Lugg – verbal commitments in the class of 2017 – all participate in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic League.
This is a tremendous catch for the Irish, a gem who won’t arrive for another two years, but lays the groundwork for a much-needed super class to carry the Irish into the next decade.
Much credit goes to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford for zeroing in on and developing the relationship that prompted Jurkovec to pull the trigger early.