Two days ago Brandon Wimbush posted a photo of himself from last season on Instagram. It showed Notre Dame’s new starting quarterback on the sidelines in a blue long coat and white team issue hat with the caption, “Take the jacket off, kid.”
Ronnie Stanley liked it. So did a few other former and current players. A couple members of the Notre Dame football support staff noted it. So did one of Jack Swarbrick’s sons. The total like count stood at 2,916 last night.
The post supported two things most around here already knew.
One, the Brandon Wimbush era is about to start.
Two, virtually everyone at Notre Dame can’t wait.
That includes Brian Kelly, who may spend spring ball managing expectations for his next-big-thing quarterback. Wimbush, the highest-rated quarterback prospect to go Irish under Kelly, is coming off a red-shirt season that followed a uniquely odd freshman one of three completions, one overthrow of Will Fuller, a 58-yard touchdown run and a bad turnover. But all that was one offensive coordinator and one quarterbacks coach ago, meaning Wimbush will restart his college career in conjunction with Kelly reinventing the program.
It’s enough to make a quarterback-focused head coach try to move the focus off the position. It’s not clear Kelly would have even mentioned Wimbush by name – or any other player, for that mater – if he hadn’t been asked directly about the junior from St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey.
“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,” Kelly said. “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've got seven captains right now. So he's well supported in that role.”
Deshone Kizer was selected to be one of those captains before declaring early for the NFL Draft. That still left offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson on offense. Running back Josh Adams and receiver Equanimeous St. Brown would probably be next in line. Tight end Durham Smythe and center Sam Mustipher might follow.
Point being, Wimbush could be leadership-light this season and Notre Dame would probably be fine. But don’t expect the junior, who did an internship at KPMG last off-season and wants to work in venture capital next, to settle for that backseat.
Even if Kelly held the door when spring practice opened Wednesday.
“He has to have a presence about him,” Kelly said. “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.”
“Yeah, I think there is more to it than just those traits. So you need those traits, but we also have to continue to drill down where we get to mental performance, too.
“And mental performance for him is building the confidence level, building his mental toughness, building all those things. Because he's got to understand that he gains confidence from a number of different areas: through his preparation, through his background, how he handles himself on a day-to-day basis.”
Kelly wants to see Wimbush process failure during spring ball too, which will probably come early as Notre Dame installs a new offensive system. Even with eight starters back, Wimbush won’t have the comfort of knowing what’s coming either considering the Irish defense will also read from a new playbook.
That’s all fine by Kelly within reason as Wimbush will pick up roughly 60 percent of the reps during spring ball while red-shirt freshman Ian Book gets the other 40 percent.
“If (Wimbush) goes out and throws an interception, he doesn't have to hang his head,” Kelly said. “He does so many good things that he can have confidence that he's going to be successful, because what we're looking for is not perfection from these guys. It's excellence.
“I've been the person to stand in front of them and tell them, look, confidence is about having some failures along the way. I was the poster child for that last year. But I'm extremely confident in what we're going to do this year.”