Taking the reins: junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush poised to lead Irish
Tobias Hoonhout | Friday, September 1, 2017
Even after last year’s first losing season under Brian Kelly with DeShone Kizer at the helm, Brandon Wimbush wasn’t sure if Team 129 would be his. All the talk over the first few months of the offseason was about whether Kizer would stay for his senior season or bolt for the NFL. But when Kizer announced his decision in January, the Teaneck, New Jersey, native finally knew he would have his chance.
“I mean, I didn’t even know after the season ended until the beginning of January,” Wimbush said on the experience during a press conference in April. “But I was ready to prepare myself and prepare myself to compete for another year as DeShone [Kizer] had two years of eligibility left. Didn’t know too much about what Malik [Zaire] was doing, and I hope the best for them, but I’m very excited for this opportunity.”
As a consensus top-50 recruit and Under Armour All-American out of high school, Wimbush’s talent is undeniable, and his brief cameos against UMass and Pitt during the 2015 season had Irish fans excited about the future. Although he had to wait patiently for his turn behind first Zaire and then Kizer, Wimbush seems to have used his time to develop as a quarterback, as a leader and as a person. And from what his teammates and coaches have been saying, the patience seems to have paid off.
“He’s definitely grown a lot,” junior running back and captain Josh Adams said Tuesday. “I mean, he’s definitely getting a feel for things. He definitely looks more comfortable, and he’s having fun, which is an important aspect of this game that people tend to forget about is just to go out there and have fun and just to play with your teammates.
“ … He definitely has that confidence. You don’t see that in a lot of young quarterbacks, but he definitely carries himself well, respectfully. He’s definitely a different type of guy that we definitely enjoy having as our quarterback, and we can’t wait to see what he’s going to do on Saturday. Yeah, that’s definitely my guy right there.”
Captain and pre-season All-American left tackle Mike McGlinchey echoed Adams’ sentiments.
“He’s a kid that knows how to control his emotions,” McGlinchey said. “He’s cool, calm and collected. I think he’s the coolest kid I know, just in terms of just the aura about Brandon Wimbush. He’s going to be fine. He knows exactly what he’s going to be doing and knows exactly what he’s capable of, and he’s going to let it shine on Saturday. We’re lucky to have Brandon because of who he is as a person and the type of player that he is for sure, and I don’t think Saturday is going to be any different for Brandon than it is on a Tuesday in the fall, either.”
And although he has yet to start a game, the team is already looking to him as a leader.
“Obviously we all know Brandon’s athletic ability and his ability to extend plays, get outside the pocket,” senior linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “He’s a proficient passer, got a strong arm, but I think — when I think about Brandon, I think about the intangible qualities I’ve seen in him this off-season, his ability to get a group of guys rallied around him, even a guy who hasn’t necessarily taken a lot of snaps, really any, in that regard, but guys believe in him, and you look for that in a leader.”
Even among the coaching staff, there’s a sense that Wimbush’s ability to be Notre Dame’s quarterback is much more than just his talent.
“I think really where it starts for most quarterbacks that I have coached is their ability to move through a poor play and get to the next play, let it go and move on to the next play, not let it affect the next one,” head coach Brian Kelly said.
“He has the great ability to show, and I know you hear this quite a bit now, it’s chronicled everywhere, but he has a passion for the game and he’s got perseverance. I think Angela Duckworth called that in her book ‘Grit.’ He’s got grit. He’s got such a passion for what he does, and because he loves what he does, he doesn’t get down. If he makes a mistake, he fights through it and he gets to the next play.
“ … That’s a great quality to have in anything that we do in life. I mean, I’d like to be better at it, too. But he does it at the quarterback position, which is a really fine trait to have for a young player.”
Funny as it may sound, this waiting game isn’t even the first one for Wimbush. In high school during his time at St. Peter’s Prep, Brandon had to wait to start until his junior season. While the past two years may have been deja vu, for Wimbush, it was something he could really embrace.
“I don’t think I was ready in high school to start my sophomore year or freshman year,” Wimbush said. “Those guys who were in front of me did a great job, and then same kind of scenario here, where I had two great guys in front of me, and I was able to learn and sit back a little bit and progress and develop physically and mentally, and now I feel like I’m ready to take over the reins and do something special here.”
But now that the moment is finally here, the junior is simply just embracing his role and hoping to learn from his teammates.
“Yeah, it’s a whole new experience for me, especially as a starting quarterback,” he said. “I approached it kind of differently for the first two years that I was here being behind those guys, but I’m trying to build a routine, a pregame routine or a pre-week routine. It’s my first week going through it. As a starter, I told Josh [Adams] and Dexter [Williams] the other day, I was like, ‘Hey, man, I feel like a rookie, and you guys to me are seasoned veterans right now because you’ve done this,’ and I’m just trying to prepare and be on the same level as those guys, and hopefully perform to the level expectation that the rest of the offense and the team needs from me.”
As it goes with all college football programs, there comes time to do away with the old and bring in the new. In many ways, Team 129 seems like a rebirth of Brian Kelly’s Irish coaching era, and Wimbush is at the front and center. But for all the positive talk and energy leading up to the season, Saturday’s opener is where the rubber meets the road. For Wimbush, that means leading the Irish back to their winning ways.
“[I’m most excited to be] singing the alma mater and the fight song at the end of it,” the quarterback said. “Knowing that we came out with a ‘W’ and just feeling the joy of a winning team and being the starting quarterback of that team.”