This wasn’t the way Brandon Wimbush’s senior season was supposed to go.
He was supposed to be “the guy,” manning the ship of a playoff-contending Notre Dame team. After coming up short of qualifying for the College Football Playoff last year, this was supposed to be his time to cement his status within Notre Dame lore. The season started on track as Wimbush shredded the vaunted Michigan defense in the first half on the way to what is still the most impressive Irish win of the season.
Two close wins over Ball State and Vanderbilt brought that whole narrative into question. Wimbush struggled to identify open receivers, and when he found them did not consistently place the ball where receivers could easily turn catches into big yardage plays. Junior Ian Book capitalized on his opportunity to start at Wake Forest and has not relinquished the reins since. He has been an efficient game manager and made a claim for offensive MVP.
I was not in favor of benching Wimbush. I didn’t feel like he had performed poorly enough to lose his job, and frankly I had grown tired of seeing Notre Dame quarterbacks fade after promising starts (see Golson, Zaire and Kizer). I’ve come around to Book. He’s proven game-in and game-out that he’s the guy for the job, the best fit for offensive coordinator Chip Long’s system. He’s been critical down the stretch on the playoff run, providing the perfect combination of creativity and accuracy for this offense to thrive.
In the wake of Book-mania, Wimbush has slowly slipped from the spotlight. Now, with likely his last game in Notre Dame Stadium around the corner, Wimbush’s impact on this program is resurfacing, having contributed to this team both on and especially off the field, and he’ll hopefully receive the true send-off he deserves as he returns to the starting lineup on Saturday.
Just a year ago, Wimbush inherited a team that was reeling from a 4-8 season and looked in disarray. With only two games of collegiate experience under his belt, he stepped up and built a program that climbed all the way up to third in the college football rankings — the same accomplishment Book has achieved this season. Of course, that all came crashing down when the Irish travelled South to take on resurgent Miami. In many ways, that was the beginning of the end for Wimbush, who faced doubters from that point on. However, it’s important to point out that Wimbush wasn’t isolated in his struggles against the Hurricanes. Book fell victim to the turnover chain, throwing a pick six in just six passing attempts, and the Miami offense marched all over former defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his crew, scoring 41 points with ease.
In spite of the arguably unfair criticism Wimbush has faced, he’s risen above it all, serving as a rare example of true sportsmanship. It’d be easy for him to become a divisive, resentful figure among this team. Rather, he’s demonstrated the true qualities of a leader, not allowing his situation to determine his attitude or investment in the team. Brian Kelly recently praised Wimbush for being the first one to meet with Book during halftime to offer advice and talk him through the game. Few athletes would be willing to humble themselves in the same way Wimbush has. As I watched Andrew Gillum’s inspiring concession speech Tuesday following his close bid for the Florida governorship, I thought of Wimbush. Gillum said in defeat, “it’s not about me. It’s about all of us. It’s about the collective.” For Wimbush, this season could have been about “me,” but he has made it about the team.
As the Irish take on Florida State this Saturday and wrap up their final home appearance of this (so far) charmed season, I’m excited by the opportunity to see Wimbush return to the fold in the blue and gold.
When Wimbush is introduced I will be cheering loudly for he and for his mother Heather. She should be very proud of her son. He will graduate from Notre Dame with a degree in accounting and will have excellent opportunities in the future. He will have made plays on the field to lead his team to contend for a national championship. Most importantly, when faced with adversity he stood strong and showed the kind of leadership that brings a team together and allows it to reach higher goals. Regardless of where he lands next year, his contributions should not be lost but rather highlighted in the midst of this undefeated streak.
Like it or not, because of its visibility the Notre Dame football program has a profound impact on the University’s image as a whole. Players like Brandon Wimbush reflect well on all of us. This Saturday is the chance for Irish fans to repay the favor.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.