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With A Chip On His Shoulder: From the shadows to center stage, Ian Book has taken Notre Dame and the country by storm

| Friday, November 2, 2018

In August of 2015, the Washington State football program received some bad news. The quarterback who was to headline its 2016 recruit class, who had been working with recruiting coaches to help acquire a supporting cast which would make them a national contender, informed the university that he would no longer be fulfilling his commitment. He would be pursuing a career at Notre Dame. That prospect was Ian Book.

The three-star pocket passer would be taking the big offer from a storied program. And at first glance, it might seem like an obvious move on his part. Washington State has put forward some fantastic football teams in the past decade, but surely, as a program, its name does not hold the weight that Notre Dame’s does.

But consider the risk Book took in decommitting from a university where he was the star of his recruiting class and would have, if not his freshman year then likely his sophomore year, been the clear leader of a Power-Five offense. Instead, Book joined a staff which had favored dual-threat quarterbacks in recent years, while he himself, although undoubtedly quick, was a pocket passer. He joined the ranks of 6’5”, four-star dual-threat quarterback Deshone Kizer, 6’1”, four-star dual-threat quarterback Malik Zaire and 6’1”, four-star dual-threat quarterback Brandon Wimbush. For a generously labeled 6’, 175-pound three-star pocket passer, decommitting from a university where he would be groomed to hold the reins was no easy decision.

But boy, did it pay off. The overlooked high school recruit is now the leader of one of the best offenses in the nation, and he holds the keys to a College Football Playoff appearance with only four games to play in the season. Through recruitment critics, uncertainty as an underclassmen and quarterback controversy at the start of this year, Book has kept his head high and his eye on the ball, and perhaps, on account of the struggle he’s faced up to this point, he’s the perfect man for a situation such as the one the Irish find themselves in right now.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Ian Book takes the snap and runs the read option during Notre Dame’s 44-22 win over Navy on Saturday at SDCCU Stadium.

Throughout the risk and uncertainty, Book has remained confident and his work ethic has remained untainted. For the junior quarterback and California native, the decision to abandon his commitment to Washington State in favor of Notre Dame’s offer, despite the risk, was pretty simple.

“I took a visit here and I just, I couldn’t turn it down,” Book said. “It felt like home, and I really loved the tradition. And, the other main thing was having the best football and the best education at the same time. There was really no match. And when I was here, people always say you feel at home when you commit somewhere, and, it’s hard to explain, but that’s really how I felt when I was here. Even though it’s a long way from home, you know, I was excited and it just felt like the right place.”

But even Book was aware, after making the decision, that receiving an offer from a program like Notre Dame’s was only half the battle. There was no doubt that a freshman, and likely sophomore, year of uncertainty and imbalance was coming his way. But looking at the likes of Deshone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush, Book relied on his work ethic and preparation to let his own set of skills shine.

“This is something that I really talked about with my dad all the time,” Book said. “Just knowing that everyone thinks they’re the man in high school, right, and it’s hard to come here and sometimes have to be patient. Every year, Notre Dame and any college program gets a good quarterback, so it’s something I just prepared myself with. I knew I had to work hard everyday, prepare like I’m the starter, and it would work itself out.”

And for Book, the recruit rankings, the three stars and the comments on his skillset didn’t mean much. They didn’t affect the way he carried himself, and they certainly didn’t affect his plans to achieve his goal of becoming the starter at Notre Dame. They only fueled the fire.

“I think I used it as a chip on my shoulder,” Book said. “Just to be able to come in, you know, and try to shock some people. It doesn’t really bother me what anyone really says and where you are in the rankings. A lot of times, the rankings don’t really show what happens when they end up getting to college. It wasn’t something I thought about too much, but I did use it to my motivation.”

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Ian Book looks to throw downfield during Notre Dame’s 44-22 win over Navy on Saturday at SDCCU Stadium.

It’s easy to admire Book’s commitment, the faith he has in himself and everything about the way he works, but even amidst his rise, which seems to have happened in the blink of an eye, he carries himself with what can be best described as a confident humility. The junior passer values the guys by his side — the wide receivers, the coaches and the offensive line the most — as he enters what will be the most important weeks of his football career.

“This group does a good job of just taking it day by day, practice by practice, I think,” Book said. “Just the whole staff in general has really helped us along the way and guided us that way. It’s just keeping our mindset and not looking into the future, because you’ve got to work day by day. If we don’t do it now, we can’t live those dreams in the future the way we want to, the way everyone is talking about them.”

Book credits the rest of his team with Notre Dame’s current No. 4 ranking in the CFP rankings.

“[Our success is] coming from good game plan, good offensive line and some good receivers — I can’t thank all them enough,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without them. … We’re still working every week, we’ve got to get better.”

For Ian Book, what has been a long and trying journey filled with obstacles, doubt and uncertainty has, to this point, culminated in one of the best runs in college football this year. And with the final chapter of that story still ahead, and an anxious excitement of what could come in the future, one ought to feel the same quiet confidence with Book at the helm.

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