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Never looking back: living his dream, Ian Book has taken over to dominate the Irish offense over the last two years

| Friday, November 22, 2019

To some, Ian Book’s ascent into one of the highest positions in college athletics might have seemed out of the blue. But to those who know Book closely, his focus and drive over the last four years have simply led him to where he is today.

Very few predicted Notre Dame would be led to their first College Football Playoff behind the leadership of Book, but when the senior quarterback got the starting nod against Wake Forest last season, he took the opportunity and never looked back.

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Irish senior quarterback lets go of a pass during Notre Dame’s 21-20 win over Virginia Tech on Nov. 2 at Notre Dame Stadium.

“My expectations coming here were to be the starter and just work hard, and I never knew when exactly that would be,” Book said. “[Coming] here and I was fifth string, there were … four really good quarterbacks in front of me. So I just said I’m going to have to put my head down and work hard eventually live out my dream.”

According to Book, that dream was always to earn a starting spot as a quarterback at a Division I program. Beyond that, he said he didn’t have a time limit on it, and was simply grateful things worked out for him.

However, he almost pursued that dream across the country, a little closer to home. A three-star quarterback out of Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, California, Book was moderately recruited by a number of mid-tier programs, including Boise State. When then-quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford Jr. left the Broncos to become the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame in 2015, Book returned to the drawing board.

“When he came to Notre Dame, I didn’t really have much time to wait around for anything as a quarterback, because you want to be first in the class committed,” Book said. “I ended up fulfilling my dream to play in the Pac-12 and stay on the west coast where I’m from, so I decided to commit to Washington State.”

After committing to the Cougars in April of his junior season, Book got a call from Sanford and ended up switching his commitment by August.

“I took a visit and once I found out what everything Notre Dame is about in terms of academics and football … I think I switched in like three days,” he said.

While the allure of playing quarterback at Notre Dame is certainly enticing, it doesn’t come without its sacrifices. For Book, it meant playing over 2,000 miles away from home, with the lone Stanford or USC matchup making its way back to California once a year over Thanksgiving. But Book credited his family for all the effort they put in to support him from so far away.

“My parents and my whole entire family does an awesome job,” Book said. “They made every single game — home and away — so I get to see them a lot.”

Furthermore, the move to South Bend sent Book back down the playing-calling chart, as he found himself the fifth-string quarterback his freshman year. That same year, the team went 4-8, six of those losses coming by a touchdown or less, and posted the program’s worst record in over a decade.

While Book did not see the field that season, he continued to adjust to the speed of the game on the collegiate level and was prepared when he was named the backup quarterback his sophomore season.

He went on to appear in 10 different matchups, starting with the marquee game against Georgia on Sept. 9, 2017 at home, a moment Book describes as the “most nervous he’s ever been.”

“My first snap was against Georgia, and it was a quarterback draw,” Book said. “… I couldn’t feel my whole entire body. I’ve been able to adapt to that a little bit.”

He continued to prove himself a solid option throughout the 2017 season, stepping in for former Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush against North Carolina when the starter was ruled out due to an injury.

However, Book’s first big break came at the end of the season, at the Citrus Bowl against LSU. Wimbush was struggling to connect in the first half and was ultimately benched in the second quarter. Book stepped in and threw 164 yards and two touchdowns — including a perfectly-placed over-the-shoulder pass to former wide receiver Miles Boykin, who secured it with one hand — en route to Notre Dame’s 21-17 victory.

That moment under the spotlight helped prepare Book for what was still left to come.

Despite getting off to a 3-0 start in 2018, the Notre Dame offense was relatively stagnant and Wimbush was struggling to produce down the stretch in games. In their first road game, Book was announced the starter. He led No. 8 Notre Dame to a 56-27 routing of Wake Forest, throwing for 325 yards and rushing for three touchdowns.

From that point on, despite the occasional glimpse of Wimbush returning to the lineup, Book secured the starting position and led them to an undefeated regular season.

“I felt ready,” Book said of his mentality heading into the Wake Forest game. “I’ve been preparing every day like on the starter, and that’s hard sometimes when you’re not getting the first-team reps, but just always telling yourself you’ve got to be ready for when that opportunity happens. And there’s no better time for that than Wake Forest. I felt ready. And, you know, I wanted the coaches to believe in me and just had to prepare every single day like I was going to start.”

Playing for a program that’s not unfamiliar to “quarterback controversy,” as it’s often called, Book has navigated that system, distinguishing himself from his peers and most recently earning the honor of being named one of seven captains, something he described a major goal of his heading into the offseason.

When asked who has had the greatest influence on his experience at Notre Dame, Book had one answer: former Irish quarterback and current Irish quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees.

“[Coach Rees has] been there for me on and off the field as one of my best friends, and once it’s business time, he can flip that switch and be someone I look up to,” Book said. “He’s taught me so much.”

Beyond his role in building up Book’s leadership style, Rees has been formative in evolving Book’s game and confidence on the field.

“[He’s done a] great job of getting me ready and just really understanding the full game of football; understanding defensive recognition was probably the biggest thing,” Book said. “Coming out of high school, I knew some things, but it’s just so next level in college and even next level in the NFL, and he’s done a great job of really simplifying that and helping me learn.”

With two games left in the regular season, and only one game in Notre Dame Stadium, Book acknowledged how quickly his time at Notre Dame has gone.

“I cannot believe I’m a senior — and it’s not just me,” Book said. “You want to play so hard for all the other seniors, their last time here in the stadium.”

That said, he’s not letting nostalgia get in the way of anything. Instead, he’s using that experience to inspire his game come Saturday.

“Time flies so so fast here and they always say, ‘Oh, you remember senior night when you win,’ so that is the biggest goal is to go out there and get a W,” Book said. “… It’s hard to win in November. And we’ve been saying that a lot as a team. So just keep winning out in November is my biggest goal and especially this week coming up is play hard for the seniors and get a win on senior night. And then the rest will take care of itself.”

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