❚ Irish QB Brees-like?
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – For Tom Rees, the template was obvious. The hard part was getting Ian Book to share his vision and recognize his own potential.
That’s why Rees, Notre Dame’s former part-time starting quarterback (2010-13) and current quarterbacks coach, pulled the young backup aside during August training camp and sat him down for a heart to heart.
“I challenged him: ‘Hey, what’s holding you back?’ ” Rees said. “Before the season, I told him, ‘Tell me why you can’t be Drew Brees? You don’t miss. You’re athletic. Why can’t you be Drew Brees?’ ”
It helped that Book, listed at a shade over 6 feet and 203 pounds, had grown up watching the similarly undersized Brees and could identify with his game. Book also liked former California quarterback Aaron Rodgers and more recently has studied Baker Mayfield, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick of the Browns.
“My point was Drew Brees is so good mentally,” Rees says. “That was where Ian needed to get better, what he could strive to become.
“I was like, ‘Listen, (Brees) is in charge, he protects the ball, he knows exactly what everyone is supposed to be doing. That’s who you need to become.’ ”
Book, a redshirt sophomore from El Dorado Hills, California, about 30 minutes east of Sacramento, has miles to go to match the accomplishments of Brees, record-breaking passer and Super Bowl-winning leader of the Saints.
However, guiding the Fighting Irish to a 12-0 mark and their first spot in the College Football Playoff isn’t a bad opening chapter. Book, who replaced Brandon Wimbush as the starter in Week 4, hasn’t needed much editing as he gets set to face No. 2 Clemson on Dec. 29 in the Cotton Bowl.
Book got the message from Reese. He’d pop in for some additional film study between classes, duck in some more prep time with Rees and offensive coordinator Chip Long before practice, and often stay late to squeeze in a few more passes to favorite target Miles Boykin, who made 54 catches for 803 yards and eight touchdowns, all team highs.
Boykin has said the team knew Book was ready to step in, but the Irish didn’t know he was this ready.
Book missed the Florida State game in November after suffering bruised ribs and a kidney contusion on a scramble against Northwestern, but he returned to lead the Irish to wins over Syracuse at Yankee Stadium and over Southern California at Los Angeles Coliseum.
After completing 70.4 percent of his passes, fourth in the nation and two points higher than Jimmy Clausen’s school record from 2009, Book was voted 2018 MVP by his Irish teammates.
A slick operator of the runpass option, Book also has 250 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Syracuse coach Dino Babers raved about Book’s mobility after a 36-3 loss on Nov. 17.
“Guys get very, very close to him and you think you’ve got him, and then he’s slippery like an eel,” Babers said. “He has the ability, kind of like a punt returner, to go up, to go back, to go in, to go out.”