❚ Ir­ish QB Brees-like?

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Mike Ber­ardino

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 Mayfield, 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 first 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 film study be­tween classes, duck in some more prep time with Rees and offen­sive 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 suffer­ing 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.”

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