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 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?’ “
Book, a redshirt sophomore from El Dorado Hills, Calif., 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 New Orleans 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 missed the Florida State game in November after suffering bruised ribs and a kidney contusion against Northwestern, but he returned to lead the Irish to wins over Syracuse at Yankee Stadium and over Southern California at the 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. He threw for at least 260 yards in all eight of his starts, eclipsed 300 yards in half of those and finished with 19 touchdown passes against six interceptions.
A slick operator of the run-pass 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. Our big guys really had trouble tracking him down.”
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