‘Drew Is Built For This’ — Notre Dame QB Race Not An Easy Jack Coan Win
Brian Kelly isn’t going to serve Notre Dame’s starting quarterback job to Jack Coan on a platter this spring.
Neither, apparently, is Drew Pyne.
Because Pyne, per his teammates and Kelly, isn’t the also-ran in this race and in Notre Dame’s overall quarterback picture he’s sometimes cast as.
Kelly made clear in his first press availability of the spring Pyne is the main competition right now for Coan, a grad transfer from Wisconsin with 18 career starts. And it’s not because Kelly wants to hold a competition for competition’s sake and needs a token second participant.
“We want Drew to be the starter,” Kelly said. “Drew has been in the program and we want him in the spring to be competing for the starting position. He will have an opportunity to do that and get first-team reps.”
The rising sophomore split first-team snaps with Coan in Saturday’s spring practice – the first of 15 Notre Dame will hold over a six-week period that culminates with the May 1 Blue-Gold Game. That scrimmage is, as of now, the only chance for the public to assess the battle.
With rising junior Brendon Clark sidelined as he recovers from December knee surgery and Kelly’s declaration there is “some development that has to take place” with early enrollee freshman Tyler Buchner, the competition during spring feels like a two-man race between a starter of a 10-4 Big Ten West division champion team in 2019 and a 5-foot-11 quarterback with three career pass attempts.
To view it that way, though, is to miscast it as a lopsided affair.
“Drew is built for this,” Kelly said. “He has always been told he’s not good enough, can’t be the starter, can’t win. He relishes these opportunities. He has always succeeded. This doesn’t affect Drew at all. It just motivates him even more.”
A surface glance offers enough reason to be intrigued by Pyne. He was Ian Book’s backup by the end of 2020 after Clark’s injury. His final landing spot (No. 118) in the 2020 Rivals250 is only four spots lower than Buchner’s place in the last 2021 rankings. He arrived in January 2020 and earned a reputation as a quick study for his ability to soak up and retain the playbook.
“He learned everything,” Book told BlueandGold.com earlier in March. “He was up there every night, late at night, studying with me and coach Rees because he wanted to get that next step.
“Drew’s really good technically, has really good footwork. He spins the ball. He has a really pure motion.”
Added receiver Avery Davis: “He’s the ultimate competitor. He takes on any challenge. He’s truly going to step up to the plate when his name is called.”
Yet even as Pyne impressed last offseason, rose up the depth chart and drew praise from those around the program for his leadership skills this winter, the sentiment in fan circles is often one of disinterest.
Because of the height. Because of the fascination around Buchner, a high-level athlete and a top-100 player when he committed in March 2019. Because of Coan’s arrival. Because Pyne’s four-game freshman sample size didn’t afford many chances to leave a meaningful public impression that could change prior schools of thought.
One practice also didn’t change that Coan remains the early favorite to start at this point because of his experience and 2019 performance at Wisconsin. He didn't pick Notre Dame as his graduate destination to sit on the bench.
It seems, though, Pyne will push him more than most outside the Gug anticipated. In Kelly’s tenure, there have been bigger surprises at quarterback, a list that starts with the player who held it for the last three seasons.
Book, a three-star signee who arrived to a soundtrack of little expectations, wrestled the starting job from former prized recruit and incumbent Brandon Wimbush in September 2018. He started and won more games than any Irish quarterback since Brady Quinn. Behind him on the Kelly era start leaderboard is Tommy Rees, who was not even the highest-rated quarterback in his class but ended up starting as a freshman.
Pyne had more acclaim and a lengthier offer list than either of them as a recruit, but external expectations were about the same for all. This spring is his chance to force an erasure and rewrite of them.
“He’s really serious,” Book said, “about trying to be the next starter at Notre Dame.”
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