Tyler Buchner's Journey To Becoming A Standout Quarterback
Every high school coach thinks their players are the next best thing, but they rarely are.
Danny Mitchell, who is the offensive coordinator at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Calif., may have a good argument, though.
In leading Bishop’s to a 11-0 record, which includes a first-round playoff victory, class of 2021 quarterback Tyler Buchner accounts for 5,045 yards of total offense and 67 touchdowns. He has completed 225 of 329 throws (68 percent) for 3,802 yards with 44 touchdowns and five interceptions. Additionally, the 6-2, 210-pounder has rushed for 1,243 yards and 23 touchdowns on just 107 carries.
To the delight of Fighting Irish fans, Buchner is committed to Notre Dame and has been since March. He picked the Irish over Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, UCLA, USC, Washington State and others.
Mitchell feels strongly about the impact Buchner will have in South Bend.
“Notre Dame is getting a special person,” Mitchell stated. “I think he can change a campus based on who he is. I think the kid is phenomenal.”
Rivals rates Buchner as the No. 8 pro-style quarterback and No. 65 overall prospect nationally in the junior class. Being rated as a top-100 prospect in the country is impressive, but an argument can certainly be made for Buchner being a five-star recruit.
The San Diego native has all of the tools to be a star at the next level, and there’s no limit to what he can accomplish.
“Tyler doesn’t have a ceiling,” Mitchell said. “I know that sounds crazy, but I really do think that. He has the ability to make throws that only guys who play on Sundays can make. A lot of quarterbacks don’t like contact, but Tyler always asks for me to run the ball early on because he wants to be hit.
“It would be really dumb of me to say what his ceiling is because that would be me saying what his cap is, and he doesn’t have one. He has the ability to be as great as he wants to be.”
Buchner has a seemingly endless amount of highlight plays to choose from during his junior season, whether he’s dropping a dime 50 yards down the field or juking out and running past multiple defenders for a long touchdown run.
One of many impressive aspects about Buchner is his attention to detail. In a 58-12 victory against University City Aug. 30, a game in which Buchner accounted for 383 yards and six touchdowns, the Notre Dame commit threw a wide receiver screen pass that picked up five yards.
It’s easy to just look past that play because it wasn’t a SportsCenter Top 10 moment, but Buchner had a free rushing defensive end who was either going to sack him or bat his pass down. He avoided both outcomes by throwing a side-armed pass around the defender from an awkward stance.
“That’s something we actually practice every day,” Mitchell said. “When we play catch before practice, we work on all of those things.”
Buchner’s ability to make throws from the move or in less-than-ideal situations is comparable to the Green Bay Packers’ current quarterback and future NFL Hall of Famer, although on a different scale.
“He loves watching Aaron Rodgers, and he’ll try to mimic him,” Mitchell said. “I think kids try to be cookie cutter as a quarterback, but that’s not how the game works.
“Tyler can throw from all angles and make plays that aren’t planned. Every coach draws up a play to score, but when you’re wrong, Tyler has the ability to fix it.”
SHINING AS A FRESHMAN
The Bishop’s School has around 800 students, ranging from grades 6-12. Buchner started attending the independent, coeducational college-preparatory day school that is associated with the Episcopal Church as a sixth grader.
“When he was coming up, we knew we were going to have a pretty special athlete in the program,” Mitchell said.
When Buchner started playing varsity football as a freshman for Bishop’s, which typically has a total of 25-30 players, he began at receiver and safety.
At the time, Bishop’s starting quarterback was Jeffrey Jackson, who would go on to rank No. 2 all time in San Diego in passing touchdowns and passing yards.
Buchner had 565 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns as a rusher and receiver that season. Defensively, he recorded 17 tackles and an interception.
“After you watch five or six plays of his freshman highlights, you’ll say, ‘That kid might be the best player on that football team,’” Mitchell noted. “And he was just 14 years old.”
Even with Jackson as the experienced, senior leader of the football team, the Bishop’s coaching staff knew they needed to get Buchner in at quarterback, too. Buchner threw for 512 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman, mostly in mop-up duty, but on a few occasions he split time with Jackson.
“That tells you how good Tyler Buchner is,” Mitchell said. “He was one of our go-to guys. I know he gets a lot of hype as a quarterback, but if that didn’t work out, he can play any position on the field, and he’d be one of the best at it.”
Buchner didn’t have a lot of tape at quarterback as a freshman, so he needed to hit the camp circuit hard to earn attention from college coaches. In the summer before his sophomore season, he had earned offers from Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, UCLA and others.
“When you see him in person and watch how smooth he is, it’s like he was born to play this game,” Mitchell said.
“It’s very natural to him. College coaches loved seeing him play different positions, because it showed how athletic he is. He could do things that normal 14-year-old kids just don’t do.
“You only need to see him throw a football once, and you know he’s different than anyone else. I’ve probably thrown three million footballs in my life, but I’ll never be able to throw a ball like Tyler Buchner can.”
RESPONDING TO ADVERSITY
Buchner entered his sophomore season as the team’s starting quarterback, was named a team captain and had a ton of hype after he blew up on the recruiting front in the offseason.
On the fourth play of the season opener against El Cajon (Calif.) Grossmont on Aug. 17, 2018, Buchner broke a 40-yard run but fell to the ground. He tore his ACL on a non-contact play.
“It was a sickening feeling, and you could feel it on both sides of the stadium,” Mitchell recalled.
How Buchner handled the devastating injury helped shape who he is as a young man.
“As much as it was a really dark feeling when the injury happened, how he responded to it was why I think he’s going to be one of the best ever if he wants to play this game for a while,” Mitchell explained. “He was hurt emotionally that he couldn’t play, but he became a coach on the sideline.
“He grew in a way that was far beyond just the game of football.”
Bishop’s finished the season 5-5 and was knocked out in the first round of the state playoffs. It was the fewest number of wins in a season for the Knights going back to 2012.
Despite the injury, college coaches still pursued Buchner. In the spring of his sophomore year, he ended his recruitment early by giving his pledge to Notre Dame.
He won’t be the first player from Bishop’s to attend Notre Dame. Shane Walton, who actually serves as the Knights’ defensive coordinator, was a unanimous first team All-American for the Fighting Irish in 2002.
“It seems like just a bigger Bishop’s,” Mitchell said of Notre Dame. “It’s a perfect fit for Tyler. Academics are important, and it’s not just about football. That’s just like Bishop’s School.
“Tyler could play high school ball anywhere in the country, but he’s at the best institution in California and one of the best in the nation. And he wants to be the best in football.
“When you think about college football, Notre Dame is one of the first teams that come to mind. He wants the best of the best in football and academics, and you can’t match Notre Dame in that.”
RETURNING WITH A VENGEANCE
Buchner took his rehabilitation very seriously. He attacked the process head on and often times would get to his high school well before 7 a.m. for his rehab workouts.
His hard work resulted in him being ready for the team’s 2019 season opener against crosstown rival La Jolla (Calif.) High Aug. 23. Bishop’s won 18-7, but it was an offensive performance that left much more to be desired. Buchner completed 18 of 32 passes for 212 yards with an interception, plus added 77 rushing yards and a touchdown, in the contest.
Buchner’s doctors advised him to play with his knee brace on for the first two games of the season, but it limited his explosiveness as an athlete.
“He struggled because he wasn’t mobile,” Mitchell noted. “One thing that makes Tyler so special is his ability to create plays when there is pressure. He was a little hindered and wasn’t moving well because his brace was holding him back.”
During practice leading up to the Knight’s third game of the season, Buchner took off the brace.
While playing scout team quarterback, he faced a defense in a cover zero look, meaning that they would be blitzing more players than the offense could block. After receiving the snap, Buchner planted his leg that had the previously torn ACL in the ground and sprinted downfield for a big gain.
“All of us coaches looked at each other and said, ‘He’s back,’” Mitchell recalled.
With the brace off, Buchner erupted that weekend against Chula Vista (Calif.) Mater Dei Catholic Sept. 7. He recorded the second-highest single-game yardage total in California history with 760.
“He’s a totally different player when he’s able to move back there,” Mitchell said. “It was phenomenal to watch.”
Buchner threw for 465 yards and five touchdowns, while adding a whopping 295 yards and four scores on the ground, in a 71-42 triumph. He was just one yard short of breaking the California high school, single-game yardage record set by Jorge Amaya of Los Angeles Hawkins in 2014.
“I’m not exaggerating; I probably watched it 15 times so I could find one more yard,” said Mitchell, who records the offensive stats for Bishop’s. “On his last run, he slid because the game was over. He would have broken the record if he kept running, but Tyler didn’t care about the numbers.
“All he cared about was us winning. That’s what a quarterback should be like.”
Buchner still has a while until he enrolls at Notre Dame in 2021, but it’s clear, according to Mitchell, that the Irish are getting someone who is special.
“They’re going to talk about him for a long time after he’s done playing, whether he’s starting all four years or whatever role he plays,” Mitchell stated. “He’s going to be a favorite on that football team.”
This article first appeared in our Blue & Gold Illustrated magazine, which covers all sports at Notre Dame with an emphasis on football, basketball and recruiting. The magazine is published weekly during football season and monthly during the off-season for a total of 20 full-color issues annually.
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