Will 2021 Notre Dame Offense Ride The Pyne?
We’ve seen this twice before in the Brian Kelly era: The relatively overshadowed quarterback recruit signed in-between the ones who arrive with more fanfare, stature and expectations.
• First it was three-star prospect Tommy Rees in 2010. The current second-year offensive coordinator was not even the top Fighting Irish quarterback in his own class. That designation belonged to the physically stronger and bigger four-star Andrew Hendrix from the more famous Cincinnati Moeller High.
Furthermore, Rees was sandwiched in between five-star 2008 recruit Dayne Crist and then Kelly’s first hand-picked, record-setting signal-caller, Everett Golson in 2011 — plus another five-star, Gunner Kiel, in 2012.
Crist began as the starter in 2010 and 2011 and Golson in 2012 — but along that path it was Rees who had the most starts (31) while also playing a role as the top relief quarterback nationally out of the bullpen when needed.
• Then in 2016, another three-star in Ian Book was inked in-between two top-100 dual threats and four stars in the electric Brandon Wimbush (No. 60 national prospect overall) from 2015, and the highly athletic and strapping 6-5 Phil Jurkovec, who arrived right out of central casting for Notre Dame as a state champion from tradition-rich western Pennsylvania, which produced national title Irish quarterbacks Johnny Lujack, Terry, Hanratty, Tom Clements and Joe Montana.
And lo and behold … it was Book who became the central figure while helping direct Notre Dame to the 2018 and 2020 College Football Playoff, finishing with the second-most career passing yardage (8,848) in program annals, the second-most rushing yardage by a quarterback (1,518), and the most victories as a starter (31-5 overall).
• And now in the spring of 2021, and maybe even beyond, we have Exhibit C with Drew Pyne.
At a listed 5-11 ½, 194 pounds, he does not possesses the stature and big-game experience of Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan, a more prototype 6-3, 220 with 18 career starts, including the 28-27 Rose Bowl defeat to Oregon two years ago.
And because as a New Canaan, Ct., native, Pyne’s competition level was also called into question from a non-hotbed in football, whereas current early entrant and 6-1, 207-pound California native Tyler Buchner has been classified as a potential top-50 prospect had his state not shut down high school football last fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 1960, Notre Dame has had eight different California quarterbacks start for it, including Book, the most representation from any state.
“Drew is built for this,” Kelly said. “He’s always been told that he’s not good enough, or can’t be the starter or can’t win, and he relishes these opportunities. He’s always succeeded, so this doesn’t affect Drew at all. It just motivates him even more.”
What Pyne Can Offer
Unlike Rees and Book, Pyne did arrive as a four-star prospect, starting 49 games and passing for 9,411 yards, yet also rushing for 1,182 during his prep career. He arrived as more of a pro-style figure than dual threat, but said the ability to be elusive is part of his game, as it was for Book.
“I’m not a guy that’s going to score on an 80-yard touchdown, but I can get out of the pocket and make plays,” Pyne said. “I pride myself off that and I love being able to do that. That’s part of the game, and especially in this offense, picking up third-and-longs with your legs and getting plays running the ball is important.”
An even greater point of pride is his lineage. The Pyne family was the first in history to have three consecutive generations play professional football, most recently his father Jim Pyne, an offensive lineman whose jersey was retired at Virginia Tech prior to playing in the NFL from 1994-2002.
Uncle George Pyne IV was a captain at Brown who earned All-Ivy League honors in 1987, and cousin Kevin Pyne is a sophomore offensive tackle at Boston College.
“I’ve been around the sport my entire life,” Pyne said. “… “If you’re a Pyne, you play football, you watch football, and everything else.”
Thus, when Pyne received a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama in the eighth grade, it was treated with more humility than arrogance.
“My family did a great job trying to keep me level-headed and have tunnel vision,” Pyne said. “Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been the same way. I’m locked in as much as I can. Competition brings out the best in me.”
Pyne actually committed to the Irish when he was a high school sophomore. At the time, Book, Wimbush and Jurkovec were all candidates for the future starting role, right through at least 2020 for at least two, while cannon-armed Brendon Clark arrived in 2019.
“That’s why you come to Notre Dame — you compete against the best guys in the country, and that’s how you get better,” Pyne said. “Doubt motivates me and it’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life. I’m just going to keep working.”
During his first interview sessions as a Notre Dame player this weekend, Pyne handled questions with aplomb. When asked what advantage he has over Coan, 2020 early entrant Pyne didn’t take the bait. Instead, he raved about the strong culture Rees has built in the quarterback room with regard to each player having everyone’s back and a singular purpose of raising the overall team.
“I’m controlling what I can control,” Pyne said. “When I go in I’m trying to maximize my reps, I’m trying to maximize how I can improve.”
Part of it is his family background in the sport. Plus, he is more advanced than the typical college freshman. He will turn 21 next December 5.
As a football junkie, Pyne said the quarantine time last spring and summer provided him more time to study the Notre Dame playbook and be more confident with what he was doing. With Clark incurring a few health setbacks last fall, Pyne found himself taking most of the second-team reps and watching film late into the night with both Rees and Book. By the time the playoff game with eventual national champ Alabama rolled around, Pyne was not overcome by nerves.
“I was calm because I knew that I prepared well and I knew that Ian and Coach Rees helped me prepare that way, and Coach Kelly as well,” Pyne said. “[Book was] Great leader, role model and friend. I will always be grateful for it.”
The word from Rees was that not only was Pyne a “quick study,” but his communication skills with teammates have helped facilitate overall respect.
“Family motivates me, and making others better,” said Pyne, who is not reticent about being vocal when needed. “…I’ve always been that kind of guy, to push people — that motivates me.
“I’m going to bring the energy on the field, I’m going to bring some juice to the offense. That’s something I pride myself with.”
Coan remains the odds-on favorite to start because of his past experience, but It's not out of the question that Notre Dame's 2021 offense also could ride the Pyne.
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