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Dexter Williams aims to impact Notre Dame’s younger players with lessons of his mistakes

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Dexter Williams knows he almost lost his chance to genuinely contribute at Notre Dame only two weeks before that opportunity would finally arrive. Only a fortnight before the 2016 Irish season-opener, Williams and four teammates were arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession; Williams and two of the others were also initially charged with possession of a handgun without a license. The latter charge was dropped and Williams accepted a plea deal regarding the former.

The greater decision would come from the Notre Dame coaches.

“I think about it every day because that could have been my last chance, not just being at Notre Dame but playing football period,” the rising junior running back said following the Blue-Gold Game. “It’s on my mind daily, and I just continue to place myself around positive people and continue to stay positive.”

A full academic year later, Williams has worked his way back into good graces across the board. By no means did 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns on only 39 carries last season hurt that cause, but Williams’ path back to the standing of a good teammate took more than a few flashes of his speed.

“I had to grow up a lot,” he said. “I had to gain respect of my coaches, my teammates and also just begin to work even harder. I knew I let a lot of people down. I let my family down my coaches down, my teammates down. I just wanted to let them know it won’t happen again.

“I would make the right decisions from here on out.”

If he didn’t, he would be letting down his mother. When acknowledging that pressure, Williams quickly added another name. Former Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant played a pivotal role in Williams’ recruitment. Both from Florida, Bryant could undoubtedly relate to some of the hesitations an Orlando high schooler might have about moving to northwestern Indiana. Bryant was murdered May 7, 2016.

“Everything that I do is for my mother,” Williams said. “Whatever I’m doing, I make sure is for her, and also for Greg Bryant. He is one of my motivations, as well. Me and Greg had a great relationship.

“For those two, I’m willing to do anything, put my body through anything.”

Williams has done more than go through offseason conditioning—which he said has changed his speed, presumably he meant for the better. He has also taken an interest in his younger teammates. For starters, sophomore running back Tony Jones, Jr., is nearly always within earshot. After moving from receiver back to running back this spring, so was sophomore Deon McIntosh. McIntosh’s move was sparked in part by the shoulder injury suffered by early enrollee freshman C.J. Holmes.

“Those younger guys that come in, those are my brothers, and I don’t want to see them go through the same [mistakes] I went through,” Williams said. “I continue to stay on them as much as my coaches and my teammates stay on me, because I don’t want to see them go down that road. I want to see them do great and be successful.”

For his part, Williams finished spring on a successful note. Much of the conversation during the 15 practices focused on Jones’ emergence, but Williams made sure to end with a notable impression. He took nine carries for 96 yards and a score. The touchdown came on a 38-yard carry, three yards shorter than his longest of the spring finale. Williams added four catches for 36 yards.

Admittedly, some of his success may have had to do with who was in the stands.

“It felt great just having a big game, being on the field with my mom here,” Williams said. “Having my coaches behind me and just having the coaches put me in, having them trust me with the ball, let me go out there and have fun. It was a great feeling.”

Suffice it to say, that is a better feeling than the one Williams had less than nine months ago. At this point, though, he is glad that August mishap occurred.

“I’m looking at it in a positive way, because if something like that didn’t happen, who knows where I could have been,” he said. “I just feel like it was a great eye-opener and it helped me maintain focus, continue on with this process and work harder.”

ACC announces Notre Dame’s five ACC opponents up to 2037

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If you are expecting a child this fall, and you are convinced your offspring is bound for Notre Dame, here is some good news.

Actually, first of all, congratulations and all that, both on the pending birth and the presumed acceptance by admissions in the Class of 2040.

Now then, that good news. In your son’s or daughter’s freshman season, he or she will get to see Florida State play at Notre Dame Stadium.

The ACC announced the five ACC opponents the Irish will face each year from the years 2026 to 2037 on Thursday. The matchups up to 2026 had been previously announced, but are also listed below today’s revelations underneath this post.

“The ACC’s football partnership with Notre Dame has been extremely successful throughout our first four seasons,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “As we look to the future, these games will continue to enhance the experience for our players, schools and fans.”

Per the agreement between Notre Dame and the ACC, which began in 2014, the Irish face five ACC opponents each year. With 14 ACC football schools, Notre Dame faces each one about once every three years.

Only two dates were announced among the decade-plus-away games. The Irish will play at Clemson on Labor Day, 2031, and at Virginia Tech on Labor Day, 2036.

Just typing the year 2036 in a factual sentence feels odd. This is obviously an inane exercise. Nonetheless, should you be curious who your eight-year-old might see in his or her four years of college, should he or she be so fortunate as to gain admittance to Notre Dame, the breakdown: (more…)

Notre Dame will look to Wimbush’s poise more than his talent

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There has been plenty of talk of Brandon Wimbush’s physical skills, this space included. Taking off on a 58-yard touchdown run in your first action as a freshman will do that.

Leading the Notre Dame offense will require more than a strong arm, accurate passing and quick feet. The rising junior quarterback will need to both learn offensive coordinator Chip Long’s offense and also be able to convey its intricacies to his teammates. Wimbush will need to endure mistakes and enjoy successes with equal steadiness. He will need to handle criticism and deflect praise.

These abstract concepts are, obviously enough, often the most difficult for 20- and 21-year-olds to grasp. Per his coaches, Wimbush has not struggled like that.

“Where I’ve been most impressed with him is he listens very well,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said after days before the spring finale. “He’s a guy that will listen, make the appropriate adjustments and come back and go to work on what you have instructed him.

“The second thing is his presence. He runs that offense like he’s been running it for a few years. There’s no panic, there’s a calmness, there’s an organization to it.”

Perhaps claiming Wimbush leads the huddle in a new system like he has been doing it for years is a bit of a leap, a touch of exaggeration. But Long sees the qualities to make that embellishment a reality.

“The best thing about Brandon is he’s never too high or never too low,” Long said the day before the Blue-Gold Game. “That’s what you want with your quarterbacks. … He just needs to go out there and operate the offense. I don’t want to have any more added pressure on his shoulders.”

Wimbush managed 22-of-32 passing for 303 yards in the intrasquad scrimmage, yet the first-team offense generally struggled to finish drives or impose its will on a defense also learning a new scheme. To Kelly, that imperfect performance yielded encouragement on its own right.

“I loved everything that happened to him today,” Kelly said. “It’s how you take it, right? He’s just wide-eyed, listening, paying attention and just totally committed to the process of getting better.”

Not that there is any indication otherwise—aside from the natural tendencies of most 20- and 21-year-olds, that is—but Notre Dame fans should hope Wimbush is already deflecting those praises, lest they get to his head before the real action against Temple in 115 days.

RELATED READING: Where Notre Dame was & is: Quarterbacks
Notre Dame QBs appreciate Rees’ teaching, experience
Book ready for Notre Dame, even if not needed in ’17
A spring perspective: Wimbush and his Offensive Line

Book ready for Notre Dame, even if not needed in ’17

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It is the most popular position in sports. Frankly, its return on investment might be the highest, too. As Notre Dame’s backup quarterback in 2017, rising sophomore Ian Book may often hear hypotheticals singing his praises. If junior Brandon Wimbush stays healthy, though, Book’s merits will remain largely unknowns for anyone not privy to Irish practices.

Nonetheless, Book feels he could start. Following his performance in the Blue-Gold Game (18-of-25 passing for 271 yards and a touchdown), such confidence could be considered understandable.

“Obviously I think I can be the starter,” Book said that day. “Brandon’s a great player. Today he did really well. If something were to happen and it’s the next man in, I would be able to do a good job.”

RELATED READING: What we learned: Book stars in Notre Dame’s spring finale

By no means does Irish coach Brian Kelly hope to prove Book can do that good job in 2017. Wimbush is slated to be the starter and there will be no quarterback controversy this summer. But having confidence in his backup will save Kelly much fret this summer.

“Having that No. 2, and seeing him perform the way he has this spring, for me, has been one of the big stories,” Kelly said. “Ian has done this all spring.”

Book needs to keep doing it, and he knows as much. Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Tom Rees praised Book’s progress this spring before quickly pointing to an area of needed improvement. Naturally, it’s an area most college quarterbacks need to improve on. Just this spring it has been a topic of conversation regarding both Wimbush and last year’s Irish starter, DeShone Kizer. Footwork.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame QBs appreciate Rees’ teaching, experience

“I do like to get outside the pocket and use my feet, but obviously I still have a lot of work to do,” Book said. “There are times where I miss the throws because my feet aren’t set, but you have to keep working to get through those.”

Some of that messy footwork could be attributable to the change in offensive systems following the disappointing 4-8 finish last year. Going from scout team to new offensive coordinator Chip Long’s up-tempo approach has forced Book to learn a lot quickly. Then again, he had to do that throughout last summer and fall, coming from high school to a college program.

RELATED READING: Where Notre Dame was & is: Quarterbacks

Back then, though, he had three quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart. He leaned on them for guidance of all varieties.

“I learned a ton from how to be the best person as well as a team, and I learned obviously a bunch of football things on the field,” Book said. “DeShone, [former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire] and Brandon, they all helped me when I first got here. They took me under their wings, teaching me the footwork stuff, all the plays, all the reads.

“It was definitely a good quarterback room to be in as a freshman.”

Jumping from scout team quarterback to one play away from taking the snap for Notre Dame, Book will be a key part of keeping that a good quarterback room moving forward.


As evidence of the ROI claim made up top, take a look at Doug Pederson. In 100 career NFL games, he threw a total of 522 passes. In seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Pederson threw 77 passes in 66 games while also winning a Super Bowl ring.

Thanks largely to those two stints in Green Bay, Pederson is now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles with a five-year contract of who knows how many millions per year. (If Jay Gruden gets $4 million/year and Marvin Lewis earns $4.5 million each season, Pederson’s total contract cannot fall far short of $20 million. It pays to have studied Brett Favre.)

Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Kizer spent some time as the Cleveland Browns backup…

Notre Dame QBs appreciate Rees’ teaching, experience

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This is a fool’s errand. No matter how the current Notre Dame quarterbacks respond—publicly and/or privately—to their position coach, many Irish fans will criticize him. No matter what success those passers do or do not enjoy under Tom Rees’ tutelage, many posting their thoughts around these parts will bemoan his presence.

Acknowledging these facts at the outset accomplishes as much as those grumblings do: nothing. Well, that’s not exactly true. This upfront head shake does boost a word count monitored by no one. It also gives a callback to when Keith Arnold introduced his successor around these parts. That’s always fun, right? (“I know Notre Dame fans of all varieties – the obsessed, the apathetic, pessimistic, optimistic, etc. – including some who have yet to decide how they feel about Tommy Rees. [Feel positively about him. It’s that simple.]”)

With that meandering out of the way, let’s bring in how the Irish signalcallers feel about Rees. Following the completion of spring practice in the Blue-Gold Game, both rising junior and starter-if-healthy-in-116-days Brandon Wimbush and sophomore Ian Book credited some of their vernal development to Rees.

“The whole quarterback room, led obviously by coach Rees, [offensive coordinator Chip] Long and [Irish coach Brian] Kelly, all the quarterbacks have come a long way from day one to where we are now,” Wimbush said. “We’ll have to continue that through the summer.”

Rees’ influence may be felt even more by Book. Presumably, Wimbush gets a touch more in-ear tutelage from Long and Kelly during practices, taking the majority of the first-team snaps. Even if standing only a few yards behind the line of scrimmage, Book likely takes those moments to pick Rees’s brain, get his read on the play call, the coverage, etc.

As it pertains to off-field guidance in the film room and in the playbook, Book indicated Rees has been his go-to source material.

“He taught me so much,” Book said. “Meeting with him once a day and going through coverages and reads, learning from someone who has done it before, it’s helped me, and I really like the way he teaches. It has just helped me visualizing and then going out on the field and being able to see exactly what he is talking about.”

Even if under a different offensive coordinator than Rees’ time behind center at Notre Dame, the playbook has not changed dramatically. To hear Rees describe it halfway through spring practice, he recognized the broad strokes of the offense.

“The offense conceptually is still coach Kelly,” Rees said. “You still see a lot of the aspects there, but coach Long has brought a lot of his stuff to what we’re doing. We want to play fast. There are some details here and there that coach Long has done a great job of coaching up. It’s been a great blend to work with.”

RELATED READING: Rees on Long’s influence in offensive scheme

That familiarity is the reason Book turns to Rees. (more…)