Between the time that sophomore Brandon Wimbush started studying for his final exams last semester and sitting down in his first class in the new semester, he had moved up two spots on the depth chart — presumably occupying the role of starting quarterback for the Irish once spring practice arrives in roughly two months.
“There’s so much to it, just having that title,” Wimbush says, “that you just don’t want to take it for granted and don’t want to become a different person and you just want to stay grounded. It’s tough, though, because you’re receiving so much attention, and I’ve [hardly] played a game.”
Wimbush was able to redshirt this past season without issue, and that time and experience of simply learning as much as possible without needing to step onto the field in a game situation has been very beneficial for his development.
In the two games during the 2015 season in which the Teaneck, N.J. native appeared, he threw for 17 yards on 3-for-5 passing, but did real damage with his legs. Wimbush totaled 96 rushing yards on just seven carries, with 58 coming on a late touchdown run against UMass in his first career collegiate game.
At the beginning of last season, those appearances were not scripted to belong to Wimbush, whom the coaches elected to redshirt in order to preserve a year of his eligibility. He began last season as the third-string quarterback behind former Notre Dame quarterbacks Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer, who at the time were a redshirt sophomore and redshirt freshman, respectively. After an ankle injury in Week 2 against Virginia sidelined Zaire, Kizer entered in relief, leading the Irish to a thrilling comeback victory with a touchdown pass in the final seconds.
With Zaire now out for the season, the coaching staff was compelled to remove the redshirt from Wimbush so that, in the event of an injury to Kizer, the team would have a suitable replacement.
“[Their decision to redshirt me] was tough to swallow, because I wasn’t sure what my future held,” Wimbush says. “Then you alter something like that, and that’s a year of my eligibility, that’s my life. And I’ve only got four or five years to do what I have to do here.”
With regards to his evaluation of Wimbush as he prepares to take the next step in his career and lead the Irish going forward, Zaire explains, “I think this is Brandon’s time. He’s seen a lot, and I think he’s picked up a lot of things that either we did really well or we didn’t do as well. I think that it has him in the perfect position to be able to learn and build his own style, how he wants to lead the team moving forward.”
The biggest lesson he took away from his redshirt season that he didn’t get to notice as much in 2015?
“Poise,” he says. “We were 4-8, so, how’s the quarterback going to react? Everybody’s watching, so he was always poised. Just being confident throughout the week and knowing we had a good chance to win the game.” Though Wimbush is clearly focused on the present task of guiding the Irish back to the successful seasons that fans are so accustomed to enjoying, he also keeps the prospect of playing professionally in mind once his time at Notre Dame is complete. Which sparks the question: what NFL quarterback does Brandon Wimbush model his game after?
Without hesitation, he answers: “Aaron Rodgers.”
“He’s a freak,” Wimbush says while shaking his head, incredulous just at the thought of Rodgers’ play, especially recently, in the NFL playoffs with the Green Bay Packers. “I mean ... did you see those games?”
Zaire agrees: “[Wimbush is] a playmaker. Being able to make plays … the less he’s thinking, the more productive he is. That’s probably the biggest key for him, to go into next year and not overthink anything. If he can do that, he’s going to have a lot of success.”
Now, hardly anyone is comparing Wimbush — who will be nearly two years removed from the limited on-field game action he encountered his freshman year — with his idol in Green Bay. However, the maturity, skill set and poise that Wimbush has developed thus far certainly put him on the path to one day join the professional ranks of Rodgers and his peers, men who even at that highest level seek to emulate Rodgers’ play and leadership style.
Considering Wimbush’s two most recent predecessors at Notre Dame, the talent around him entering 2017 and where he sees himself in the future, it is easy to acknowledge that he has been, is, and will continue to be in very good company.