Joe Davidson

How Oak Ridge grad Ian Book channeled nerves and led Notre Dame in first start at QB

Notre Dame’s Ian Book, left, runs the ball while North Carolina’s Malik Carney reaches for the tackle Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C. Book, an Oak Ridge High graduate, won in his first start at quarterback for the Irish.
Notre Dame’s Ian Book, left, runs the ball while North Carolina’s Malik Carney reaches for the tackle Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C. Book, an Oak Ridge High graduate, won in his first start at quarterback for the Irish. The Associated Press

It became official about 22 minutes before Saturday’s kickoff.

Ian Book would start at quarterback for Notre Dame, per the school’s official Twitter account, but the secret spread across El Dorado Hills days before, when word leaked that the former Oak Ridge High School star would soon get his moment as proof of perseverance.

Book let his family know they might want to attend or tune in, then he dialed in. He was more steady than spectacular in a steady rain in Chapel Hill, N.C., as an admirable fill-in, leading the Irish to a 33-10 victory over North Carolina.

The sophomore passed for 146 yards and a touchdown and ran for 45 yards against a defense eager to cut him in half as parents Kim and Rick soaked in the elements and vibe.

And suddenly, the Irish are well stocked at the sport’s most vital position as they position themselves for a national championship run. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Book started in place of Brandon Wimbush, who rested a sore foot.

Oak Ridge faithful on Saturday packed into eateries and bars along Highway 50 to catch a peek of No. 12 with the sparkling gold helmet lead one of the game’s most storied programs. Even if they were not Notre Dame fans, they were Book backers. His former coaches, including Eric Cavaliere, worked two clickers from their own dwelling, one for the TV and the other for game film for upcoming Oak Ridge opponents.

Book’s brother, Nolan, attends UC Davis and is studying abroad in London, but he was sure to locate a pub. The contest was broadcast in German, though Nolan understood the universal language of football fun.

And the Notre Dame Club of Sacramento was festive on Saturday with plans brewing to pack into the bar Pitch and Fiddle on Oct. 21 when No. 16 Notre Dame hosts No. 13 USC (the Irish have a bye this week).

Book said he has approached every practice since he first arrived in South Bend in anticipation of this opportunity. This includes last season, when Book was the fourth-string quarterback and did not get a single in-game snap.

Book gained the attention and confidence of his team in spring drills, rifling passes and scrambling for first downs. He impressed his teammates during practice last week, too.

“That’s just how I’ve got to prepare,” Book told reporters after the game. “You never know what could happen. From a mental standpoint, I always tell myself, ‘You’ve got to be ready.’ I prepare every week to play.”

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said the Irish were in good hands.

“He’s a very confident kid,” Kelly said. “There were no jitters with him.”

Well, maybe a bit. The man has a pulse, and it accelerated.

Said Book, “I had some nerves when I first got out there. Nerves are good. It shows you care.”

Said Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey, “First college start against a very talented defense in some pretty poor weather conditions. For a young kid, he stepped up and did a great job for us.”

Book will cherish the moment.

“It was awesome,” Book said. “It felt amazing. It’s been a dream to always play college football.”

All of this from a fellow who wondered if he was cut out for the rigors of the sport.

Book was blindsided in a game as an 8-year-old, his very first go at quarterback. He recovered and became a national recruit at Oak Ridge. He recalled his football initiation when he spoke to The Bee two years ago for a profile, saying, “I hated it. I got nailed, had grass in my face mask. I started crying.”

Book has always been calm on the sideline. During an Oak Ridge game as a senior, Book asked athletic director and teacher Steve White how he fared on an exam. This was during a game.

Book scored a B-plus then. He earned more passing marks in Chapel Hill.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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