Weekend with the Mannings could push Notre Dame's Ian Book to the next level
CULVER – As an aspiring quarterback growing up in northern California, Ian Book had heard for years about the Manning Passing Academy.
Five weeks ago, in the blazing summer heat at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., Book found himself among three dozen college quarterbacks invited to participate as camp counselors. That meant working with some of the nation’s most promising high school quarterbacks.
For Notre Dame’s redshirt junior quarterback, it also meant swapping three days’ worth of greetings and stories with family patriarch Archie Manning and his Super Bowl-winning sons, Peyton and Eli, along with contemporaries across the land.
“It was an awesome experience,” Book says. “I really enjoyed it. The Manning family is such a great family to take the time and really mentor all of us for those three days.”
The wonder in Book’s voice remains as he recounts his Louisiana weekend after the first day of fall mini-camp for the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish. As humbling as the whole experience was, Book couldn’t help but feel a measure of validation as well.
Nowhere was that emotional mixture more evident than during the 90-minute classroom session those 35 college quarterbacks spent with Peyton Manning.
“You can’t really ask for anything more as a quarterback,” Book says.
“Gosh, he said a lot,” Book says. “I wrote down everything he said.”
While many in the room sat wide-eyed and rapt in the presence of a future Hall of Famer, Book felt comfortable enough to venture a question to the former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos great.
“I was actually able to ask him a question,” Book says. “I remember asking him if he had any mentors or anybody he looked up to when he was going through the league and in college that might have maybe given him some pointers.”
Not surprisingly, Manning mentioned his family first.
“I think he might have had the best mentorship,” Book says. “He had a father who was pretty talented as well and some great coaches; that was his answer. It was good to hear that and just to get some pointers.”
As Manning, 43, shared some of the secrets that helped him pass for nearly 72,000 yards and 539 touchdowns in his 17 NFL seasons, he flashed plenty of the trademark sense of humor that made him such an endearing teammate and TV pitchman.
He also pulled back the curtain on a typical day in the life of an NFL quarterback. A dedicated watcher of game film in his own right, Book came away amazed by the level of preparation that drove Manning to the top of his profession.
“His work ethic is unbelievable,” Book says. “That’s what I took from it. To see what he does, he’s always studying. He knew what the defense was doing before he even got out there on Sundays. I think everyone knows that’s why he was such a good quarterback.”
Book shook his head.
“Just to be able to hear from him, it was a pretty special moment,” Book says. “That whole entire family (was great), honestly -- Eli as well. I hope to get back there. It was awesome. I really had a good time.”
'They knew who I was'
It took Book 10 college starts to suffer his first loss at Notre Dame, a 30-3 defeat to eventual national champion Clemson in last year’s national semifinal at the Cotton Bowl.
Along the way Book broke Jimmy Clausen’s school record for completion percentage.
Peyton Manning replaced Todd Helton as Tennessee’s starting quarterback five games into his freshman season, but it took Manning only three starts to suffer his first loss: 17-13 at home to Alabama.
Archie Manning’s first college loss came four weeks into his Ole Miss career -- on the road at Georgia by two touchdowns. That was way back in 1968 but venturing between the hedges at Sanford Stadium hasn’t gotten much easier in the ensuing half century.
Next month, Book will get to experience it for himself as the Irish visit the third-ranked Bulldogs in prime time. In the meantime, he might use 70-year-old Archie’s cell number to text a question or two in the event he’d like to pick one of those famed Manning football brains on the subject.
“I definitely have numbers with Archie Manning; he’s the one who invited me to camp,” Book says. “They always said, ‘Reach out if you’ve got any questions. It was cool to go there and have them say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ before you even knew anything.”
Southern Hospitality is one thing. Manning Hospitality, it turns out, is an even sweeter deal.
“They knew I was coming,” Book says. “They knew who I was. That meant a lot. They also taught me a lot, even actually some drills.”
Going through those drills with three dozen college quarterbacks, all of them trying to reach the elite level as well, gave Book another batch of memories and validation. His dorm roommates were USC’s JT Daniels, Stanford’s K.J. Costello and Hunter Johnson, the Clemson transfer now at Northwestern.
Book beat all three of those schools last year while guiding the Irish to a 12-0 regular season. Johnson was sitting out his transfer year, but Book got the best of Daniels and Costello and will see those two again this fall.
“We’re all in the same position, so to be in the same room with them, that’s the coolest part,” Book says. “It was great being able to talk to them and just being able to chew their ears off a little bit and see we’re all doing the same thing, just at different places.”
Hang with anybody
Seemingly a lock to be named among Notre Dame’s 2019 captains when those are announced as soon as this weekend, Book has left a strong impression on his teammates and coaches throughout the offseason.
Irish coach Brian Kelly has noted Book’s leadership skills and increased willingness to be more vocal when the situation warrants it. Kelly also suggested the chance to attend the Manning Passing Academy could only increase the confidence Book carries with him, on and off the field.
“I think just exposure amongst elite players,” Kelly says. “I think you come back, and there's kind of a self-realization that, ‘I'm pretty good. I can hang with anybody in the country, and I've got to do these things as well.’ “
Going back to the start of the offseason, which began with predecessor Brandon Wimbush’s move to Central Florida as a graduate transfer, Book has put in the necessary work to build on his gains of last season.
He worked with strength coach Matt Balis to pack another eight to 10 pounds onto his 6-foot frame.
“I took pride in wanting to gain some weight,” Book says. “I feel a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger this offseason. I feel good about it. I feel strong. Hat’s off to coach Balis for that one.”
Book also hunkered down in the film room with quarterbacks coach Tom Rees and offensive coordinator Chip Long and threw thousands of passes on the practice field to a youthful receiving corps that no longer includes security blanket Miles Boykin.
Rather than feel critiqued by Long’s insistence he work the ball downfield more, Book tweaked his game and sharpened his footwork to make that possible. That included his time in Thibodaux.
“The great thing about it is being aware – self-awareness,” Kelly says. “He came back, and he knows the things that he needs to work on, but he also knows the things that he's really good at. When you're exposed to elite players, that's always a positive thing.”
Having launched himself into the national conversation with a 2018 season that saw him take over for Wimbush in Week 4, Book is determined to make sure “the ceiling is the floor” this fall.
Not just for himself, but for a program that has gone 22-4 the past two seasons.
“We made it to the playoffs,” Book says. “We know what that feels like, but we didn’t win in the playoffs. Now we know what it takes to get there. It’s time to get there and actually win it this time. Everyone on the team understands that.”
If that sounds like an experienced leader talking, well, there’s a good reason for that.
“This is the first time where he’s been the guy at camp,” wide receiver Chris Finke says. “I think you can really see the confidence in some of the throws he’s making and just the way he’s handled himself.”
And should any of those inevitable hurdles pop up along the way, Book knows he can always Text-A-Manning to get the answers he needs.
Follow Notre Dame Insider Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.