Notre Dame’s 2012 football schedule is regarded in many circles as the most difficult one in the country.
Junior pre-med major and quarterback Andrew Hendrix has his own challenging slate to deal with this fall. While 12 credit hours would be ideal to balance academics with football, Hendrix will be taking at least 17, including Statistics for Life Sciences, Anthropological Biology and Physical Chemistry, which also entails lab work.
“It’s not as much as it will be in the spring,” Hendrix noted. “I catch up (academically) in the spring.”
It seems the first two years of Hendrix’s college football career has been all about catching up. First he had to catch up to classmate Tommy Rees, an early enrollee in 2010 who took over as the starter in the final five games of 2010 when Dayne Crist was injured, and started the last 12 games of 2011.
Among the four scholarship quarterbacks on the 2012 Irish roster, Hendrix is the only one who wasn’t an early enrollee. Because he attended Archbishop Moeller High in Cincinnati, Hendrix was required to take a religion class in the final semester of his senior year to graduate, and thus he could not be an early enrollee.
Hendrix started knocking on the starter’s door last year and played the entire second half of the 28-14 loss at Stanford when Rees was injured. It wasn’t a bad effort for his first action on the road versus a top-10 foe. He completed 11 of his 24 attempts for 192 yards and a touchdown, and added 20 yards rushing with another score. It earned him some cameo time in the 18-14 loss to Florida State in Champs Sports Bowl, but his last throw in the contest resulted in an interception that set up the Seminoles’ go-ahead touchdown.
With Rees suspended for the Sept. 1 opener against Navy because of an off-the-field infraction, the door opened for Hendrix to grab the starting spot. However, now it appears he might be playing catch-up to exciting sophomore Everett Golson — head coach Brian Kelly’s first hand-picked quarterback at Notre Dame — who took all the reps with the first unit during the August 8 practice that was open to the media.
“It depends on the day,” downplayed Hendrix of the quarterback race. “Sometimes Everett will run with the one line, but I’ll get the one receivers. We’ll switch up … It’s the same work you get with the ones and twos, I think, because it’s the same reads and the timing is almost the same. So really it’s just when you’re in, focusing on the defense and just making the right reads off that.”
Kelly referred to the competition between Golson and Hendrix as “I-A and !-B,” and Hendrix isn’t putting a lot of thought into whether he is the A or B.
“You can’t think about it like that because then you get caught up [in it] and then you lose sight of what you’re really doing out there,” he said. “Every single second we just have to focus on the individual play. We can’t get caught up that outside stuff. … Keep chopping wood. I can only control what I do and that’s all I focus on.”
It’s been a gradual process for Hendrix to assimilate into the spread offense. As a senior at Moeller, Hendrix passed for only 1,242 yards and eight TDs. Conversely, Golson threw for 11,634 yards and 151 TDs during his career in South Carolina — even though he missed half of his senior year with an injury.
“In high school we would just have some high-low reads here and there,” Hendrix explained. “We had a huge offensive line and we could blow people out running the ball, so I didn’t really need to throw. I’m starting to understand the science [of playing quarterback], where my reads are. But when things don’t go as planned, that’s the art, being able to scramble and make a read on the run … “
An optimistic upbeat sort — similar to former Moeller High and Notre Dame head coach Gerry Faust (1981-85) — Hendrix said he was surprised to see on film his body language last year when he didn’t execute correctly or if a play broke down.
“I can tell I’m better tempered,” Hendrix said. “I don’t like to think of myself as a guy that would get down on myself like that, but I could see it and it’s such an easy fix … You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to learn from them. How you’re going to respond to a negative play is going to be key.”
Even during seven-on-seven drills on Wednesday, Hendrix threw the ball away on one occasion while following Kelly’s dicta that sometimes “zero is good yardage” as opposed to turning the ball over. With veterans such as All-America Tyler Eifert, 1,000-yard rusher Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and explosive youngsters such as George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle and even freshman Davonte’ Neal as targets, the foremost mandate by Kelly to the quarterbacks is not to gum the works.
“[The quarterbacks] don’t have to win the game; we can just get the ball to our horses and let the playmakers do their job, and minimize mistakes,” said Hendrix of trying to slice last year’s 29 turnovers into appreciably less.
In the 11-on-11 session that ended Wednesday’s practice, the top defense easily handled Golson and Co., including defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore intercepting a Golson screen that didn’t have enough air under it. Golson might still be the man to beat for the starting position, but Hendrix plans to keep grinding away.
“He’s a great player,” said Hendrix of Golson. “He can throw it a country mile and he’s starting to understand defenses more. I’ll stand behind and make the reads regardless what he does, just like I’m in. I try to keep the focus inward instead of outward. Obviously you can see him doing great things, but it’s just about how I can help the team when I’m in.
“It’s early. You make mistakes and you learn from them. But I don’t think my mistakes were as bad as they were in the spring. It’s just managing when plays go wrong and seeing the offense develop. That’s where I’m at right now.”
Although Rees is in the background and hasn’t been taking reps, Hendrix refers to the future coaching prospect as an “invaluable resource” to help him in practice.
“I never stop asking him questions,” Hendrix said. “He’s been such a positive influence [on all the QBs]. There’s nobody that knows this offense better than Tommy. The man knows his stuff. Any time I was curious about a read or it’s debatable, I just go to that guy.”
As far as Hendrix is concerned, it’s not yet academic regarding who will be guiding Notre Dame’s 2012 offense.