Ian Book found himself in Heisman Trophy contention during the 2020 season, but we might not have seen more than one football play out of the former Notre Dame quarterback if it wasn’t for the saving grace of a back plate and some family encouragement.
Book took a tough hit as an eight-year-old that shook him up more than he was ready for.
“That was my first snap,” Book said. “I got hit in the back, didn’t have a back plate. I came up, a big piece of turf grass in my helmet and I was like ‘this is what I signed up for.’ Then I went home, talked to my dad, talked to my brother and they convinced me to go out and I just fell in love with it. Ended up buying a back plate and I was good to go.”
Book says he fell in love with the game after the first play that he didn’t like, and that his father got him in the backyard to play more football after that.
Ron Martin, Book’s youth football coach, noticed his talent immediately while he was coaching his older brother, Nolan Book.
“Of course he’s just this little kid running around and throwing the football, but, man, he could throw the football,” he said. “I talked to his dad and I said ‘you’ve got to get Ian signed up next year.’ He did, and he started playing for me.”
Martin says that Ian had “a little bit of fear” initially, but is a competitor by nature and quickly grew into the quarterback they wanted him to be. Really, he totally exceeded the expectations.
“He was in a league where it was highly competitive,” Martin said. “I said, ‘hey, I need you to step up and you’re going to be playing against 10- and 11-year-olds, even though you’re only 9.’ He just did a great job.”
Leadership is an area Martin believes Book has progressed greatly in since he was initially shaky as a young player.
“I don’t think leadership comes naturally for a lot of people,” Martin said. “You have to maybe work at it, or certainly if you get thrown into that situation, you have to adapt. I think everyone looks to the quarterback as a leader, and Ian really hit that role as he got into high school and into college at Notre Dame. I think he’s portrayed that leadership. Obviously, he was captain twice at Notre Dame, which, not too many people are captains for more than a year.”
Ron Martin’s son, Brock Martin, is who Ian says was his first receiver. The two bonded quickly.
“He’s got a great personality,” he said. “He has a great sense of humor. The guy could probably do a podcast and you could sit down with him and just have a conversation and you’ll probably just laugh your ass off and have a good time.”
Outside of his reputation as a non-judgemental and even-keel teammate, Book knows that he brings the basics to the table for an NFL team. He looks forward to building upon three particular traits when he’s drafted.
“One is leadership and two is just playmaking ability, try to create plays with my feet as well,” he said. “And third is accuracy. Those are the three things I think I can bring to a team and bring to the next level.”
His high school coach at Oak Ridge, Eric Cavaliere, can attest to Book’s abilities in each of these areas. Coaches often talk about wanting the “same player on every play.”
That’s what Ian Book is.
“Ian is extremely reliable,” Cavaliere said. “What a team wants to get from Ian, they’ll get on a daily basis.”
Cavaliere spoke to his athleticism, ability to extend plays, touchdown-to-interception ratio, and accuracy specifically.
As for the latter, no one close to Book is used to seeing him miss.
“I remember a time in high school, his senior year, where we had a receiver open for an easy throw,” Cavaliere said. “He missed the throw. I couldn’t even remember the last time he threw a ball that wasn’t right on the money.”
There are times that Book, though incredibly nimble and strategic with the way he runs, looks like nothing more than that guy who can scramble a bit and get a team 5-7 yards or so when there’s not an option open to throw to.
But that’s not always the case.
Book was able to bust through and find some lanes on more than one occasion during the Reese’s Senior Bowl, showing that he was a quarterback with serious playmaking ability—not just one who could evade pressure.
There are differences between athletic ability, mobility, and escapability, and Book has shown he has all three. The proof is in the film, and it was evident during the Senior Bowl that he was outperforming his peers in all three categories.
“Sometimes it just opens up,” Book said. “I go through my progressions and if there’s really good coverage, I can use my feet after that.”
Just because he’s developed a reputation for being able to scramble, Book wants his confidence in his passing ability to be just as known.
“I want to be able to stay in the pocket and sling it around, but it’s nice to be able to fall back on that if I need to.”
Regardless of what happens down the road for Book in the draft process, the younger Martin is confident Book will remain the same player he took the field alongside for so long—one who leads his team to victory.
“He’s a gamer. He’s a clutch player, which I think is a key thing to have in the NFL. He’s a winner… he showed all throughout college that he just does nothing but win.”