SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Those closest to Phil Jurkovec could hardly believe what they were hearing.
Buried behind record-setting quarterback Ian Book on Notre Dame’s depth chart and growing more miserable by the day, the latest in a long line of schoolboy legends from western Pennsylvania was strongly considering a position change.
Whether it was tight end or linebacker didn’t really matter. At 6-5 and 230 pounds with freakish athletic skills, Jurkovec just knew he needed to start contributing.
“It’s really tough not being able to play and not being able to showcase what you can do,” he said on a media conference call this week. “It just grew frustrating for me. I wanted to just get on the field however I could.”
That’s how the former four-star recruit ended up leaving his dream school in early January and transferring to Boston College, which will face the second-ranked Irish (7-0) on Saturday in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
“I was really down,” Jurkovec said. “I was basically on the brink of not playing quarterback. I don’t think I could have done another year just sitting the bench. I had to go play somewhere.”
When Book announced after the Camping World Bowl that he was returning for a fifth year, Jurkovec and his family knew he had to leave. After seeing only sporadic mop-up duty as a redshirt freshman, he could see his college career slipping away.
Newly hired Eagles coach Jeff Hafley and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. reached out soon after Jurkovec entered the transfer portal. Both men had upbeat personalities, NFL experience and Pittsburgh ties.
Better still, they had an immediate opening, which Jurkovec quickly seized once his transfer waiver was approved.
After failing to mesh with former Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long, Jurkovec has been able to rebuild his confidence. He has led the Eagles to a 5-3 record while passing for 15 touchdowns and an ACC-leading 2,083 yards.
His passer rating is seventh in the league, two spots behind Book, and Jurkovec has rushed for three more touchdowns while gaining a quick grasp of a new offense.
“He has quarterback written all over him; we’ve always known that,” said Bill Nichol, who has trained Jurkovec since his early teens at Pittsburgh’s Outer Limits Athletic Performance. “Seeing the positive energy that program is putting out, you can just feel it. I think he’s going to really thrive with it.”
If anyone needed a fresh start, it was Jurkovec, who never fully recovered from a disastrous showing in Notre Dame’s 2019 spring game. Constant tinkering with his footwork and his throwing mechanics left him questioning everything he had ever learned.
Contrast that with the more forgiving coaching he has received at BC. After a couple of early miscues last week at outmanned Syracuse, Hafley told Jurkovec to “Let the next one rip, man.”
Irish coach Brian Kelly said this week he considered Jurkovec to be making normal progress before his sudden departure.
“When he was here, he was fairly bright in terms of understanding what we were doing,” Kelly said. “There were times when we were trying to get the ball out of his hands a little faster.”
After being somewhat disillusioned at Notre Dame, Jurkovec said he placed personality over brand in choosing his new landing spot. He called Hafley “100% real” and told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “They’re for the players here, and not just in a football sense.”
Pressed on that assessment this week, Jurkovec said he still benefited from his time in South Bend. He remains close with many of his former teammates, especially those from his recruiting class.
“Notre Dame was my dream school growing up,” he said. “There’s a lot of great things about Notre Dame: the school, just how much they win, the culture of it, the players. There’s a lot of good people there. There really is. For me, football was really changing.”