Notre Dame’s two-headed spring QB race features Pyne, Coan

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There is competition once again in Notre Dame’s quarterback room this spring and that’s exactly how coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees want it.

Jack Coan, a fifth-year graduate transfer from Wisconsin, and returning sophomore Drew Pyne have been splitting the first-team reps through the first four spring practices.

The Fighting Irish are seeking a successor to Ian Book, who led the program to two College Football Playoff semifinal appearances in three seasons and a school-best 30-5 record as the starting quarterback.

Rees, of course, relishes quarterback competition. He saw a lot of it as an on-and-off starter under Kelly from 2010-13.

“The way Tommy has got it set up, which is what we wanted, (it’s) a battle between Jack and Drew,” said Kelly, who has three other quarterbacks in spring camp in true freshmen Tyler Buchner and Ron Powlus II and junior Brendon Clark, who is rehabbing from knee surgery late last season.

Right now, Coan and Pyne are getting all the attention.

“I told Jack you’ve got a lot of recognition for the things you accomplished at Wisconsin, so the guys know who you are,” Kelly said as practices opened. “Be who you are, be authentic and when you’re authentic, guys trust you.”

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Coan sat out his last season at Wisconsin following foot surgery in October as the Badgers were preparing for their delayed season that ended with a 4-3 record and redshirt freshman Graham Mertz taking the snaps. In 2019, Coan completed almost 70% of his passes for 2,727 yards and 18 touchdowns against five interceptions as Wisconsin finished 10-4.

Coan, who played lacrosse at Sayville High School on Long Island, New York, once had a scholarship offer to play the sport at Notre Dame. Three days after Book and the Irish concluded their 10-2 season with a 31-14 loss to Alabama, Coan announced his plans to transfer.

“It was really tough for me, but I just felt like it was time for me to move on and go to a place where I thought it would be a good opportunity for me,” Coan said. “And I thought there’s no place like Notre Dame when it comes to football, the culture here and the history.”

Coan, who has a strong arm, could be the starting quarterback for the Irish when they visit Soldier Field in Chicago on Sept. 25 to play the Badgers. Then again, it could be Pyne, who will remind some of Book with his accuracy throwing on the run.

“What do we want from Drew Pyne?” Kelly said. “We want him to be the starter. We’re not handing this job to Jack Coan. Drew is built for this. He’s always been told that he’s not good enough, can’t be the starter or can’t win. It just motivates him even more.”

Those words are music to the ears of Pyne, who started all four seasons at quarterback at New Canaan (Connecticut) High School and then saw his first spring as an early enrollee at Notre Dame canceled after one practice because of the pandemic.

Pyne came back in the fall and eventually passed the injury-plagued Clark to become Book’s understudy. Though he saw action in only four games and completed just two of three passes for 12 yards, Pyne appreciated what he learned from Book.

“Ian was a great leader, a great role model, a great friend to me and someone I really, really look up to,” Pyne said. “Progression and getting better and being the best teammate possible is what motivates me.”

Kelly and Rees also will have a chance to look at their two freshmen. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Powlus is the son of Irish quarterback Ron Powlus, who played at Notre Dame from 1994-97 and now is an assistant athletic director at the school. The younger Powlus played at nearby Penn High School.

The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Buchner, who committed to Notre Dame in early 2019 and totaled 6,084 yards and 81 touchdown as a junior dual-threat quarterback, saw his final high school season at La Mesa (California) Helix High School canceled by the pandemic.

“We saw some of the rust come off Tyler,” Kelly said after Saturday’s fourth practice. “He was more comfortable out there, threw the ball with a lot more confidence. He had a smile on his face, he had some confidence.”

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”