March 26, 2012

Seeing is believing for Hendrix

Andrew Hendrix has always talked a good game. He now admits he didn't really know what he was talking about.

"I'm really starting to get it," said the affable 6-foot-2, 220-pounder following Saturday's session at the LaBar Practice Complex.

"I've said that in the past, but it's clear to me now that I really didn't have a good understanding of how the game worked as it pertains to our offense. I'm really getting the mental aspect down, and that's allowing me to really use my God-given tools to succeed."

If it still takes a leap of faith to believe that Hendrix understands the big picture of Brian Kelly's spread offense, all it takes is an extended conversation with the Cincinnati product to see and hear the genuine nature of his claims.

He's going to be a junior in the fall. He's going through his second set of spring practices. He saw significant if not extended game action as a sophomore in 2011, and played a prominent role at the end of the season, including the bowl game against Florida State.

This accumulation of experiences is transforming Hendrix. The level of excitement he has for the next practice session can be seen in the way his eyes light up talking about being on the football field again.

""I'm extremely confident in my own ability. I'm having a blast out there. The pieces are falling in place for me as I watch things develop. I'm starting to get it, and that's really exciting for me."
-- Andrew Hendrix
"I'm better today than I was yesterday," laughed Hendrix. "Every mistake I make, I learn from it. Going back to the interception against Florida State, I'm on my back foot, I'm on my front foot, throwing down, just things like that. I'm taking mental reps like I've never taken them before.

"I'm extremely confident in my own ability. I'm having a blast out there. The pieces are falling in place for me as I watch things develop. I'm starting to get it, and that's really exciting for me."

While excitement abounds for the multiple skills offered by Everett Golson and the potential of five-star freshman Gunner Kiel, and just as much enmity seems to exist among Irish fandom toward Tommy Rees, Hendrix is kind of the "middle child" in the race.

He showed promise in his first extended action against Air Force, and even inspired some to call for his first starting assignment in the bowl game based upon his second-half performance against Stanford in the regular-season finale. But his critical fourth-quarter interception against Florida State led to the Seminoles' game-winning score, which blunted some of the enthusiasm for Hendrix to emerge as the leading man.

But Hendrix is now one of the elder statesmen at the quarterback position, and he understands the responsibility that comes with that.

"Last year, it was Dayne (Crist) and Tommy, and then Everett and I," Hendrix said. "Now I'm in a role where I'm one of the older guys, and as you get older, you have a better understanding of the offense. You kind of take the role of Dayne and Tommy last year and teach the younger guys and try to keep them up because if everybody is at their best, we'll all be at our best."

For Hendrix, yesterday's mental blackout has been replaced by the proverbial 100-watt light bulb.

"A specific example?" Hendrix repeated. "Guys going this way and then you automatically know you're going there, and I didn't really understand that. I would kind of look at a play from the big picture and my mind wasn't very focused.

"Now I understand that if this guy goes there, then I'm right there. That's really the biggest difference. I'm learning my read keys, and that's really opening up the offense to me."

Now come the nuances, which new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Chuck Martin discussed a day earlier when talking about the four quarterbacks.

"Andrew has got that little body language when things go bad because he cares so much and he practices so hard," said Martin Friday. "I'm like, 'When things go bad, Andrew, you've got to turn around like you're Brett Favre.' Everybody makes mistakes, but it's a different position. It's more about how you carry yourself when things are bad than good."

A smile comes across Hendrix's face as he recalls the exchange with Martin the day before.

"It's not really something you think about unless you're a quarterback, but I understand that now," Hendrix said. "It's just a maturing process. When plays go bad, when plays go good, you've always got to stay in the middle. When things go bad, guys look at you. It's important that you stay positive, and then everyone else will stay positive as well.

"Sometimes you get a little too high throwing a touchdown and too low throwing an interception. It's all about moving on to the next play. If you can stay right in the middle, regardless of the situation, that's the best way to success."

One place where Hendrix doesn't want to remain is in the middle of the pack. A supportive teammate, Hendrix wants to emerge as the front-runner at his position.

"We're cheering each other on because if we're coaching everybody up, we'll be better as a whole to be better as one," Hendrix said. "We're doing it as a group, and in the end, it will beneficial to us and the entire team.

"But every guy thinks he's the best. If you don't think you're the best, then you should probably not come to practice. You have to have confidence in your ability if you want to be the starter at Notre Dame, and I want to be that guy."

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