EXCLUSIVE: Thoughts From Notre Dame Football Mom Heather Wimbush

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 18: Brandon Wimbush #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on November 18, 2017 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 18: Brandon Wimbush #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on November 18, 2017 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

I had a chance to chat with the mother of Notre Dame football quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

As Notre Dame football fans — and sports fans in general — we get sucked into the lives of players as we know them. It’s not often that we think about where they came from and how they got to where they are.

I learned a little bit about that and more recently when I had the chance to speak with Heather Wimbush, the mother of Notre Dame starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush. The Penn State alum and registered nurse dropped some history, knowledge and honesty on me.

Here is our conversation. (I’m JP, she’s HW)

JP: About how old was Brandon when you started to realize that he might one day be talented enough to be a college athlete?

HW: When Brandon was about four and a half years old, he started playing t-ball and had some very developed baseball skills way before football took hold of his life. His athletic talent was evident at an early age. But I’ve found raising two kids who played sports, the kids who tend to be more talented aren’t the ones being talked about by their own parents. It’s always other parents, other coaches, telling you that your kid is talented.

That’s when you know. We all love our children and want to tout them, but that doesn’t mean that they’re more talented than the next kid. As Brandon was growing up, he played baseball, he played basketball. Every sport he participated in, he was always a starter. There was no bench time. So as a parent, you start to see a trend developing.

As a divorcee raising two kids, coaches started coming up to me and helping me, asking how they could help me get Brandon to the games because he was such an important part of the team. Based on all of those things, I started to get the idea that maybe his talent was a little more developed than some of the other children.

And he has a very high athletic IQ. If you saw him in a baseball uniform, you would think that was his primary sport. If you saw him in a basketball uniform, you’d think that was his sport.

In about fifth grade, I started seeing signs of him really caring about his school work and understanding that his grades mattered. With the combination of all of those things, that’s when I started getting the idea that there may be something brewing here. I’m not saying he was perfect, but in the sixth grade he got straight A’s in every class during the school year. That’s when I realized we were going to do something. So the seeds were planted around then.

What drew coaches to him was his humility. He was always just wanting to be out there and having a good time. He wanted to help the other kids if he could. He was never a guy who was beating his chest. He’s been that way since he was a child.

There was a lot of baseball. Football was something that Brandon used to take a break from baseball. August would come around and he would be facing the prospect of “fall ball.” So he took a break by playing just small town football. There was no Pop Warner or anything like that. It was just too much for my schedule as a nurse with all the baseball.

JP: What factor or factors made Brandon flip from Penn State to Notre Dame?

HW: Here’s the thing. We were very inexperienced in all of this. Yes, by the ninth or tenth grade, it seemed highly probably that he would play football in college, because that’s when he started getting offers. We don’t have anybody in our family, no legacy, who has played college athletics. So we didn’t really have any experience to draw on with this whole recruiting thing. So we went into the whole thing pretty green.

I always reference our friendship with the Fitzpatrick family, and Minkah‘s mom was a wealth of information. She knew all of this stuff. She really guided us, as did his high school quarterback coach — Madei Williams — who played for Syracuse.

Madei was a good source of information, because he had gone through the recruiting process. It was different, but he’s not that much older, so he was able to shed some light on a lot of the stuff. So along with Minkah Fitzpatrick being so highly recruited, they all kinda opened my eyes and said “this is going to happen.”

So when the offers started coming in, it was fast and furious. I’ll be honest. I didn’t know much about the history of Notre Dame. I didn’t know a lot about the history of any college football to be honest. When you are raising two kids and working 12-hour shifts as a nurse — days, nights — you just don’t attach yourself to much outside of your immediate responsibilities. At least that’s how I am. So once everything started happening with Brandon, I knew I had to get myself more educated.

Sending him to Saint Peter’s Prep was one of the best decisions I ever made. They produce good young men. So his high school coach there had a good relationship with a lot of college coaches and a good relationship with Notre Dame. Even though he was verbally committed to Penn State — which also would have been a good situation for Brandon — he started to learn a little more about Notre Dame’s history and tradition.

I think he was very impressed with how the coaches ran the program, and it reminded him a lot of how his high school program was run. Something really impressed him, because it wasn’t easy for him to decide to make that change from Penn State to Notre Dame. And that’s the point where he started understanding that it was his decision and about his future. And that’s one thing I learned from other parents in the process — let your kids make their own decisions. Because if things don’t go their way, they can say “this is what I chose.”

JP: What is your impression of Brian Kelly as a coach and a mentor for your son?

HW: Brian Kelly is a tough coach. And he pretty much demands excellence. And I do think he wants his program run a certain way. I also think there are some influences at Notre Dame — and at any big program — that kind of impose on the program. Things like the contracts, their independence and just the fact that it’s Notre Dame.

It brings extra pressure.

When you’re the coach at a university like that and there are all these other surrounding factors, his job is hard. Therefore, there has to be a certain level of accountability on everybody from the coaches on down to the players.

I think Brandon and Coach Long are also working on a better relationship, because that was kind of fresh and new. And with Brandon being a first-time starter, that’s a lot of firsts to work with.

JP: How has your day-to-day life changed now that you are the mom of the starting quarterback at Notre Dame?

HW: It does not change your every day life. People are say “your son is the quarterback!” and yes, of course I’m proud. Every day I wake up and I’m proud of him. But I also work with physicians, and even though they are respectful about it, they tell me that their kids will never play that sport. And I get it, because a lot of them know what they know about the other side of the sport.

So sometimes it makes me a little uncomfortable and I won’t always talk about it. More than not, when folks find out, they are pretty excited. I was on a plane from Florida back to Atlanta recently and it came up in conversation with the passenger next to me. He said “I don’t think I’ve sat next to someone with this kind of notoriety. Now I have a reason to watch Notre Dame!”

But at the end of the day, I know this is a special time in our lives and why it’s so special is because there were no plans for this to happen. There was no talking about football since he was five and certainly not very many football camps before high school. Just a talented kid who happened to excel in football with the focus and discipline necessary to play at the next level.

Regardless of what happens, his life is going to be great. And what he’s done with this opportunity, I’m just in awe.

JP: What are your thoughts on both social media and mainstream sports media as far as what sort of things are said and how things are portrayed in regard to Brandon?

HW: I understand it now. I didn’t understand it when it all started. There is a t-shirt that says something like “the two hardest jobs are being the Pope and being quarterback at Notre Dame.” I always wondered what that meant. I understand now.

But now, watching him go through this, I believe — barring illness — this might be the toughest thing he has to deal with in his life. He might be able to overcome every single challenge because of this. It’s been a beautiful life, and that’s mostly because Brandon has done everything that’s been asked of him. And what I know as a mother is that when he is not doing well, it’s not because he’s not trying. He never wants to under-perform. He’s never wanted to under-perform all his life. And for the most part, he has performed to standards.

What breaks my heart a little bit is that people just don’t know him, and so much of the judgement is based on what happens on a football field. And that’s what hurts you as a parent. You know who your child is from the day they are born. And they come to a certain place in their life, and it’s a blessed situation. But then you feel like they are breaking down your child after you’ve worked so hard to build that child up and get him to a certain place.

It’s not like he’s not trying. It’s just that sometimes things just don’t go right on a football field. So it’s just sad to know that after everything he has done and is doing, it’s football that puts that dent, that one negative in his life. I just don’t like that this thing he can’t control is putting a dent in an otherwise pretty good, productive life.

JP: In addition to what you’ve already said, what other advice do you have for parents of young athletes and athletes themselves who are on the path to playing Division 1 sports?

HW: I can’t say it’s all about faith, because not everybody believes. But for me, faith was important. I do believe Brandon has a strong base of it (faith), and that’s a big part of what helps him navigate this thing.

I think that they need to raise their children with humility. Because I believe if Brandon wasn’t a humble kid, he would be struggling with a lot of the outside noise. If you think you’re the greatest thing on Earth, and then something happens to make you take a tumble, it’s a bigger ladder you’ll need to climb to get back to where you were.

Enforce and reinforce that humility. Have your kids learn discipline early.  Teach them independence, because when they leave your home, they lose that protective covering. It’s now them and the world.

With Brandon, I’m here, he’s in South Bend. I don’t know what he’s doing. I don’t know what he encounters. I can have an occasional phone call with him, but he’s on his own and needs to know how to conduct himself as a man. So that foundation you build while the kids are at home better be pretty strong.

JP: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me, and we are all hoping for the best for Brandon and the Irish this season.

HW: One last thing I want to share, as the mother of No. 7. These are the seven things that No. 7 has done recently that I am most proud of:

  1. Earned his football scholarship to Notre Dame, which really is valued around $300,000.
  2. Accepted and enrolled into the Mendoza College of Business as an accounting major.
  3. Became the starting quarterback at Notre Dame in 2017.
  4. Completed two internships — one at KPMG and one at Accel.
  5. Finished a record-setting season in 2017.
  6. Studied abroad in Russia.
  7. Membership in the Notre Dame Monogram Club

Next. What Is Brandon Wimbush's True Ceiling?. dark

I also want to let your readers know, if they have any questions or comments about anything I’ve said, they are free to “at” me (@wimbush_heather).