Kenny Menchy, Tommy Reese and the epic end of the 2023 QB recruiting cycle for Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN: Kenny Menshee sat in the visitors’ locker room at Father Ryan in September, waiting for the lightning delay that halted the first big game of his senior season. After starring in the Elite 11 Finals over the summer while sharing the stage with fellow 2023 prospects Dante Moore, Jackson Arnold and Christopher Vezina, this was the kind of night he was meant to show he belongs with these high-ranking players.

But Nashville weather patterns wouldn’t cooperate, sending both teams indoors during the third quarter and sending Menchy searching for his headphones. While the rest of the Pope John Paul II roster tried to burn off nervous energy until the game resumed, Menchi held his own.

“I’ve inserted his ear buds, he doesn’t (twist). He’s always locked in,” said receiver Colin Cook. “Everybody freaks out, trying to get ahead on a Friday night. Kenny is sitting there, being Kenny.”

When the officials called both teams onto the field after a 90-minute wait, Menchy collected the starting offense and led with his words. Arm drive will come later. For the player who doesn’t talk much, who’s been coaxed into embracing everything else that comes with being a quarterback, that kind of leadership has been progress. So was the fielding performance that came after: Pope John Paul II torched Father Ryan, 49-35, and Menchy finished 11 of 15 for 292 yards and five touchdowns.

Minchey connected with Cook for a 52-yard touchdown on the go as Minchey threw a pass over Cook’s right shoulder under pressure. He hit Josh Melander, a receiver who moved from California to Tennessee this past January and joined Pope John Paul II because of Minchey, on the move for a 37-yard play. Melander caught a 55-yard touchdown over his right shoulder in tight coverage as well, plus a 57-yard score for good measure.

“The throws he made in that game left me wondering if he was the best quarterback in the country,” said Andrew Park, offensive coordinator for Pope John Paul II. “that was good.”

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Reese has been in love with Minchey since the day he first worked at summer camp 18 months ago. At the time, the Irish staffers tuned Minchey behind Moore, Arnold and Vizzina on the hiring board. But the Irish stayed connected as Menshey committed to Pittsburgh, Arnold committed to Oklahoma, Vezina committed to a Clemson recruit, and Moore took a tough detour from South Bend. If CJ Carr’s 2024 four-star commitment and potential reclassification ends Notre Dame’s opportunity at Moore, it won’t turn the Irishman away from Minchey, who plans to sign with Notre Dame on Wednesday.

But Notre Dame had to give Menchy back to the Irish.

There are a few resources about Pope John Paul II to keep this interest alive, but not many. The former Irish Golden Tate walked out of the program 16 years ago, when he was a teammate of current head coach Brian Snead. Tate Snead actually called Notre Dame a win over Boston College during his junior year. A Catholic school background helped too, but Minchy didn’t grow up quoting “Rudy.”

Minchey wasn’t looking to make a change, either, not after Pitt just appeared as a first-round draft pick, Kenny Pickett. Across town, Menshey has been training with QB Country Thomas Morris, who has worked with former Irish starter Drew Payne, who transferred from Notre Dame after the regular season and committed to Arizona State this week. Basically, if Notre Dame is going to beat Minchey, it needs more than its brand name.

“Being Notre Dame is not the reason he went there,” Park said. “He was really comfortable with Pete and comfortable with those coaches. The other schools that came to our school when he was committed to Pete that were top class like Notre Dame when he was committed to Pete, he didn’t give them the time of day.

“I don’t know what Notre Dame was about, but I do know it wasn’t just the name. That’s not why he went to school there.”

Tommy Reese had just given up.

No matter what has happened in the recruiting cycle so far or how much Notre Dame’s field product has demanded an improvement in the position, the offensive coordinator didn’t want to take a quarterback just to fill a locker. The Irish still have Tyler Buechner, Steve Angeli and Payne on the list. Carr was a long-running play. The upcoming conversion that winter was already a priority. That’s all Notre Dame can do about urgency without an immediate opening.

Reese has been in contact with Minchey since he offered it to him in July, before the start of a dead period, which meant the quarterback had to wait to see South Bend even if he wanted to visit. And it wasn’t clear that Minchi wanted that look anyway.

Finally, Reese finally sent a text in November that felt both despondent and practical.

What does it take to get you here on an official visit?

Notre Dame’s recent winning streak, including a blowout of No. 4 Clemson that preserved the season, may have helped. And maybe Menchie’s special season made him think of something other than Pittsburgh. A week after such a dominant performance at Father Ryan, Menchy suffered a shoulder separation against Independence while trying to reach the ball over the goal line after a spin. A defender drilled Minchey in the back of the right shoulder, putting his big season on a turn.

Minchey missed the next six games before returning to the playoffs, picking up a win in the opening round over Briarcrest before going unresponsive in the second round against Brentwood Academy in a loss that ended Minchey’s prep career. Three days later, Menchy was discharged from Pittsburgh. Three days later, Menchie accepted Reese’s invitation for a state visit, which unofficially concluded his recruitment to Notre Dame.

“I think with his injury, I think he’s had more time to think about things and how it’s a big decision,” Snead said. “I think that played it up a little bit. It’s a huge decision. And he felt good, and he felt good about it.”

Reese had kept Notre Dame in the running in part because the Minchey he saw in November was an improved version of the player he had worked on two summers earlier. At just a few inches taller and over twelve pounds heavier, Minchey had the production to back up his potential. Minchey threw for 3,280 yards and 32 touchdowns in his entire junior season. His senior year ended with a completion rate of nearly 70 percent and a 15-to-3 ratio from touchdowns to interceptions.

In between, Minchey blossomed into the Elite 11 Finals in California, which bumped him up as a three-star prospect and helped launch Notre Dame’s bid and interest from other Power 5 programs looking for an assisting quarterback. Minchey won the Elite 11 Pro Day event and finished among the top 11 quarterbacks at the show, along with Moore, Vizzina, and Arnold. Menshi no longer saw himself as a cut short of the national elite.

It was the national elite.

“I think that’s what he got out of it,” Park said. “I don’t know if it’s validated or not, but that might be the right word for him. Validated by what he believed in all along, that he could play at that level. Your understanding of where to go with football is elite,” I told him. He understands where football needs to go and when football needs to go there.”

Next month, that decision-making process will take Menshey to Notre Dame as a mid-year affiliate, as part of a recruiting class that will finish in the top 10 nationally in Marcus Freeman’s first full rotation. He will be joined by a top 100 running back (Jeremiyah Love) and three four-star receivers (Braylon James, Rico Flores and Jaden Greathouse) as an Irish stock for their biggest offensive needs. Minchey may not have been Notre Dame’s first choice midfield when this cycle began, but it’s hard to say he wasn’t the best during the extended run.

Turns out, he wasn’t always the first choice for Pope John Paul II. But maybe that’s part of the appeal.

Before Snead became head coach for Pope John Paul II last winter, he was the program’s defensive coordinator for six seasons. This means that he trained against Minchey before anyone outside the program knew who the quarterback really was. Too often, Sneed has watched Minchey beat a starting defense, a perfectly timed cornerback run here or a second-level throw on a linebacker there.

The staff thought enough about Minchey that he was in something of a quarterback competition his sophomore year, but the elder Sawyer Watts won it. However, what Menci did with that information told the coaching staff that his time was coming. And it was just a matter of time.

During rehearsals, Minchey would stand behind Watts and turn mental reps into physical reps. When Watts took a shot, Menchy mimicked it. As Watts worked through his lead, Minchy’s eyes would follow.

“He’s been preparing like he’s been a top-level quarterback in college since his sophomore year,” said Snead. “That mentality is what I think sets him apart from some of these other guys, and then his arm-and-over talent is a great combination. He’s probably the one who watches the movie the most on the team.”

Five games into that season, Watts went down with an ankle injury. He never got his job back. In his second, Minchey upset Montgomery Bell Academy, starting big tight end Zach Herbstreet and quarterback Marcel Reed, a four-star who flipped from Ole Miss to Texas A&M this week.

“He turned it on, dude,” Cook said. “That was the biggest game, there was Kirk Herbstreit, and there was a whole bunch of people watching the game. Throwing it off one leg. Dude’s been doing the same thing since middle school, and now he’s finally getting the spotlight.”

“Everyone looking at it was so amazing, but hell yeah, we finally get to play football. Let’s go. Sixty-yard bomb touchdown. I think he got Tennessee the next week. He definitely got out of that game, sure.”

Pope John Paul II’s staff had thought they had something special in Menchi before that night, they weren’t sure it could be that good so quickly. When Minchey was that good, they stuck with him because of that talent and the fact that he never stopped being the quarterback who upped his mental reps.

During game weeks, Park will meet with Minchey on Mondays to discuss the game plan during study hall or lunch. Then comes the practices. On Friday mornings — the two had a running joke about meeting at 7:14 a.m. — Park Minchi would ask what he wanted to keep in the game plan and what he wanted to get rid of. But Minchey has to defend decisions either way, which means he has to get a handle on the game plan before adjusting it.

“I’m going to trust him because I’m the guy who gets out there and plays,” Park said. “From a high school standpoint, his knowledge of film study and reading defense is really good. Accuracy, arm strength. It’s really impressive.”

Kenny Minchey’s real appeal to Notre Dame is what’s under the hood. The Irish wouldn’t have pounced on Minchey without all of his raw abilities: throwing a 50-yard pass with a flick of the wrist, and choosing which shoulder to lay a path on. But it’s the movie junkie, soccer nerd, that’s got Minchey over the top.

“You look at him on the coo, guy’s got seven hours of movie watching. He just loves it. The more movies you see, the better prepared you are,” Cook said. “He finds joy in tearing apart teams and killing them on a Friday night.”

That sentiment will be telling Notre Dame starting next month. In the end, Kenny Menshey may be the quarterback the Irish need and want, even if getting to that point hasn’t been a straight line.

(Photo by Tommy Reese: Robin Elm/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


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