During the coaching tenure of Frank Leahy, Notre Dame attracted a ridiculous number of top players. Leahy had so much talent that there was no room for a future all-time college and NFL great (Art Donovan), who Leahy discouraged to return to ND after he had been an honored WWII veteran.
Also, after the war, Joe Keenan, a former ND interhall player went to the University of Wisconsin where he became team Captain and MVP. During the Leahy years, many ND players who were back-ups became long time NFL players.
I was doing some checking of ND’s 1948 quarterback situation. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lujack had graduated, but ND had two outstanding QB’s in Frank Tripucka and Bob Williams. Williams gets my vote, along with Jarious Jackson, as being the most under-rated great ND QB’s. Williams would be returning for 1949, but who was going to compete to be his back-up’s?
The freshman QB’s in 1948 were Dick Balka, Chuck DePrekel, Jay Gebert, Jack George, John Mazur, Tom O’Connell, and Tony Rados.
Mazur turned out to be Leahy’s top guy and was the back-up in 1949 and 1950 before becoming the starter in 1951. Balka, DePrekel, Gebert, and Rados never suited up for the Irish. Balka turned up as a two-year starter at the University of South Carolina, perhaps handed off there because former Rockne star Rex Enright was coaching the Gamecocks. DePrekel graduated from ND and eventually became a teacher at St. Francis Xavier High School, in Petoskey, Michigan. He started their football program and coached multiple sports there. Gebert was the son of Frank Carideo’s back-up QB in 1929. Al Gebert later became the all-time winningest (68-40-6) football coach (by far) at Wichita State. Jay’s son, Chris, played briefly as a Purdue QB. Tony Rados became a three-year starting QB for Penn State. Not a bad line-up for failed ND QB’s!
What about Jack George and Tommy O’Connell?
When I was a kid, I remember reading an article about Jack George, perhaps in SPORT Magazine. What a great magazine that was! The story referred to him as “the player with three first names”……..John Edward George. Jack was a terrific three sport athlete in high school, when he enrolled at ND. One of his bios claims that he was at D.C.’s St. John’s Military Academy, during 1948-1949, but he was clearly at ND. Jack did not beat out the stellar QB talent in football, but he did make a name for himself in Interhall Basketball, being named to the 8-man Interhall All Star Team, along with Rados, his QB rival, and Football star Chet Ostrowski. Jack played for Farley Hall, the campus champion.
The 6’2 guard would go on to make an even bigger splash in basketball. He left ND for LaSalle University, where he became a star, before having a fine 8-year career with the Philadelphia Warriors and New York Knicks. In 1955-1956, he led the NBA in minutes played, and collected a triple double, which was not common in those days. He made the NBA All Star team that year, during which the Warriors won the NBA Championship.
How’d O’Connell do? According to the Notre Dame Scholastic, in April, 1949, he was in a close battle with Mazur for the top QB spot. In September, the Scholastic indicated that Tommy had been behind Mazur and was now playing for the University of Illinois. He quarterbacked the Illini to the 1951 Big Ten Championship and a 50-7 Rose Bowl win over Stanford in the first college game ever televised nationally.
After Illinois, Tommy had a five year NFL and AFL career, interrupted and cut short by injuries. He succeeded Otto Graham and QB’d the Cleveland Browns to the 1957 NFL Championship Game, leading the league in passing and being selected to the Pro Bowl.
So the ND QB frosh in 1948 had five QB’s who started for top college teams and one guy who starred in the NBA. Hard to imagine any frosh QB lineup being any stronger!