Eric Cavaliere has never had it so good as Oak Ridge High School’s football coach. He enters his 14th season at the helm of the Trojans after claiming his first Sac-Joaquin Section championship in 2019. One of his prize pupils, Ian Book, is the starting quarterback at Notre Dame. And his current quarterback, Justin Lamson, was voted the All-Metro Player of the Year by the Sacramento Bee as just a junior.
Life is going so well for Cavaliere that the 1987 Vacaville High School graduate can afford to take it easy occasionally. He did that one recent morning, relaxing in the football bleachers at Oak Ridge with flip flops on his feet and a few weeks of growth on his face, to watch a handful of quarterbacks toss passes to receivers.
In that group was Book, who is working out in his old stomping grounds after the coronavirus led Notre Dame to cancel classes on campus and spring football practice. He was joined by Lamson, who is having a difficult time with social distancing because he wants to hear any wisdom Book is willing to share. Book has no problem with any player, even an eighth-grader, wanting to work and pick his brain.
“I know what it would have meant to me when I was their age,” said Book, who is returning for a fifth year at Notre Dame after throwing for 3,034 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2019 as the Fighting Irish finished 11-2 by winning their last six games in a season for the first time since 1992.
Cavaliere and Book went out for lunch after that workout. Their conversation ranged from the Book family dog Duke to Book offering his thoughts on Lamson and Oak Ridge’s prospects for the 2020 season. Book frequently checked his phone for updates on Duke, which was bitten by a rattlesnake on a walk with Book’s father Rich. Book breathed a sigh of relief after learning just one or the snake’s fangs sank into Duke’s nose.
Comforted by the good news, Book shifted gears to football by asking Cavaliere about one Oak Ridge player after another. Book has followed the Trojans from afar and knows who’s who on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Cavaliere never ceases to be amazed by Book’s vested interest in Trojans football.
“Here is the quarterback at Notre Dame going into his final season and Ian knows the names of the guys on our team,” Cavaliere said. “He’s got plenty of things to think about, but he takes a lot of pride in our school. He’ll always be an Oak Ridge Trojan. He wants us to do well. He wants our team to kick butt.”
Cavaliere takes great pride in having played football at Vacaville High and hopes his players will be just as proud once their time at Oak Ridge comes to an end. “I want them to leave with that same kind of feeling regardless of our record or anything else. That’s always been of my goals,” he said. “This is a community school. We’re not a renegade school. We don’t have transfers coming here from all over the state, You have to live here to come here.”
Book has fond memories of being a three-year starter at quarterback for Cavaliere at Oak Ridge. The 22-year-old was weighing scholarship offers from Boise State and Washington State in 2015 when Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford left to take the same position at Notre Dame. Book went from nearly committing to Boise State because of Sanford to pledging he would play at Washington State.
Sanford apparently thought enough of Book in recruiting him to Boise State that he invited Book to visit South Bend shortly after he joined the Notre Dame staff. Book was returning from a cruise with his parents at the time, so they went with him from Miami to Notre Dame and a meeting with Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly. Book had little reason to think as a three-star recruit that Kelly would offer him a scholarship.
“I sure hoped for one,” Book recalled. “It was a good visit. I felt at home.”
Finding a home has not been as easy for Sanford, who left Notre Dame after just two seasons to become the head coach at Western Kentucky. He was fired by the Hilltoppers after two years and was Utah State’s offensive coordinator in 2019. Sanford then packed his bags again for the same job at Minnesota.
Brandon Wimbush has also been on the move, transferring from Notre Dame to Central Florida in 2019 after being supplanted by Book despite a 3-0 start in the 2018 season. The Fighting Irish went 11-0 in the regular season and earned a berth in the College Football Playoff. Book was no match for Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence in the Cotton Bowl. Lawrence threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers rolled to a 30-3 rout. Book passed for 160 yards and was sacked six times.
Notre Dame is 19-4 with Book as the starter, and he deserves to be credited with a 20th victory after bailing out Wimbush in the 2018 Citrus Bowl by lifting Notre Dame to a 21-17 win over LSU. Book was 14-of-19 for 164 yards and two touchdowns as Notre Dame won its first New Year’s Day bowl since 1994.
Book has come a long way since that difficult day in 2015 when he called Graham Harrell, who had recruited Book for Washington State, and left a message. Harrell replied with a text as Book was in a movie theater with a few friends. Book left the theater to call Harrell and renege on his verbal commitment.
To this day, Book does not remember the title of the movie or if he returned to the theater and rejoined his friends after making the call. “I was so rattled,” Book said.
Sanford and Book have gone their separate ways since Sanford asked Book to visit Notre Dame, but Book will never forget how he got to where he is today and the people such as Cavaliere and Sanford who paved the path for him.
“(Sanford) give me my shot. The relationship between us is still there. I will always appreciate him for the opportunity I got,” Book said. “I’ll talk a walk and think about how fortunate I’ve been. I do it a lot. I’ll go by the stadium at night after studying and think about how lucky I am.”