SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly made his decision Tuesday night to start Everett Golson, but the first player he told was Malik Zaire.
Before Wednesday's practice, Kelly informed Zaire that Golson would be Notre Dame's starting quarterback. Kelly's decision, while an expected one, ended the competition between Golson and Zaire with Zaire facing a season backing up Golson.
After telling Zaire, Kelly was pleased with the response from his sophomore quarterback.
"I got the right answer from Malik. He wasn't happy," Kelly said. "If he gave me a hug, I'd be very disappointed. He went out, practiced well and he wants to be the starter here and he'll keep working to be a starter."
Zaire said in March he wasn't viewing things as a competition between him and Golson — instead, he viewed the competition as an opportunity for him to better himself "so they don't have a choice but to play me."
Still, no matter how many strides Zaire might have made in the last few months, he didn't have any starting experience and is only a sophomore. Those facts put him behind Golson from the beginning, even if neither player saw a single down of football last season.
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In an ideal situation, Notre Dame would blow out a number of opponents this fall and be able to get Zaire his first collegiate snaps in garbage time. Don't expect to see Zaire enter games for a few running plays, as Andrew Hendrix did a few years ago. There isn't a separate package designed for him, given he and Golson have the ability to run the same offense.
"Everett would play unless he was injured and couldn't answer the bell," Kelly said. "So we're not looking to play two quarterbacks. We've got one starter."
For now, Zaire's work in practice as well as his experience in two Blue-Gold spring game scrimmages will have to do. He'll prepare to enter a game if Golson gets hurt, which should keep him more in tune with things than he was a year ago — when Kelly admitted he and his coaches lost Zaire a bit as a third-stringer.
Eventually, Zaire's time will come. If it's in 2014, it'll be under circumstances Kelly and Notre Dame would rather avoid. But it's worth noting there was enough of a belief in Zaire that Kelly didn't immediately name Golson the team's starter upon his return to campus.
And the guy who beat Zaire for the No. 1 job offered up a recommendation, too.
"Malik is a tremendous quarterback," Golson said. "I think when he does get on the field he's going to shine."