Everett Golson never doubted he'd be back in this position, donning a gold helmet and red jersey for the beginning of Notre Dame spring practice on Monday. Soon after his expulsion became public in late May of 2013, he affirmed his goal of returning to Notre Dame.
But after eight months away from campus and nearly a year removed from his last practice with his teammates, Golson took a step back and realized what he'd achieved.
“I want to say surreal in a sense,” Golson told reporters Monday. “I felt accomplished for a split moment that I went through what I went through and now I’m back and I’m moving forward now and still continuing that process of trying to grind and be better.”
Physically, Golson's added 15 pounds to his frame and said he feels a little faster, too. He's throwing with the laces now, a change brought about by quarterback guru George Whitfield, whom Golson worked with in San Diego last fall.
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But the most noticeable improvement he made in exile may be on the mental side of things. Golson referred to himself as a "film junkie," and coach Brian Kelly said there's a noticeable difference in communicating with him on the field and in the film room.
"There was definitely a conceptual awareness that he had lacked at some times with the passing game, and he clearly has that," Kelly said. "It's an easier conversation with him. … When he would explain his progression, it might take him 10 seconds -- well, you got 2.6 seconds to throw the ball. Now, he's precise in his communication as to what his progression is. That tells me a lot."
If this all sounds positive, that's because it very well may be, though we won't know if Golson's time away from campus will make him a better quarterback than if he had played last season with the Irish. Kelly said Golson "looked as with he was with us last year" and added he didn't feel as if a major knowledge gap existed because of his absence.
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But when asked if he regretted not being around South Bend last fall, Golson preferred to look on the bright side of things.
"I regret it in a sense, but I think it allowed me to grow so much," Golson said. "My maturity level is completely different now. I had some time to sit back and really think on what I did and how I can move forward from that. I think I'm a different person because of it."
Golson said he feels "rejuvenated" in the classroom and that everybody around campus -- students, teammates, professors, etc. -- has been welcoming of him.
Perhaps part of that reception is because Golson was up front about his goal of returning to Notre Dame. Heading to a junior college for a season wasn't an option, and any program that inquired about his availability was rebuffed through a third party.
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Golson declined to talk about the specifics of his expulsion, saying he'd prefer to only look ahead at this point. And what's ahead of him is a battle to win his starting job back over Malik Zaire. Getting his role back wasn't a guarantee, but that wasn't about to dissuade Golson from returning to Notre Dame.
"I knew I messed up," Golson said. "For me, I had to come back and complete what I kind of started."