SOUTH BEND, Ind. — As expected, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly named Everett Golson his starting quarterback on Wednesday. But Golson began to take hold of the Irish offense long before an announcement that was more of a formality than anything.
Golson was re-admitted to Notre Dame last December and re-joined his teammates in January, and everything he did from that point on convinced Kelly he was the right man for the job.
"When you look at making that decision, I'm using from January through right now as the basis of that decision," Kelly said. "So winter workouts, how he handled himself with the team workouts, his spring practice then his leadership in the summer and then camp here, I think he's put himself in a position to get that opportunity to be our starter against Rice."
While Golson was the front-runner for the job from the moment he set foot back on campus, he and Kelly insisted there was a quarterback competition with sophomore Malik Zaire the challenger. Technically speaking, there wasn't an incumbent given neither Golson nor Zaire played in 2013.
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But Golson established himself as a leader over the last seven months, especially during seven-on-seven scrimmages during the summer. That's where Golson said he really felt the leadership aspect of his game take off, as he organized things and made sure the work was effective.
"I take that responsibility that this is my team, and I'm responsible for the actions and the performance of my team," Golson said. "I think in 2012, we had guys — Zack Martin, Manti (Te'o) — that it was hard for me to crack into that top level being that I was young and it was my first time around. So two years later, it's just completely different. It's really a 180 in that respect."
It's not leadership in which Golson has improved. His knowledge of Notre Dame's offense is far greater than it was two years ago, when he "rode the bus" to the BCS Championship, as Kelly put it.
Armed with that better knowledge of the offense, Golson is primed to be the kind of playmaking quarterback Kelly has wanted since he came to South Bend — the kind of guy who can push the offense to win games instead of relying on the defense. While Golson doesn't have the knowledge base of Tommy Rees, he doesn't necessarily have to be able to make the kind of checks and pre-snap calls Rees did.
"He can run our offense and run it effectively," Kelly said. "Tommy Rees has an incredible knack of understanding football from a different level. You don't need that to be a great quarterback. Everett possesses some of the other skill sets."
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Barring an injury or an unexpected drop in production, Golson will be Notre Dame's guy for Week 1 and beyond. Zaire will continue to push Golson in practice — "this job is not something solid," Golson said — but this won't be a two-quarterback offense.
Golson is Notre Dame's quarterback, and that's been apparent for quite some time. But given his 2013 exile from campus and still having to win his job back, Golson said being officially named Notre Dame's starter is a significant personal achievement.
"In that regard it is an accomplishment knowing everything that has transpired, with me getting suspended to me coming back and battling with Malik for a while there," Golson said. "It is a sense of accomplishment, but my mind is so set on moving forward and what's next that I'm just trying to get ready for Week 1 and prepare to the best of my ability."