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SOUTH BEND – Nearly 15 months after being suspended from Notre Dame due to an academic snafu, Everett Golson has come full circle.
The junior was named the starting quarterback for the season opener against Rice by Brian Kelly at a press conference on Wednesday.
The game on August 30 against the Owls will constitute 600 days between starts for Golson, who last started in the BCS Championship Game against Alabama on Jan. 7, 2013.
“Everett is the starter for Rice and we hope he is the starter for the entire year,” Kelly said. “But we have to win and Everett knows that.”
Golson battled with sophomore Malik Zaire throughout the spring and into fall practice for the starting position, with Zaire clouding the spot after a standout performance in the Blue-Gold Game in April.
Kelly said he made the decision not just on the last few weeks of camp, but dating all the way back to when he was reinstated to the University in December.
“Everything from winter workouts to how he handled himself with the team through the spring, summer and fall, that all went into the decision,” said Kelly about Golson.
Kelly spoke with Zaire first about the decision on Wednesday morning.
“I told Malik first and let him know what his situation was and I got the right answer from Malik, he wasn't happy,” Kelly said. “If he gave me a hug, I would have been very disappointed.”
Two primary factors went in to the final decision.
“Everett's understanding of the entire offense, not singular plays but the entire offense,” said Kelly when asked why he chose Golson. “I think it was more understanding of the bigger picture and his leadership.”
Golson threw for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns against six interceptions in the 2012 season and added 298 yards and six scores rushing. He feels this second time being named the starter for the Fighting Irish holds greater responsibility than the first.
“This is my team and I'm responsible for the actions and performance of our team,” Golson said. "I think in 2012 we had guys (like) Zack Martin and Manti (Te'o). It was hard for me to crack into that top level being that I was young and it was my first time around.
One quarterback only
Kelly on Wednesday dismissed the notion that there would be separate packages for Zaire – such as the Wildcat – to get the sophomore on the field.
“(Zaire) can run our entire offense,” Kelly said. “There is not a play that he can't execute that Everett runs.
“We won't have two call sheets.”
Zaire displayed his ability to handle the Notre Dame offense and its idiosyncrasies when he shined in the Blue-Gold Game in April, going 18-of-25 for 292 yards and two touchdowns while showing some scrambling skills.
Kelly said Wednesday those skills helped make the quarterback race a close one for a time, and that Zaire “just needs snaps” to improve his game.
If or when Zaire enters the lineup this season for the Fighting Irish, he will be running packages out of the same playbook as Golson.
“We all know that we run a spread offense and we run the quarterback, and that puts the quarterback in a position where he could get hit,” Kelly said. “We better have a quarterback that can go in there and I'm confident if Malik goes in there he can run our offense and we can win with Malik running the offense.”
Special teams ace?
A year ago, true freshman James Onwualu found his way onto the field for Notre Dame mainly as a special teams contributor, eventually finishing with six solo tackles on the year.
On Wednesday, Kelly identified Carroll High School product Drue Tranquill as the freshman at this point in training camp appears to be in position to see action on all four special teams units.
Tranquill is projected as a safety this season, but with a stacked depth chart at the position will be hard-pressed to see the field on defense. Instead, it appears as if 6-foot-1, 225-pound frosh has opened some eyes in special teams drills.
We are ND— Drue Tranquill (@d_TraNquill) August 12, 2014
Around the gridiron
At this point in camp, sophomore wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. is the only player suffering from a significant injury. His groin injury may keep him out for Rice … True freshman Andrew Trumbetti is currently slotted as the starting weakside defensive end opposite Ishaq Williams … linebacker Jarrett Grace is inching closer to a return from a leg injury, Kelly described him Wednesday as “a couple weeks away” … true freshman Greer Martini in position to give Bishop Luers product Jaylon Smith some rest when needed at Will linebacker … true freshman Jonathan Bonner has worked his way into the two-deep along the defensive line.