SOUTH BEND – Perhaps the only thing more crowded than the Notre Dame quarterback meeting room was the casting call for the GoDaddy.com commercial shoot with supermodel Bar Refaeli. However, fourth-year Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly welcomes the competition, and more importantly, admires those that don’t fear it.
The Notre Dame 2013 roster already featured four scholarship quarterbacks, but that didn’t stop Kelly from bringing in a fifth earlier this week when he signed Malik Zaire out of Kettering, Ohio.
“I think what I loved about Malik is when he came up here last spring, he sat in our quarterback meeting room, and in that meeting room you've got some really good quarterbacks,” Kelly explained, “when he left that meeting, he made it clear to me that this was the place he wanted to be.”
The Irish were led to its best season in decades this past year by a first-year quarterback in Everett Golson. After throwing for over 2,100 yards and 11 touchdowns (as well as rushing for five more), Golson might be of the opinion that the starting quarterback job is unquestionably his.
But Kelly made it clear recently what his philosophy is in regards to starting jobs.
“You know, one thing that we do a very good job is that we play a lot of guys, and we don't just say there are 11 guys,” Kelly said. “As you saw this year, we played a lot of guys. But I will tell you this; We're also going to put the best 11 on the field.”
That is where Gunner Kiel enters the picture. Or Tommy Rees. Or even Andrew Hendrix. Or – and maybe it’s a long shot – Zaire.
“Malik loved the opportunity to come in and run the offense, and that's looking at great competition and saying ‘I don't care about that, I'm going to come to Notre Dame because it's the right place for me academically, and it's the right place for me because I'm going to be the starter here at Notre Dame.’ We love those kind of guys that have that attitude.”
Kiel gained experience this past year while running the Irish scout team, but after being regarded by many as the nation’s best prep quarterback in the class of 2012, Kiel will want an opportunity to start.
Rees was the ideal “relief quarterback” in 2012, as he filled in for an inexperienced or injured Golson at times and played well. His role probably won’t change during his final season in South Bend next fall.
Like Kiel a year ago, Zaire graduated from Archbishop Alter High School a semester early in order to get a jump-start on his collegiate career. And he has acclimated well to Notre Dame and Kelly likes his potential – regardless of the existing players ahead of Zaire.
“He loved the environment (of Notre Dame),” Kelly said. “He loved the coaching. Malik has obviously showed himself at that high level in camps that he went out and really excelled in. He can throw it, he can run it, he's got great versatility at the quarterback position, and he's a really, really smart kid.”
However, whether that “smart kid” made an intelligent decision remains to be seen.
The race is on
Here’s a look at the five Notre Dame quarterbacks that will vie for playing time during the 2013 season:
* Everett Golson
Sophomore (eligibility), showed skill and toughness this past season in going 10-1 as a starter. Has strong arm and great mobility. Not a big guy (6-foot, 185 pounds) and that, coupled with his running, could lead to being injury-prone. It would shock the college football world if he isn’t starting next season.
* Gunner Kiel
Freshman, gained experience in leading the scout team on a daily basis (as Golson did a year earlier). Big, physical player that is more of a pro-style quarterback than Golson. Has mobility. This spring will be very significant for Kiel to show Kelly that he can lead the Irish offense. He’ll probably be utilized in specific packages next season by Kelly.
Senior with tons of experience. Might be the perfect back-up given intelligence and experience. Very limited mobility and lacks arm strength. Only scenario where he would play would be an injured Golson, coupled with an ineffective Kiel.
Senior with little, but some experience. Very mobile, but lacks accuracy and arm strength. Will only be utilized – if at all - in specialized packages that call for a quarterback to be a run threat.
Kelly loves his athleticism and confidence. It took confidence to sign with Notre Dame, because Golson was really good this year and he isn’t going to the NFL early. Will probably follow the path of Kiel and Golson and spend 2013 on scout team and look forward to getting a serious look in the spring of 2014.