Notre Dame great Thom Gatewood gives Malik Zaire rave review

IRISH STEW

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Earlier this month, Thom Gatewood — one of the top wide receivers in Notre Dame history, and a 2015 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame — returned to campus to participate in the program's annual fantasy camp.

And while he was there, Gatewood — who made a living catching passes from Joe Theismann — met and even played a little catch with current Notre Dame starting quarterback Malik Zaire.

Gatewood, of course, has a lofty resume of his own. The NFL alum left Notre Dame with a school record 157 receptions, a mark that stood for 35 years. He also led the Irish in receiving each season from 1969 to 1971 and was a consensus All American in 1970.

With a unique perspective of what it takes to be successful at Notre Dame, Gatewood sees a bright future for the Irish's junior quarterback.

Below is the full transcript of Gatewood's impression of Zaire. 

“I was impressed with his intelligence. It was unbelievable. He’s a really, really smart kid and very, very mature. He can handle success. I could see leadership in him, just working with those campers, just how he took the ball and did things on his own. A lot of that stuff is scripted, but he was having fun, showing guys, ‘I have ability, but I know how to relax.’ He was poised. He was mature. Just having a normal non-football conversation with him, you could pick up how intelligent he is. That just means that he has the ability to learn. He’s open to learning, and you need that.

"I think he’s going to have great success, because being the guy in charge and having the respect of your teammates is a must, and he has that at such a young age. A lot of times you don’t achieve that until you’re a junior or senior. Him being so young, he’s a great kid to be handing the ball to. I enjoyed meeting him and being around him. I think he’s going to have one great career, and I’m not even talking about his speed and his ability to throw the ball.

"Just being around him, you could feel it. You could see that he was very comfortable in his own shell. With that pressure of being out there in front of 85,000 people, having been out there I know exactly what that’s all about. I tried to talk to him about my days out there. The position I played as a wide receiver, being what was called a ‘possession receiver,’ everybody in the stands and everybody on the field knew they were coming to me (on third down). Whether you’re being singled, doubled, tripled, whatever the defense is, all eyes are on you and you have to deliver. Well, the quarterback gets that every down. I would feel that on third down. This guy has that pressure on all four downs, to perform under pressure. Those were the kind of conversations that he and I were having, about that mental toughness. Sometimes, that’s not coachable. You have it or you don’t. That’s the make-or-break. That separates the big guys from the average guys.

"(Joe) Montana, playing at Notre Dame, led all those comebacks. That was mental toughness. I don’t necessarily think he was the fastest guy or had the strongest arm. Theismann didn’t have the strongest arm when I was there. He developed a stronger arm really in the pros. By the time I was done, he was 220. When I met him, he was 165 pounds. There wasn’t that much zip on the ball, but he was accurate. He would throw it to an area and get it out there. But he was a leader one way or another, because his ego was in check and he would tell people what to do and how to run their positions. We would tell him, ‘Hey Joe, why don’t you just play quarterback?’ He would tell us how to do our thing.

"He’s (Zaire) going to be an unbelievable quarterback. I think he can definitely handle the pressure. It’s going to be fun to watch him.”

Stay tuned for a full story on Thursday on how Gatewood's legacy may continue at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame’s Malik Zaire (8) runs past Matthias Farley (41) during Notre Dame's Blue-Gold spring football game on Saturday, April 18, 2015, at the LaBar Practice Complex on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN