Notre Dame football recruiting: Game slows down for QB commit Kizer

South Bend Tribune

TOLEDO, Ohio -- DeShone Kizer bounced around in the pocket looking for somewhere to throw.

He stepped forward, then backward, then forward again trying to avoid a defensive end to his right and three defenders to his left.

He found an opening, rolled right and committed to trying to run for a first down. But when he noticed wide receiver Marcus Winters streaking past his defender down the right sideline, Kizer changed his mind. The 6-foot-5, 216-pound quarterback fought against his own momentum and threw a 40-yard strike from his own 20-yard line to hit Winters in stride on his way to a 79-yard touchdown reception.

With one throw, the senior quarterback who has verbally committed to Notre Dame, put his Toledo Central Catholic team ahead for good in a 21-14 victory over rival Toledo Whitmer.

“Marcus and I, we spend a lot of hours at practice messing around to figure out when I'm on the run what should he do,” Kizer said. “He knew that his guy was in front of him and he had to take off. I put the ball where it needed to be.”

Kizer’s passes weren’t so perfectly placed earlier in the game. With his team falling to an early 14-point deficit, Kizer’s first five passes fell incomplete. A combination of poor throws and dropped passes littered the stat sheet.

On seven pass attempts, Kizer threw one completion for zero yards. Rainy weather wasn’t helping, but it also wasn’t going away. The rain slowed at times throughout the game but never stopped.

“I thought I was going to have to make a lot more tighter passes,” Kizer said of his poor start. “So now I'm throwing balls and instead of putting some air under them, I'm throwing them at a rifle shot to guys in the wet rain where they're not going to make those catches.”

Kizer regrouped and called on advice given in a pregame speech from the school’s pastor. When in doubt, look to your teammates, give them the sign of the cross, and if they return the gesture, they’re still on your side, the pastor said.

“I came to the sideline and I looked at all my offensive linemen and let them know I'm taking credit for that whole first quarter,” Kizer said. “I said, ‘You guys keep doing your job.’ We gave each other the sign of the cross and we came out and battled."

Four straight Kizer completions led to an 11-yard touchdown pass with four minutes left in the first half. He led another drive in the final minutes that ended in a 3-yard touchdown pass with 8.9 seconds left to tie the game at 14.

Kizer took the blame for the slow start, but so did head coach Greg Dempsey. The fault mattered little in the second half when Toledo Central Catholic rallied.

“I think it's more I started slow. I don't know that it was him,” Dempsey said. “I'm going to take the blame for not putting him in the best positions early in the game. As we got a little more aggressive and used him to apply pressure, things started working better.”

Mastering an offense

Central Catholic’s offense has evolved around the athletic talents of Kizer.

The starting quarterback since his sophomore year, Kizer has seen a once run-dependent scheme morph into a spread attack using a no-huddle offense.

"Freshman year we were all under center. We were 90 percent run,” Kizer said. “Once I came over to the quarterback position, we decided to spread it out. We run an identical offense as the University of Toledo. We learned a lot from (Toledo head) coach (Matt) Campbell. We've become quite successful with it just like Toledo is."

Success hasn’t been lacking during Kizer’s career at Central Catholic. Last season, Kizer quarterbacked a 14-1 team to a Division II OHSAA state championship. He made the leap from high school quarterback to college prospect between his sophomore and junior seasons. Now as a senior, he’s working on making the leap to elite signal-caller.

A trip to the Elite 11 finals, a camp for the nation’s top high school quarterbacks led by former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, this past summer aided his evolution. Much of the camp time was spent sharpening the mental abilities of the quarterbacks.

“I think I improved 300 percent,” Kizer said. “After going to the Elite 11 and learning from the guys there, I learned so much more of the mental aspect of it that really carries over to now. Now instead of just knowing what Cover 3 is, I know exactly where everyone's going to be, when I need to hit the guys and having the timing right.”

His maturation and confidence have grown to a level needed to have a chance to make an impact at a college program like Notre Dame.

“I feel like I'm at a level that's a lot better than some of these high school guys now,” Kizer said. “I'm kinda competing with the defensive coordinators rather than competing with the guys on the field.”

This fall, he has started to see the knowledge he’s gathered in imaginary Xs and Os translate to opposing defenses

“Instead of reading all four guys, you know that you're going to cut off one side just because of the defense they're going to run,” Kizer said. “Now you're reading from one to two. It makes things so much easier. If one isn't open, you go to two. If two isn't open, you take off. It makes things so much easier and slows the game down tremendously.”

Central Catholic’s offense has become more of a conversation between Kizer and his coaches than something dictated from the press box or sidelines.

"We do so much more because of him it's not even funny,” Dempsey said. “He's matured so much. He's able to come back and tell you exactly what he's seeing on the field. He's even able to tell you when he messes up. He recognizes that. He recognizes when he's right. He's able to come out and say, ‘Try this. This looks good. I'm comfortable with this.’ It's amazing. It's like talking to an adult out there."

Finishing strong

Not much remains on the DeShone Kizer to-do list.

He has won a state championship and found his college fit with Notre Dame. A second title would allow him to cement his legacy as a difference-maker for Central Catholic.

In last year’s state championship game against Trotwood-Madison, Kizer completed just 5 of his 16 pass attempts for 50 yards. This season he’s making a more consistent impact on games. After finishing Friday’s game against Whitmer with 186 yards and three touchdowns on 10-of-23 passing, Kizer has tallied more than 800 passing yards and eight touchdowns (seven passing, one rushing).

As a senior, Kizer has put goals aside and stressed an emphasis on enjoying one final season and hopefully another run at a state championship. The victory over Whitmer can only be a good sign. Whitmer, a much bigger Division I school, accounted for Central Catholic’s only loss, a 42-0 drubbing, last season and won the four previous matchups between the two schools.

“I figured this year if you set the goals too high or too low, then it's not going to be a fun process,” Kizer said. “Last year, I set a state championship goal and we got there. This year I'm just focusing on winning every day. I want to make sure there's no practice wasted, there's no game wasted and there's no time spent with my guys here in my senior year wasted."

That means worrying less and less about college, except on Saturdays, when he’s analyzing Notre Dame’s offense while watching with his family. Once his quarterback brain starts churning, it’s hard to turn it off.

"It's kind of hard to enjoy watching a game. Now that I understand and I've studied their offense so much on my lonesome, it's pretty tough to watch the game and try to think as fast as Tommy's (Rees) thinking,” Kizer said. “When you're there trying to do everything Tommy does just from sitting at home, it makes things less fun. It's not as entertaining.”

Kizer, who hopes to attend the rest of ND's home games left in the 2013 season, has less than a year before he’ll be at Notre Dame soaking up the playbook and fighting to become the starting quarterback at some point in his career. Dempsey sees only more success waiting ahead.

"The way this has all ended, and it was a weird ride, has just been awesome,” Dempsey said. “He is the type of kid Notre Dame wants as a person and as a player for the big stage. He loves it. He's just a perfect fit there. I think it's going to be great for both.”

Notre Dame quarterback commitment DeShone Kizer threw three touchdown passes recently in a 21-14 win for Toledo (Ohio) Central Catholic over city rival Whitmer.