Notre Dame football: Zaire makes bid to be Irish QB

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He can knock you over with his ambition, decidedly pungent andbuilding by the day.

Malik Zaire, after all, is a player who looked over the Notre Damedepth chart last fall, saw a quarterback who projected to be afour-year starter and another dripping with five-star hype, and neverconsidered backing off his commitment to the Irish.

Now one of those hurdles (Gunner Kiel) is gone for good, and the other(Everett Golson) will sit in escrow in 2013.

Suddenly the reality that the burly 6-foot, 208-pound freshmanquarterback from Kettering, Ohio, tried to force-feed those around himdoesn't look quite so surreal anymore.

Not that it's probable that Zaire will end up as Notre Dame's startingquarterback when the Irish open the 2013 season with Temple on Aug.31, or sometime later in the season, but at least the possibility isin play in the mind that matters most -- ND fourth-year head coach BrianKelly.

Kelly said Tuesday that each of the three QB holdovers -- seniors TommyRees and Andrew Hendrix, as well as Zaire -- would be given a chance totake over where university-suspended redshirt sophomore Golson leftoff.

So how does Zaire put himself in position to make that happen?

It starts with the Notre Dame playbook, says former Irish quarterbackEvan Sharpley, currently the fitness director at Eastlake AthleticClub in Elkhart.

"Whether you have the best skill set or not, if the coaches put you onthe field, they're going to want you to be able to perform what theywant to do with the offense," Sharpley said.

"That being said, if his skill set is over and above what the otherquarterbacks' are competing with him, he'll still have a shot of themfinding a way to get him on the field, but it probably will be with amore limited offensive package."

Enrolling early and getting to be part of the spring installation ofthe offense is a decided advantage, Sharpley said.

In a limited sample size, the numbers bear that out. Since the NotreDame admissions office recalibrated its stance on early enrollment in2006, Zaire became the 10th quarterback overall to join the Irish andfifth QB to enroll early and get an extra spring practice in.

While early enrollment overall has produced a mixed bag of results whenall positions are considered, it's been a distinct advantage for QBs.Of the four other early enrollees, only Kiel did not eventually becomeNotre Dame's starting quarterback, and one could argue the Universityof Cincinnati sophomore-to-be never gave himself a chance. Golson,Rees and Jimmy Clausen all took ownership of the job either as truefreshmen or redshirt freshmen.

Of the five who didn't enroll early -- Zack Frazer, Demetrius Jones,Dayne Crist, Luke Massa and Andrew Hendrix -- only Crist went on tobecome a sustained No. 1 QB. Jones did make one start, but his reignat the top of the depth chart ended at halftime of his starting debut.

"The mental side is going to be his biggest adjustment," Sharpley saidof Zaire, "and let's hope he can make that adjustment, because I thinkthe offense needs that spark."

So far, the mental side is where Zaire has made huge, almostunprecedented, strides, though he has been frustrated at timesthings haven't fallen into place faster.

"I think coach Kelly feels awesome about Malik compared mentally toprobably anybody hes coached," Irish offensive coordinator andquarterback coach Chuck Martin said. "He's made the comment to me, 'Wow,that kid really picks up things.' Now can he put them into place whenhe goes out there? He can't yet do that all the time, but when you havea conversation with him, he's understanding things at a rapid rate."

"Obviously, coach (Kelly), 23 years of quarterbacks, he's seen a lot ofthem come and go. That's what I keep telling (Malik). If Brian Kelly isimpressed with how quickly you're adapting and picking up things, you'vegot to take some solace in that. You feel a little bit overwhelmed andyou want to build Rome in a day, and that's not how it is."

"But we love that about kids that are competitive that really want itto happen today."

It's a familiar script for Zaire, who ascended to the varsity at Ohiobig-school power Archbishop Alter prior to the start of his sophomoreseason and nearly took the starting job away from a senior who had ledAlter to the Division IV state title the season before.

"It was a tribute to him that he was able to push as hard as he did forthat starting spot," Atler coach Ed Domsitz said, "because it wasuncertain until just before the season started."

When Zaire did get his chance to start, as a junior and senior, Alterwent a combined 20-2. His charge was to toggle the Knights between awishbone option offense under center and a spread passing offense,using the shotgun.

"There's no question that the Notre Dame offense is more sophisticatedthan our offense," Domsitz said. "But I think what Malik was asked to dofor us will help him at Notre Dame. In our offense, you have to read.It's a progression type of read, and he got very good at that."

"He could check down. He knew where the receivers were. There were anumber of times he would dump the ball off to maybe his thirdreceiver, and I think that helped him."

"I think one of his great strengths is he can make something out ofnothing, like Everett Golson did for Notre Dame last season. Therewere a number of times that happened for us. Nobody was open. He wasgrabbed, spun around and he would take off. And all of the sudden we'dhave 15, 18 yards, maybe a touchdown.

CBS recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said, though, there is such a thingas giving a quarterback too much, too soon. He said the Irish andClausen would have both been better served if Clausen didn't startuntil he was a sophomore.

"Golson was a more accomplished passer coming in than Zaire, and Golsondidn't play until his second year," Lemming said. "He's got a good arm andI think he's got unlimited potential, but I think the best fit for thisseason might be to get him on the field but in a package of plays as areliever, not as the starting quarterback."

Zaire has 93 days to convince Kelly otherwise, most of which will bespent out of the coaching staff's site per NCAA rules regardinginformal summer workouts.

"We are very encouraged and believe he's got an opportunity to have agreat future," Kelly said. "It's really too early to tell (if that futureis now). He's got a lot of work left, but early indications are wereally like what we see in this young man."

Staff writer Eric Hansen:

ehansen@sbtinfo.com

574-235-6112

INotre Dame recruit Malik Zaire.