Reinstated QB Everett Golson front and center for Notre Dame football

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — He fielded questions for roughly 20 minutes Monday, looking decidedly thicker and more chiseled than when he fell through a trap door 10½ months ago, and sounding a bit more guarded for the experience.

A little while earlier, Everett Golson so wowed Brian Kelly on the first day of spring practice, that the fifth-year Notre Dame head football coach suspended his rhetoric, for a day at least, that his reinstated quarterback had walked into the teeth of a depth-chart battle.

And maybe if Golson had waited until Monday to start his road to redemption, that would have been the reality.

But the now 6-foot, 200-pound senior-to-be from Myrtle Beach, S.C., started those wheels in motion almost immediately after learning last May that he’d been banished from school and from the team for academic misconduct.

From that point forward, it wasn’t just enough to pick up where he left off — the No. 62 quarterback in the nation from a passing efficiency standpoint but one coming off a title game run with a 10-1 record as a starter that softened the underwhelming statistic.

Nor was it enough that his improvement be more rhetoric than reality, so often the case in second-chance stories.

That’s why he never lost touch with his teammates during his exile, why he never took third-party inquiries about a possible transfer seriously, why he invested in spending two months — and the financial obligation that went along with that — to sync up with quarterback engineer George Whitfield Jr.’s unorthodox and holistic methods.

And why he connected with deposed Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels roughly 10 days ago in South Bend to try to get the Irish football team’s latest academic casualty in a better place mentally.

“Just kind of encouraging him and letting him know everything is going to be fine,” Golson said of the suspended junior receiver who told last week he briefly but seriously considered entering the NFL Draft but that Golson was part of the allure to return for at least one more season.

“He’s good,” Golson continued. “He’s working out and doing his thing. And I just can’t wait to get him back.”

In the interim, Golson threw Monday primarily to receivers he’s never connected with in a game before and some he’d never even lined up with in practice.

Inside the cozy Loftus Center, with the outside temperature hitting a record-low minus-4 less than 30 minutes before practice started, Golson’s first play from scrimmage was a handoff to relative stranger Tarean Folston, still a senior at Cocoa (Fla.) High School when Golson was suspended.

Golson’s first pass in practice was a completion. He later copped to being overeager, but it rarely showed during the media window on Monday.

“Everett stepped in there, and the tempo of the offense was outstanding,” Kelly gushed. “It was, for a first day, really exciting for me to watch him get back in there and look as though he was with us last year.”

Kelly said he expects there to be some growing pains intermittently throughout spring with the timing with receivers, given that tight end Ben Koyack and wide receiver Chris Brown are the only players — until Daniels returns in June — that have caught a pass in a game from Golson (and each of them has caught only one).

He also expected some mental cobwebs, but was thrilled when Golson returned actually several levels ahead in that department than when he left.

“In some of the film study we did, there was definitely a conceptual awareness that he had lacked at some times in the passing game,” Kelly said, attributing the seismic bump to the time spent with Whitfield.

“There must have been some real good teaching there that has allowed him that opportunity, to come in here and have a better sense of everything.”

That includes throwing with the laces for the first time in his life. something that still feels awkward, but of which Golson finally sees the benefit.

“We actually sat down and talked about the actual science of being a quarterback and playing the quarterback position,” Golson said of Whitfield, “talking about the footwork, talking about the mechanics and different things.”

Golson said he plans to reconnect with Whitfield sometime in the offseason, but is busy now getting familiar with new ND quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, promoted offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and an offense that has a lot more vintage Kelly giddy-up to it.

“Nothing’s given to you,” he said. “It’s just me trying to get better myself and kind of hoping everything takes care of itself at the end.”

He knows he must be proactive, though, in some areas. Eventually, there will be hostile crowds on the road and toxic tweets in his inbox, now that Golson finally trumped a plethora of fake Twitter accounts (one of which had more than 6,000 followers) with an authentic one of his own (@Everett_Golson5).

Golson also believes he can’t goose-step around while waiting for those around him to anoint him as the face of the 2014 program.

“If the leadership ability is in you, it will show eventually when you’re called on,” Golson said. “That’s the spot that I want to be at and I was kind of born to be, I would say in a sense.”

He restarted that leadership process months before Monday’s re-unveiling by owning his mistakes.

“I regret it in the sense, but I think it allowed me to grow so much,” Golson said of his academic misstep. “M maturity level is really different now. I’ve had some time to really sit back and think about what I did and How I can move forward from that. So I think I’m a different person because if it. ...

“I think it really hit me, the first game (of 2013), the Temple game. I was actually in Chicago, and I saw them getting ready and getting geared up for the game. I was watching the game on TV, and I think that’s when it really hit me, that you’re not there anymore.

“So I went through that whole process of first feeling humiliated for one, but then coming back around to where I am now of me being back here and getting ready to go.”

And that includes in the classroom, where he described himself as “rejuvenated.”

Count Kelly in on that adjective as well, even after just one day. A man who came to Notre Dame with the reputation of maximizing talent at the quarterback position finally feels like the QB skill set, experience and surrounding cast have all finally aligned to possibly give him his first top 50 passing efficiency rating from a quarterback while at ND and his first top 40 scoring offense.

“Look, you’re offensive line has to play well,” Kelly said. “(They’ve) got to protect the quarterback. We’ve got run the ball effectively, take care of it. (But) I think we all know college football and where it is. The quarterback is really going to be the centerpiece of this offense, the way we run it. And it’s going to fall on him.

“And today was a very good day for him. ... We’re going to heap a lot on this kid’s shoulders, and he knows that. And that’s why he came back to Notre Dame, because he wants that opportunity. Clearly, he’s going to be the guy that drives this for us.” | 574-235-6112 | Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson listens to a coach during the opening day of spring football practice on Monday, Mar. 3, 2014, at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER