Golson ascending again while handling bumps in the road for Notre Dame

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Everett Golson’s re-entry into Notre Dame this semester as a quarterback and a student coincided with his first plunge into social media.

Impostor accounts bearing his name, but with zero actual connection to him, had existed for years, even being quoted by some media when Golson made headlines last May by exiting the roster for academic misconduct.

“I just wanted to get myself out there, voice my opinion, have my own identity,” said Golson who created @Everett_Golson5 in February.

“It’s a funny story, right when I was getting my Twitter, one of the fake accounts actually got me suspended (from Twitter). I was like, ‘I guess I can’t be me or something.’ ”

The senior-to-be with two seasons of eligibility laughed in part because he was able to resolve it and has accumulated more than 7,300 followers in about 50 days, and laughed in part because it’s one of the more benign twists on his road back to trying to become the Irish football team’s starting quarterback.

Not everybody loves a good comeback story.

“There’s been bumps in the road,” Golson acknowledged Friday. “I think that’s on any journey, though. You’re going to have some trials you have to get over, but that’s a part of your maturing as a man. There have been some bumps in the road, but nothing I couldn’t overcome.”

The climate has been far more welcoming inside the football cocoon itself.

There, with 12 of ND’s 15 allotted spring practices now in the books, Golson’s biggest challenges have been digesting the huge chunks of new playbook, tweaked philosophy, new offensive coaching lineup and structure — and handling a brash, workaholic understudy in sophomore-to-be Malik Zaire.

“I think all of those guys — going back to Tommy Rees, Andrew (Hendrix) — I think those guys had that confidence,” Golson said of the push from Zaire. “I think Malik expresses it a little bit more. That’s him.”

So who is Everett Golson now, less than a week away from the spring wrap-up, the annual Blue-Gold Game, Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium (12:30 p.m. EDT; NBCSN)?

“Expectations for me, more than anything else, were attention to detail, taking care of his academics and making sure he was a good teammate,” Kelly said of Golson’s repatriating process. “And I think he’s met all of those expectations.

“I knew the football — he was a year away from it — and what we’re doing offensively, this year is new math for him. I knew there was going to be a learning curve there, and I think he’s making really good progress from that standpoint. So he’s met those expectations.

“I think the team has embraced him. He’s obviously got a very likable personality. Everett’s never been a polarizing figure within our football program other than he’s the quarterback at Notre Dame.”

But Kelly doesn’t want Golson — and Zaire and incoming freshman DeShone Kizer, for that matter — just to be the quarterback at Notre Dame. He wants a difference-maker at the position. He just doesn’t expect to see it until August, once they stop drinking from the fire hose of new information and have a chance to refine it all.

“I get a little bit impatient at times,” Golson said “You kind of just want it now. But it’s a process, and I like where our team is going.”

Consistency is the baseline in the spring, so much so Kelly sounds like he’s copyrighted the word and gets royalties every time he utters it. In August, Kelly will press Golson to be dominant occasionally, if not regularly.

The 2012 version of Golson was the nation’s 62nd-rated passer nationally that season, throwing for 2,405 yards and 58.8 percent accuracy, and was ND’s most prolific runner at the QB position (298 yards on 94 carries) since Carlyle Holiday amassed 666 yards in 2001.

The now 6-foot, 200-pounder was listed 15 pounds lighter then, but was closer to 30 pounds more frail by season’s end. His intangibles were a mixed bag, with improvisational skills largely getting a thumb’s up and leadership traits getting a shrug.

Even though Kelly has not dubbed Golson the team’s No. 1 option officially, he wants the Myrtle Beach, S.C., product to act like he is in practice and off the field.

“He knows he’s got work to do in that area,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to run as much 11-on-11 real football in our spring as possible, because our quarterbacks need that. They’ve got to be able to take control of the offense, and we’re trying to put them in as much of a control position, if you will.

“And those are the things he needs to work on. He wasn’t very good at them in his first year here. That’s where I think he’s making some progress.”

That includes when nobody is watching.

During the school’s oddly placed spring break, which created a two-week gap between practices No. 2 and 3 this spring, Golson stayed with family in Chicago to get a change of scenery but not in mind-set.

He regularly worked out at Elias Fitness Training in Highland Park, Ill. — the same facility where exiled ND wide receiver DaVaris Daniels is trying to orchestrate his own comeback.

“I was still training, still keeping my mind focused,” he said. “I didn’t really get away in that sense.”

While he was really away, during his university-imposed suspension last fall, the biggest strides he made while working with private quarterback tutor George Whitfield came in the form of footwork, fundamentals, film study and — most dramatically — his ability now to stand at the line of scrimmage, look over a defense and play chess.

He’s just doing it now with a lot of different pieces. The only player who lined up regularly as a starter on either side of the ball during ND’s run to the title game in 2012 and who also ran with the 1s in practice last week other than Golson was cornerback KeiVarae Russell. Russell also happens to be arguably the most impressive Irish player this spring and the one who can cause Golson the most migraines in practice.

Golson gets hit with plenty of friendly fire too, though, in just working through timing and chemistry issues with the athletic, swift and deep — but streaky — group of wide receivers.

“Each one of them has a different skill set,” Kelly explained of the learning curve. “Will (Fuller) feels like he can beat anybody vertically, so his tendency is to take his corner route to the pylon. He’s thinking speed, where Corey (Robinson) is thinking leverage and body and leveraging out a defender. So he’s trying to work the sideline a little bit more. So his route bends a little bit more toward the sideline.

“It’s getting a feel for each one and how they run a particular route. As much as we would like to stay consistent with how they run the route, there’s those little nuances that you have to work out.”

Golson also had to work through the angst of coming back and resisting the urge to do too much, too soon.

“I think practice (No.) 1, I remember I was very anxious,” he said. “It was kind of a big moment for me just to be back out there. I think now, I’ve settled down and just honed into my craft and what coach Kelly wants to do with his offense and what we’re tying to accomplish this year.”

Golson is prepared for the distractions to intensify in the fall, especially on the road, from people who want to rub Golson’s face in his past.

“Obviously, opinions are going to be out there,” he said, “but you can only control what you can control. That’s where I am on that.”

Where is also back at Notre Dame, ascending again and taking nothing for granted.

“The goal I set out on coming to Notre Dame (was) graduating from Notre Dame,” he said. “I have tremendous support from my family. My grandma is a big advocate of me really graduating. She doesn’t really care too much about the football side. Her thing is me graduating, so that’s one of the reasons I came back.

“I definitely value my education here. Being (away), you got the chance to see the opportunity you do have here at Notre Dame. So I value it a lot more.”

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson appreciates and plans to make the most of his second chance after sitting out the 2013 season because of an academic misstep. (South Bend Tribune/ROBERT FRANKLIN)