Analysis: Sizing up QB Everett Golson's future at Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Everett Golson knows what life after football looks like, or at least what his plan for it does.

The Notre Dame senior quarterback, with a fifth-year option to play college football in 2015, will be a music producer someday, he is convinced, and at some point expanding that into being a financial adviser for professional athletes on the side.

“At Notre Dame they teach you if the league (NFL) happens, fine, but plan for if it doesn’t,” Golson told the South Bend Tribune in an interview last June.

If only the next steps in his football future were so clearly defined.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly took a stab at it Thursday afternoon on ESPN’s SportsCenter during his multiple appearances on the network on location in the Dallas area.

Oddly, but perhaps predictably, it didn’t create nearly the buzz generated nationally by a runaway, unsourced story out of New Orleans on Monday, that never gained corroboration and picked up plenty of credible denials, that Golson allegedly reached out to LSU about a possible transfer.

That’s not to say Golson, who finished the 2014 season in a QB time share with sophomore Malik Zaire, won’t eventually explore other options for his fifth season of eligibility after spring practice concludes and after he picks up his diploma in May.

Here’s how Kelly is framing Golson’s future at ND at the moment.

“I’ve talked to Everett,” the coach said Thursday on ESPN. “Everett needs to come back and go through spring ball. He’s ready to compete, and he will compete in the spring.

“He’s going to graduate in the spring, and that’s going to allow him to leave his options open. But I expect him to be back (for the fall of 2015) and competing for the starting position.

“Both of them (Zaire and Golson) will have an opportunity. I’d love to see both of them on the field for us. I think we can play them both.

“Everett’s got a chance to win the starting position. I know he expects to be the starter in the fall, and he’ll have the opportunity to do that.”

The months in between figure to be flush with speculation, much of it baseless and unchecked.

Here’s what we do know for sure about Golson:

1. Notre Dame’s own QB history feeds the conjecture.

Starting with Zack Kustok in 1997, 20 scholarship quarterbacks have matriculated to Notre Dame since the end of the coach Lou Holtz Era who have no remaining college eligibility.

Of those 20, one left school early (Jimmy Clausen) and 16 others either switched positions, transferred or both.

Brady Quinn, Evan Sharpley and Tommy Rees are the three exceptions. Golson, quarterback No. 21 in that lineage, would make it four if he stays. Zaire and freshman DeShone Kizer (QBs No. 22 and 23) remain on that trajectory as well.

Of the previous three Kelly QB recruits at ND who had a fifth-year option, none of the three chose to spend it in South Bend. Luke Massa, already converted to wide receiver and holder on place kicks, pushed into the working world.

Dayne Crist (Kansas) and Andrew Hendrix (Miami, Ohio) used the grad school-style exemption to transfer without having to sit out a season.

2. Russell Wilson is a cautionary tale

To this day, Wilson can recount the exact date (April 27, 2011) that then-North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien told the three-year starter that it was time to move on and that the Wolfpack coach would be promoting Mike Glennon to the top of the quarterback depth chart.

Full disclosure, O’Brien wasn’t enamored that Wilson was dabbling in minor-league baseball, but Wilson’s numbers heading into his final season of eligibility were similar to Golson’s in some respects and worse in others.

He completed 58.4 percent of his passes with a 127.5 pass-efficiency rating with 28 passing TDs and 14 interceptions in 2010.

Golson, meanwhile, finished 30th nationally in passing efficiency this season at 143.6 (Zaire in a small sample — 35 attempts — was at 133.3). Golson completed 60 percent of his passes with 29 TDs and 14 interceptions.

It’s not as if Wilson’s successor wallowed. Glennon played well enough over two seasons to become a third-round NFL Draft pick. But Wilson, after strongly considering following Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton at Auburn for a transfer landing spot, picked Wisconsin.

There, he set the NCAA record in 2011 for passing-efficiency with a 191.8 rating. The 5-foot-11 Wilson, who went on to lead Seattle to a Super Bowl victory last year, completed 72.8 percent of his passes with the Badgers and threw 33 TDs to four interceptions.

Kelly admitted last November he thinks Golson has the potential to be a top 5 quarterback nationally. But as a coach, you have to weigh potential against production, because some QBs never arrive.

Golson’s 22 turnovers constitute the wild card.

But given the fact Florida State’s Jameis Winston committed just two fewer and had a similar pass-efficiency rating to Golson (145.54), the question is with better offensive line play and without the November collapse of the Irish defense, would those 22 turnovers be viewed differently or maybe have been smaller in number?

And ultimately the most critical question — is it a fixable problem?

3. Golson has never run away from adversity

Once Golson’s teetering academics eliminated him from a chance to be ND’s changeup quarterback in 2011 as a true freshman and Kelly planted him on the scout team at midseason, everything was working against him toward having any chance of being the starter in 2012, which is precisely what happened.

Not only was Golson not learning the Notre Dame offense on the Irish demo squad, there were weeks when he wasn’t even playing quarterback. Sometimes he was a running back. For USC week, he was to emulate Trojan star receiver Robert Woods.

There were voices around him attempting to coax him to look around for a situation with a cleaner path to the top of the depth chart and with less demanding academics. Golson didn’t trust those voices. Instead he trusted his work ethic. And got in the film room of his own volition in the offseason to put himself in position to compete in the spring of 2012.

“I guess that’s just the beauty of playing quarterback,” Golson said. “There’s something you could always do better and get better at mentally.

“Take one of the greatest, Peyton Manning, he’s still always studying and he’s pretty smart. He knows a lot of football. But that goes back to him studying a lot and preparing.”

When Golson, in May of 2013, was suspended for academic misconduct, one of the first things he did was issue a statement resolving to not only return to ND, but to return as a better player and as a better person. Then he went out and lived those words.

Actually, running away is nowhere in his past. He thanks his oldest brother, Edwin, for that.

“He was very hard on me, growing up, especially on the basketball court,” Golson said. “He taught me everything’s not going to be good, and that you have to endure through it. It’s kind of programmed into me now. It’s who I am.”

What we don’t know is who Malik Zaire is, though Kelly has a much better feel for that after the sophomore surged in December and didn’t wilt the first time the bright lights came on.

But if 2014 taught us anything, short stretches can fool us. The narrative can change overnight, and dramatically.

We also don’t know how Kelly will stir team chemistry with these two uncomfortably complementary parts. As outwardly confident as Zaire is, Golson is every bit as much inwardly. In December it brought out the best in each of them and their team. Over a longer stretch, it could become toxic.

Or not.

The biggest, most compelling, question, though, is what if the two QBs emerge from spring in a dead heat? Knowing Kelly, that’s the scenario he’s most likely to present to the outside world.

And it’s the question no one knows the answer to, not even Golson. But he knows he won’t arrive at that point without a fight.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame’s Everett Golson looks to pass during the Notre Dame-Northwestern football game on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, inside Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN