Dissecting the detoured dreams of past Notre Dame QBs
The staggering number of detoured dreams of Notre Dame quarterbacks didn’t faze Brady Quinn as much as the fact Everett Golson is one of them now.
Not that the impending transfer, now sifting through his options for a soft landing, won’t be able to resurrect success somewhere else this fall. It’s just that Quinn still saw Golson very much as the best fit at QB for ND and vice versa, until Thursday’s announced exit.
“He’s the more polished, the more experienced among the two quarterbacks, between him and Malik Zaire,” said Quinn, currently a college football analyst for FOX Sports and formerly the starting QB at Notre Dame from 2003-06.
“Everett has got a tremendous amount of upside, a ton of ability. When you watch him, he seems to get the ball out quicker. He goes through his reads quicker, and that comes with experience. His decision to leave Notre Dame at this stage surprised me and made me sad.
“He had so much promise and has been through so much. I would have liked to see what he could have turned all that into for Notre Dame this fall.”
Instead, from the Notre Dame perspective, he becomes a statistic, and a stunningly predictable one at that.
Of the 24 scholarship quarterbacks the school has signed since iconic coach Lou Holtz walked away following the 1996 season, only three of those QBs exhausted their college eligibility, at Notre Dame and as a QB.
Quinn, Evan Sharpley and Tommy Rees are the three. Golson could have been the fourth. The three remaining recruited QBs on the Irish roster — Zaire,
redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer and incoming freshman Brandon Wimbush — are still in play.
But of the 21 QBs who preceded them in that stretch, beginning with Zak Kustok’s signing in 1997 under Bob Davie, 18 have either transferred, switched positions or both — or, in the case of Jimmy Clausen, left with a year of eligibility on the table.
Not one of the 11 previous to Golson to transfer has ended up being drafted into the NFL, though Cincinnati redshirt junior Gunner Kiel seemingly is on a trajectory to buck the trend. And just one of the position-switchers, QB-turned-receiver Arnaz Battle, had an NFL career that came about via the draft.
Golson also adds to a high transfer rate among a segment of early enrollees at ND.
None of the first eight such players, comprising three classes (2006-08), ever defected. Nor have any of the 11 players in the three most recent classes so far.
But in the groups who early enrolled from 2009-12, eight of the 16 players left ND before their eligibility expired, seven stayed and one remains up in the air (suspended defensive end Ishaq Williams).
As far as the quarterback trend at ND, Quinn sees it as the convergence of a national quarterback culture, increasingly preoccupied with NFL futures, and the unique pressures of playing the position at Notre Dame, that have helped drive the numbers in a direction that alarmed ND coach Brian Kelly when he first arrived in South Bend.
“It’s just so much more of a focal point than it is other places,” Quinn said of playing QB at Notre dame. “Other places have big names, but they’re regional. Notre Dame is international.
“And when you think of all the greats who have ever played at Notre Dame, and regardless of how their career went in the NFL, with the exception maybe of Joe Montana, with every single one of them, you think of them as a Notre Dame man ahead of anything else.
“With that kind of recognition, that kind of following, comes more scrutiny. And it’s something that you can’t hide from, unlike at some other places. You have to face it and deal with it.”
Or try to find a kinder, gentler existence somewhere else.
“You throw on top of that the national trend,” Quinn said, “where a lot of these kids, they come in from high school and they’re highly touted. They don’t want to sit and wait for it. They don’t want to have to learn behind someone else.
“They want to be able to get on the field right away, play, and give themselves the best chance of being able to go to the NFL. And anything that threatens that gets them thinking about transferring.”
Because Golson is a grad-school style exemption, with an ND degree in hand by next weekend, he doesn’t have to deal with the one-year, sitting-out period usually required of FBS-level football transfers.
The rule was conjured and enacted to create educational opportunities, but increasingly it has led to a sort of free agent football market, and NCAA statistics show that 40 percent of the football players using it leave their new school and its graduate studies program after the first semester there.
In the Kelly era, safety Avery Sebastian from Cal becomes the third incoming grad-school style transfer, in June, following walk-on punter Alex Wulfeck (Wake Forest) and cornerback Cody Riggs (Florida). That compares with 14 outgoing users of the rule, over the same time period, before Golson and center Matt Hegarty announced their intentions to do so.
Riggs, however, not only will get his master’s in business management next weekend, he will have accomplished that in one calendar year.
“There’s a strong case to be made for staying and not transferring,” said Quinn, who points to current Buffalo Bills QB Matt Cassel as an example where staying put paid off.
Cassel’s only collegiate start at USC came as an H-back. The two-sport star (he pitched a season for the Trojans’ baseball team) spent most of his football career as the backup QB to Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart — and yet he still got drafted (seventh round, 2005).
And had a longer pro career than Leinart. And was a Pro Bowl selection. And has thrown for more than 15,000 yards in the NFL.
Quinn said he never seriously considered transferring himself, though he was initially disillusioned when the man who recruited him, Tyrone Willingham, was fired as head coach after his sophomore season. Then after Quinn’s junior season, there was a pull to go pro early.
“To be blunt and honest, my family wasn’t in the best situation financially at that time,” Quinn said. “I would have, without a doubt, been able to help them and their particular situation much faster and probably save them a lot of stress.
“But there’s no doubt in my mind it was the best decision for me to stay. I wanted to stay and get my degree. That was a goal, and I didn’t want to have to come back and finish once I left Notre Dame. And I really enjoyed playing for coach (Charlie) Weis.
“I came to Notre Dame to win a national championship. I had one last chance at it. I thought I owed that to myself, to coach Weis and my teammates.”
Even though Quinn believes Golson was ND’s best option in 2015 to make a national title run, he said there’s a lot to like about the new No. 1, Zaire.
“He lacks experience, but what he lacks in experience, he makes up for in decisiveness,” Quinn said. “One thing I think he does a fantastic job of is with their zone-read schemes. When he runs, he runs. There’s zero hesitation. That’s something he did better than Everett.
“As far as passing ability, I think Everett probably had a little bit better arm than Malik, but I think Malik probably has better touch. Malik, to me, is a much more refined passer in the way he uses the trajectory of the football, the way he changes arm angle.
“And one thing maybe people take for granted in the big picture, Malik doesn’t lack confidence. If you’re going to be Notre Dame’s quarterback, you’ve got to be confident. You’ve got to be able to fight through all the adversity, any of the whispers when things aren’t going your way.
“If you are having a bad practice or a bad game, you’ve got to be able to fight back, and that confidence will help him do that.”
• Quinn on the biggest adjustment Golson will face at his new school: “It’s chemistry with the receivers.
“I think he’ll be able to pick up a system. I think he’s an intelligent enough young man, he’ll be able to figure that out. And look, the college schemes aren’t as complicated as they once were.
“When I was playing, there were a lot of pro-style systems. Charlie’s first playbook he gave actually said ‘New England Patriots’ on it. In these offenses today, the quarterback doesn’t dictate quite as much. Everett will be fine as long as he finds time on his own to throw with his new receivers outside of what’s required.”
• Quinn on whether the NFL is still an option for him: “I’m trying to figure that out at the moment. In order to make sense, it has to be the right situation.
“Last year’s deal with Miami, where I was kind of being sold one thing on the way in and being told a different thing on the way out, just kind of poisoned my overall feel about it. I don’t want to walk in and just be a camp arm or something like that.
“I want to get actual reps that mean something, have an actual chance to showcase my skills, or it’s really not going to be worth looking at.”