Notebook: Kelly won't change his plan to keep Malik Zaire in the running

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

BRIDGMAN, Mich. — Everett Golson’s exodus last month shook up the Notre Dame quarterback depth chart, but not how head coach Brian Kelly plans to deploy the man now atop of it.

That’s even with a redshirt freshman and a true freshman as top backup options should an injury take out junior Malik Zaire, potentially the most prolific running QB at ND since Carlyle Holiday more than a decade ago.

“I think we have to play him to what his strengths are,” Kelly said Monday at Lost Dunes Golf Club, where his charity golf event, the Kelly Cares Invitational, was taking place.

“We’re just going to have to get a second quarterback ready. But we’re not going to play scared. We’re not going to play tentative. We have too many good pieces around our football team to take the quarterback position and wrap him in bubble wrap.”

Zaire rushed for 187 yards on 33 carries (5.7 per carry average) and two touchdowns in six quarters of meaningful downs, against USC and LSU, and a handful of mop-up cameos last season. He redshirted as a freshman in 2013.

Golson, who joins his new teammates at Florida State this month, totaled 283 yards for the 2014 season on 114 carries (2.5 per carry) and eight TDs.

But he fumbled 12 times, losing eight of those, some of which came on read option plays. Zaire has yet to commit his first college turnover of any kind.

Competing for the No. 2 spot this summer and into fall will be redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer and true freshman Brandon Wimbush, neither of whom is as adept at read option football as Zaire.

Wimbush, though, has the potential to do so when it comes to speed at least. He clocked top times of 10.8 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 22.3 in the 200 for his Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep track team this spring.

Zaire earned MVP honors in Notre Dame’s 31-28 upset of LSU, Dec. 30 in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., his first collegiate start. Tag-teaming with Golson in that game, Zaire ran for 96 yards on 22 carries with a TD and threw for another 96 on 12-of-15 accuracy against what was then the nation’s top-ranked defense against the pass.

The only thing that has taken Zaire away from the practice field during his time at ND was a bout of mononucleosis early in his freshman year. He never missed a game at Kettering (Ohio) Archbishop High because of injury — just a few series in one game.

“Injuries are part of the game, and we’re going to hope that he’s physically strong,” Kelly said. “He’s done a great job in weight training and putting himself in position that he can take what’s necessary to run the ball. But we’re not going to change what we think are his strengths and what he can do for our offense.

“We’ve worked too hard to this point to change now.”

Framing the Wallace departure

The only true pass-rusher in Notre Dame’s freshman class had a change of heart and ended up enrolling at Arizona State last month.

With Kelly’s blessing.

Bo Wallace, a 6-4, 215-pound defensive end from John Curtis High in River Ridge, La., has characterized the breakup as mutual, though he has been reluctant to elaborate.

“I think when it came down to it, probably just not the right fit for him, is what he communicated,” Kelly said. “I think the more he got a chance to just think about what his options were, it just wasn’t the right fit for him.

“I really like Bo Wallace a lot, as a kid, his family. He’s got very good parents, great integrity. We had no issues on our end. It’s just a matter of him wanting to pursue a different path, so we supported him on that.”

Dueling comebacks

Last year’s team MVP, linebacker Joe Schmidt, was held out of contact during spring practice as he continued to recover from his season-ending broken fibula sustained Nov. 1 versus Navy.

But per Kelly, Schmidt on Friday participated in the first of the team’s nine June OTAs (offseason team activities) and at full speed.

“Fully functional, out there communicating, like we probably all remember last year,” Kelly said. “Jarrett Grace the same way.”

Grace, who hasn’t played in a game since Oct. 5, 2013, did participate in the contact portions of spring practice and has encouraged the coaching staff that at the very least he can be a role player, if not compete for a starting spot.

Grace had his right leg broken in four places in that 2013 game against Arizona State, underwent two surgeries and pushed through numerous plateaus and setbacks on his way back. He was ND’s starting middle linebacker at the time of his injury.

Grace, in the spring, said his doctors told him there could be another level of speed and agility that would return to him in the summer months.

“We’ll all have a better feel as we get into more of our workouts,” Kelly said, “but the early indications are that that is a true statement, that there’s another level for him. And we think that he’ll be able to reach that.”

Giving thanks to Ara, Lou

A big part of the Kelly Care Invitational charity golf event Monday at Lost Dunes Golf Club was about remembering the Kelly Cares Foundation’s humble and ambitious beginnings.

And giving back.

Kelly Cares, the foundation started by Kelly and wife Paqui, used some of the proceeds raised Monday to donate $10,000 each to the foundations of former Irish football coaching icons Lou Holtz and Ara Parseghian.

“We support them, because they helped us,” Brian Kelly said. “When we came to town, it was Lou’s and Ara’s foundations that got us moving and gave us the momentum to let us find our way.”

The 92-year-old Parseghian accepted the check in person for the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation. The 78-year-old Holtz was unable to attend. Former Holtz Era standouts Reggie Brooks and Ron Powlus accepted on Holtz’s behalf.

Overall, the event at Lost Dunes generated $300,000 for Kelly Cares, now in its sixth year of existence.

The foundation's popular Football 101 event, for women only, will be held Tuesday on the Notre Dame campus. It is sold out.

“We’ve been blessed to put almost $2.5 million back into the community and different programs since we’ve started.” Paqui Kelly said, “and we continue to be very busy and continue to raise funds for whatever we need to do.

“The need is always going to be there, so that drives us to work harder.”

No second thoughts

Kelly likes to do most of his position-switch experimentation during spring practice, but sometimes reviewing spring has prompted more moves heading into summer.

Not this time.

“We wanted to have all that done, so we could move into fall,” he said.

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Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Monday that Everett Golson's transfer won't alter his plans to use Malik Zaire (8) prominently in the Irish running game. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)3/18/2015: 3/18/2015: no caption, story head: TACKLING QB DELEMMA Notre DameÕs Malik Zaire (8) tries to break away from LSUÕs JamalÊAdams (33) on a run during the Music City Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN via FTP