Elite 11 culture impacts Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Malik Zaire wasn’t at Nike World Headquarters to dispel any notions about his ability to the throw the football. In fact, Notre Dame’s starting signal caller wants the stigma of being a run-first quarterback to follow him a little bit longer.

“I can’t control people that have that tag on me,” Zaire said Tuesday on his final day as a camp counselor for the finals of the Elite 11 national quarterback competition. “I hope you keep telling the right people that because by the time we play these teams and they study up on me thinking I’m just running, then we’ll surprise them. I hope you keep telling them that all I can do is run. It’ll make my job and my life a lot easier so we can throw it against good looks.”

Rather Zaire chose to spend a few days of his summer in Oregon to be around a culture that helped shape him as a high school star. Before his senior season at Kettering (Ohio) Alter, Zaire competed in the Elite 11 Finals in 2011.

The Elite 11 program, which claims Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger as some of its NFL alumni, is coached by Super Bowl XXXV champion quarterback Trent Dilfer with the help of a staff focused on physical and mental development on and off the field.

“With Elite 11, going through the high school experience was everything to me because I knew that all the best guys were going to be here. I wanted to be a part of that because I wanted to beat those guys and be a part of that fraternity,” Zaire said. “Rodgers was a part of it. That’s my favorite. All those guys who have been through here, I knew that was the step that if I knew I could cross and pass and take that next step, that I’d be able to find my way to where I want to be.”

Zaire, on the cusp of becoming the full-time starter at Notre Dame as a redshirt sophomore, was selected as one of eight current college quarterbacks to help mentor the 18 finalists this year. He was joined by Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, USC’s Cody Kessler, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici, Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs, and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.

“This is the pinnacle of football,” Zaire said. “For me to be able to get the opportunity to come out here was everything to me because it shows how far I’ve come since I was a participant in it.”

The counselors were assigned campers to mentor but were also asked to compete. Bercovici won Tuesday’s throwing contest between the counselors, but Zaire made a strong impression. While the other counselors were tossing footballs to get loose, Zaire left the field to get a run in to warm-up.

Then while the other college quarterbacks were taking reps or watching, Zaire was practicing his dropbacks and mimicking his mechanics. He couldn’t stand still.

At times, it was hard to distinguish if Zaire as a camper or counselor. He threw passes with the high school quarterbacks wearing a nondescript gray shirt and closely followed the huddles while his mentees, Stanford commit K.J. Costello and Oklahoma State commit Nick Starkel, completed seven-on-seven drills. Zaire worked up quite a sweat while some of the other counselors were standing and observing.

Before heading back to South Bend late Tuesday night, Zaire called his trip a success. Both Costello (No. 2) and Starkel (No. 9) earned spots in the top 11 heading into Tuesday’s competition.

“I attribute that to our group being so game-ready and passionate and having that competitiveness to want to go out there and win,” Zaire said. “We broke it down on ‘ICE’ every day which is ‘I Complete Everything.’ It worked out for them and I saw the impact I made on those guys.” | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire served as a counselor for the Elite 11 Finals in Beaverton, Ore. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)