Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer exudes veteran composure

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — In the week leading up to his first career start, DeShone Kizer dodged an obvious truth.

Notre Dame’s redshirt freshman quarterback, who rescued the Irish in a thrilling road victory over Virginia the week before, veered around social media land mines. He shunned headlines that tethered Notre Dame’s fate to his inexperienced right arm. He tried desperately to act like nothing had changed, until reality berated his ear drums.

But at 3:45 p.m., as he trotted onto the green turf field and his name was announced to a boisterous sold-out stadium, the truth was overwhelming.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been saying all week that I’m trying to take myself away from it and block it out,” Kizer said of his new role as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. “That kind of hurt me, because when you block it out and not think about it, it all kind of jumps on you at once.

“That was a surreal moment. It all really just fell onto me (when they announced my name). Once I got out there and got a couple snaps and communicated with the line and saw that everything was going to be all right, the comfort level definitely went up.”

If the moment was bigger than Kizer, though, he didn’t show it — not when he completed his first pass to Alize Jones, not when he hurled an eerily familiar 46-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller, and not when he was forced to respond from a mistake.

After throwing an interception in the end zone on a poorly-communicated fade to Corey Robinson, Kizer rebounded like a veteran should.

“What I liked about him is he immediately takes ownership,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “He's not a guy that's looking to say, ‘Well, it's his fault,’ or, ‘I didn't know this.’ He clearly knew they bracketed him. He got duped.”

Added Kizer, who passed for 242 yards in Notre Dame’s 30-22 win: “(Robinson) was expecting a different look and he was completely right, 100 percent my fault. It was a complete freshman mistake out there. We talked about it on the sideline, made sure it wasn’t going to happen again and moved forward.”

Specifically, they moved 82 yards forward, grinding out a 10-play drive that ended in a 17-yard touchdown run by senior C.J. Prosise. But before Prosise scored, Kizer converted a third-and-9 with a 10-yard pass to Chris Brown, then a third-and-7 with a 36-yard rainbow to Fuller.

It was the first jarring mistake of his Notre Dame career, followed by the first answer.

In his starting debut, Kizer refused to be buried by the firsts.

“That was my first (pregame player) walk as a starting quarterback,” Kizer said. “That was my first bus ride over as a starting quarterback. That was my first week of school as a starting quarterback. So just to get that all behind me and to feel how it feels to be the quarterback at the University of Notre Dame, it’s going to help me immensely as we go into next week.

“This is all going to be ‘first’ for me, and hopefully I can learn from it and be a little more comfortable as we move forward.”

In all, Kizer completed 21 of 30 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and the lone interception, calmly leading an offense that has been decimated by season-ending injuries. He beat Georgia Tech, the No. 14 team in the country, in a game in which his team wasn’t favored.

He wasn’t spectacular, and he didn’t need to be.

He was composed, and he was prepared.

“I’ve always pictured myself being in this position,” Kizer said. “My family has done a really good job. My dad played professionally overseas and also played basketball at Bowling Green, so he’s been there and done it.

“We’ve always talked about preparing yourself for who you want to be, not what you are. So in high school I prepared myself to be in this position, to be here in front of you guys. And now I’m here.”

Specifically, “here” was an interview room jutting out of Notre Dame Stadium’s north tunnel, standing at a podium with the printed monograms checkered at his back. When he entered the room, a mob greeted him – some having to stand on chairs to lift their bulky cameras above the crowd.

And in that moment, like in so many previous, Notre Dame’s new starting quarterback didn’t look fazed.

Once they announced his name, all he had to do was play.

“When they announced my name and I heard the response from the crowd,” Kizer said with a growing grin, “that was a pretty special moment.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer (14) throws the ball during the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN