Advice for DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire from past Notre Dame quarterbacks

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Think about how many people have lived on the planet Earth.

How many of those people also played quarterback at Notre Dame?

It’s a fraction of a fraction. A shadow of a trace of a hair of a fraction. There have been countless lawyers, countless doctors, countless plumbers and mechanics and chefs and electricians. And yet, so few Notre Dame quarterbacks.

So few who are wholly qualified to bestow advice on DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire.

Joe Theismann is one of the few. A Super Bowl champion and College Football Hall of Famer, Theismann led the Irish to a 20-3-2 record and passed for 4,411 yards and 31 touchdowns from 1968 to 1970. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, behind only Stanford’s Jim Plunkett, in 1970. He absorbed the relentless scrutiny that comes with taking snaps in the golden helmet, even if the searing social media spotlight was still a few decades away.

He has been there (literally), and done it.

And if they follow his advice, Kizer and/or Zaire can do it, too.

“Don’t be frustrated by the situation,” Theismann said of the competition between Zaire and Kizer, which will resume when the Irish begin fall camp on Aug. 6.

“Seize the opportunity when you get a chance to get on the field, because that’s going to be the determining factor: how well you run the offense, how efficient you are at running the offense, what’s your knowledge of the offense? I’m talking across the board: assignments, formations, defenses, checks, ball handling, all of those things. How good can you be?”

Sometimes good isn’t good enough, especially at Notre Dame. A 6-foot, 225-pound senior, Zaire has won all three of his career starts without committing a turnover. He claimed MVP honors in an impressive victory over LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl, then completed 19 of 22 passes and threw for three touchdowns in a primetime steamrolling of Texas last fall.

He took the bar left by Everett Golson, then raised it a couple notches.

DeShone Kizer grabbed the reins and did the same.

In his first season as the starter at Notre Dame, the 6-5, 230-pound junior passed for 2,884 yards (63 percent passing) and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 520 yards and 10 scores, more than any other Irish quarterback — Theismann and option maestro Tony Rice included. He was thrust into the muck and emerged unscathed on the other side.

Zaire and Kizer both have valid claims to the throne.

The one who best eliminates distractions might take it.

“I think the hardest thing is to not read into anything,” said Brady Quinn, who holds Notre Dame records for passing yards (11,762) and touchdown passes (95). “All they can focus on and do is the best they can with every rep they have and be as prepared as they can with every rep they’re given. Focusing on who’s getting what, who’s working with who, focusing on anything else outside of that is a waste of time, energy and a lack of focus. These guys have to be laser-focused on themselves, trying to help their teammates around them…and that’s it.

“The approach they have to take into training camp is, ‘I, Malik Zaire,’ or ‘I, DeShone Kizer am going to make myself better with every rep I get, because whether I’m the starter or not, when my opportunity presents itself, I’m going to seize my opportunity and I’m going to be as good as I can be for that moment.’”

Cross-reference both testimonials and you’ll land on a familiar theme.

Seize the opportunity. That’s exactly what this is.

For Zaire and Kizer, it may feel more like a curse. After all, Zaire competed with Golson and finally claimed the starting job in 2015, only to shatter his ankle and be submerged in yet another competition. Kizer, too, admitted last spring that he has had to compete for every job on every level.

But before you can be the best quarterback in the country, you first have to be the best quarterback on your team. So embrace the process. Embrace the struggle. Drill down to the essentials, and competition is all there is.

“That’s the great thing about our sport,” Theismann said. “This isn’t a question of receiving a participation trophy, OK? You’re competing to be a starting quarterback at the University of Notre Dame. You can’t someday go, ‘Oh, great, look, I had QB after my name in the program.’ It doesn’t work that way.

“That’s one of our problems in society. Everybody wants to give away participation trophies, and that’s a bunch of bull. So there will be a competition in training camp.”

Then, let the best man win.


Want to learn how to successfully run a QB competition at Notre Dame? Find that story and much more in the 2016 ND Insider Season Preview magazine, which is available now. Click here to order.

Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, left, throws as teammate Malik Zaire looks on during Notre Dame spring football practice on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

The 2016 ND Insider Notre Dame Football Preview, at retail outlets starting tomorrow, sets up head coach Brian Kelly’s seventh season with the Irish football team.

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