Former Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire weighing 'opportunities,' training for next stop

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

An opportunity.

That’s what Malik Zaire calls the five-month gap between his graduation from Notre Dame last December and an arrival at the next stop in his college career in June — wherever that may be. An opportunity to train in Scottsdale, Ariz., with quarterbacks coach Dennis Gile. An opportunity to spend more time with his father, Imani Zaire, who lives in Arizona. An opportunity to recharge, reconsider and redirect his future.

It’s also a change of plans.

When the 6-foot, 225-pound quarterback first decided to make a graduate transfer and play his fifth season at another school, he planned for a swift relocation, to commit to a new program over winter break and enroll for the spring semester. But after making visits to Wisconsin and North Carolina, Zaire had yet to make up his mind.

So now he’s taking advantage of one opportunity while waiting for others to come.

“With it being my fifth year, I just thought it was really important to be able to make a decision the best I can, by being careful and taking in as much information as I can to take the best opportunity,” Zaire told the Tribune on Wednesday night.

“I think that was the best decision for me. I’m giving all of myself to physically be the part and be on point with my technique, so I can go to the next school and be the leader and be the quarterback of the team.”

But what team will he choose?

North Carolina is out of the running, after former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris announced his intention to transfer there on Sunday.

“I think that’s a great opportunity for him,” Zaire said.

Wisconsin could be in the mix, and Zaire confirmed that Texas has reached out, and he planned to call a member of the Longhorns’ coaching staff later on Wednesday night.

“I have to talk to them,” Zaire said, when asked to gauge his level of Texas interest. “It’s kind of weird, obviously, that situation. But they’re all opportunities. They’re all blessings. I’m really glad I can have them. Having the résumé I have, I know it’s not the biggest. But for that to even be an opportunity is pretty cool.”

Why “weird,” you ask? Maybe because the best game of Zaire’s life came at Texas’ expense, when he completed 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-3 Irish victory in its 2015 season opener. Maybe because, a year later, he completed just 2 of 5 passes for 23 yards in a double-overtime defeat in Austin, Texas, on a night that made it clear his days as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback had already passed.

Maybe because Texas and first-year head coach Tom Herman already have a promising quarterback in sophomore Shane Buechele, who completed 60.4 percent of his passes and threw for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.

Still, it’s an opportunity, like all the rest. But as for a list of finalists, Zaire preferred to keep that close to the vest.

“I don’t have one right now. I’m just being open and still talking (to teams),” Zaire said. “I have to take a couple visits that I’m going to set up and really be on point with that.”

As for a timeline, Zaire said he’d like to make a decision “as soon as possible, obviously.” But he also added that it may be best to wait until programs close spring practice and can truly assess their needs.

Until then, the Kettering, Ohio, native continues to train, to build upon the 816 passing yards, six passing touchdowns, 324 rushing yards and two more scores he amassed while failing to commit a turnover in his four-year career at Notre Dame.

“It’s just an opportunity to really rebuild and hammer down on the techniques and just be a quarterback in general,” said Zaire, who also worked with Gile — a former quarterback at Central Missouri State and in the CFL — following Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl loss in January of 2016.

“I have a great opportunity. I have a lot of time to just really focus on technique and getting my footwork and my arm motion great and tight, so when I go to the next school, it can just be about winning football games and winning championships.”

A familiar face is helping him do that. Former Notre Dame running back and wide receiver C.J. Prosise, who gained 380 yards with one touchdown in his rookie season with the Seattle Seahawks in 2016, has been a consistent training partner for Zaire in Scottsdale, Ariz.

And while the setting has changed, their chemistry is steadfast.

“We just kind of linked up and have been able to get some throws in. We’re still on point,” Zaire said with a laugh. “If we see each other in the league at any point, I’ll know if C.J.’s on my team, I’ll never have a problem with it. I know I’m in good company. If anything, he taught me a lot, especially with his first year in the league and going through the different things he had to go through.

“C.J. is really hitting a nice point in his career, and that makes sense for me, because I remember when me and C.J. were at practice and we were making plays together. Now, to see him doing big things in the league, it’s even more motivation. C.J. is a really big inspiration to me.”

Of course, after four years at Notre Dame, one season-ending injury and just three career starts, Zaire isn’t lacking for motivation. But there are no hard feelings — just new opportunities.

“It just made me stronger,” said Zaire, who graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in film, television and theater and a minor in peace studies. “It’s a part of what you love. There are always going to be the tough times in a person’s career, whether it be on the field or off the field. So everybody deals with something different, and this just makes me want to prove why I love the game so much.

“You really have to love it to stick with it. So I’m not quitting yet. I don’t think I would ever give up on it. It just makes it more fun and exciting when the good things come and success comes. You just continue to reach those blessings.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame Quarterback Malik Zaire (8) runs out of the tunnel and onto the field prior to the start of the Notre Dame Texas game, Saturday, September 5, 2015 in South Bend. SBT Photo / BECKY MALEWITZ