From bootlegs to booths: Malik Zaire makes natural transition to sports media

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Malik Zaire knows how to entertain.

When he provided some of the voice-overs in a comical lip reading video for Notre Dame football’s awards show following the 2015 season, Zaire showed a knack for impressions. In hosting YouTube videos on the Overtime SZN channel, the former Irish quarterback was clearly comfortable being himself in front of the camera too.

Zaire’s latest foray into the media world required him to be a bit more conventional. Less than two years after he played in his final college football game as a graduate student at Florida, Zaire made his college football analyst debut on CBS Sports Network.

The job was new, but it also felt familiar.

“It’s interesting because unlike sports, there’s no real practice for calling a game,” Zaire said. “You have to be instinctual — kind of like a quarterback. I compare it to being on the line and calling plays without having a playbook. I’m out there kind of freestyling it, making first downs happen.

“It’s kind of the same thing as being in the booth. You have to find ways to convey a message to people that may not know. That’s no different than being a quarterback. You have to get everybody to do the same job and know everybody’s job even though they only know one part of the job.

“It’s the same thing. And I don’t get hit, so it feels a lot better up there too.”

Zaire called four games for CBS Sports Network in his first season as an analyst with trips to Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Marshall and Temple. Zaire’s last game of the season was a 49-17 Temple victory over UConn with former Notre Dame teammate DJ Morgan playing linebacker for the Huskies.

Morgan was a freshman with the Irish during Zaire’s senior season at Notre Dame. It was a reminder of how quickly Zaire, who also worked as a studio analyst for CBS Sports Network and on SiriusXM’s ACC radio, transitioned from football to broadcasting.

“It’s crazy because he was with us at Notre Dame,” Zaire said. “Being able to talk about DJ on TV from a personal level made the whole thing better.”

In his work for Overtime, a digital network with a focus on sports, Zaire’s role as a former athlete was embraced. He interviewed top high school prospects and challenged them in creative workouts. When he visited defensive lineman Bryan Bresee, the top-ranked recruit on Rivals in the 2020 class, Zaire tried to bench press more than him and hold 315 pounds longer than him.

As a host, Zaire provided energy and helped bring out the personalities of the subjects in his videos. He didn’t shy away from showing his confidence, but he also wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself either.

“We just have fun with them and try to get a different kind of content from kids who are taking sports as seriously as we do and then lightening that side of things,” Zaire said. “You can have fun while being serious and a prime-time athlete.”

In one of his most-popular videos, Zaire challenged 12-year-old Bunchie Young to a series of physical competitions. The video has racked up more than 1.6 million views since it was released in June.

Zaire traveled the country to spotlight top high school football programs and contributed coverage around the NFL’s Pro Bowl, Super Bowl and Scouting Combine.

“We went pretty much everywhere that you can imagine for football: Utah to New York to Louisiana to Florida to Oregon,” Zaire said. “Anywhere you can go with football, we were able to take a trip to make content.”

The work has slowed for Zaire during football’s offseason. In recent weeks during the coronavirus pandemic, Zaire has been tracking NFL news, reading and catching up on TV shows while isolated with his girlfriend in California. He’s also becoming a bit of a tea expert.

“I’ve been a chemist with the teas,” Zaire said.

But the time off has allowed Zaire to recalibrate after a busy schedule during the season.

“It’s a great time to find a balance in your life and try to set some goals,” Zaire said.

Zaire identified former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, now a CBS NFL analyst, as an obvious role model. Zaire appreciates how Romo clearly studies film before games and brings that knowledge to the broadcast while also showing some personality.”

“It’s like sitting at home with your own favorite quarterback,” Zaire said. ”Those are some of the things that I’ve taken from him. And we’re working in the same company. So it’s cool to see him exist in the same realm.”

Romo signed a 10-year contract with CBS this offseason reportedly worth up to $180 million.

“He’s doing well at commentating, and hopefully I can get to some of the same money he’s getting,” Zaire said with a laugh.

But for now, Zaire is still getting used to seeing himself on TV. Moments like sitting at a studio desk for CBS Sports Network in New York City make him step back and soak it all in.

Welcome to the show.

“That was really exciting for me, because we grow up watching these pregame shows and these halftime shows,” Zaire said. “Then they throw me the question on actual TV and I’m like, ‘Wow.’ I would have never thought I would be doing that.

“It’s been a really good, first-year experience.”

Former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire worked his first games as a college football analyst for CBS Sports Network last season.
Former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire (right) compared calling a college football game as a broadcaster to playing quarterback. Both require making decisions on the fly.