SOUTH BEND – For all of the Notre Dame football fans that can't let go of the past, they'd be thrilled to know that current Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly took a step back in time on Thursday to try and restore some shine to the lost luster of Irish football.
Just as Notre Dame coaching legend Lou Holtz did to get his program back on track a quarter century ago, Kelly placed his trust Thursday in an athletic quarterback from South Carolina to propel his team hopefully to the same stratosphere of success that Tony Rice did for Holtz.
“Everett Golson will be our starter,” Kelly announced. “It was a tough decision, but Everett clearly won the starting job.”
Rice and Golson share Palmetto State roots, limited size (both are just six-feet) and race (both are African-Americans), but that is about where the comparison could end.
Rice was the prototypical option quarterback who could occasionally throw a decent pass.
In the case of Golson, you get the sense that with his arm strength, improved football savvy, and athleticism, there has yet to be an offense that he couldn't excel in. Keeping that in mind, Kelly and Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin have designed a set of plays that can take advantage of Golson's skill set.
“I think that we've prepared an offense to suit a first-time starter,” Kelly said. “Everett has four seasons of competition remaining. You know he's going to learn more, experience more as he plays, but we also have to make sure that we put him in good positions.”
Golson was a distant fourth on the depth chart a year ago and could have been considered still dead last in the race after the nation's most heralded prep quarterback Gunner Kiel enrolled at Notre Dame in January. However, his work on the scout team as a freshman, endless hours of individual work, and film study brought him to the forefront, first during the spring game, and then that momentum carried over into training camp.
In Rice's first year of competition, Holtz started him in six games and Rice won four of those. He then went on to win 24 of his remaining 25 starts, including the 1988 national championship. With Golson, the sophomore isn't ready to proclaim titles are on the horizon. In fact, he said that this is just the beginning of his development.
“This definitely means a lot,” Golson said of beating out junior Andrew Hendrix. “But I know with this comes a lot of responsibility. I'm not going to rejoice in it. I'm happy about it, but I also understand that it's time to go to work right now.”
Golson will start in the season-opener on Sept. 1 against Navy in Dublin, Ireland (CBS) and Kelly doesn't expect the 2012 season opening game to mirror the 2011 opener against South Florida.
Last year, Kelly stood up at an August news conference and declared senior Dayne Crist the winner of the starting quarterback battle. Twenty minutes into the season, Kelly changed his mind. He doesn't anticipate doing that this time around.
“Everett is the starter and if things go the way that we are planning it,” Kelly said, “he'll play the whole game. I don't think that you go into any year and think 'I want to make a change at halftime.'”
Asked what would occur if things don't go well, Kelly responded humorously.
“I'm not a half-empty guy,” the coach said with a laugh. “I'm a half-full guy.”
Hendrix will back Golson up. When he comes off his one-game suspension following his arrest in an off-campus incident in May, junior Tommy Rees will enter a reserve mix that also includes Kiel. Those guys perhaps won't contribute on the field in games (though few seem to accept that this battle is finished); Golson said that he wouldn't have been standing at a news conference on Thursday without their help.
“I wouldn't have reached this potential if it wasn't for Andrew, Gunner and Tommy being out there just helping me out,” Golson said.
The primary focus of Kelly and Martin in developing the quarterbacks since last December has been ball security. After Rees threw 14 interceptions in 11 games started, the Irish coaching staff had seen enough and opened the competition up for spring.
Through training camp, Kelly praised Golson's ability to take care of the ball. Though he's thrown a couple of interceptions in practice just recently, Golson has turned it over just three times since camp opened earlier this month.
“I thought that (recently) Everett lost a little bit of his focus,” Kelly said. “The game is really, really hard and young kids have to stay focused. If Everett stays focused, he's not going to be that guy that turns the football over.”