Turning Points

Everett Golson has excelled as the triggerman of Notre Dame's offense since returning from his final benching of the season, a November 4 matchup with Pittsburgh. But in the development of a first-year varsity quarterback, there's no such thing as a singular turning point. As always, the journey was the thing…

If measured by statistics, Notre Dame redshirt-freshman quarterback Everett Golson elevated his game sometime shortly after kickoff of his team's upset win at Oklahoma. Thereafter, and over a span of 10 football halves -- a benching included -- Golson passed for 1,167 yards and ran for 224 more.

He likewise hit for seven touchdowns through the air and another trio on the ground while committing just two turnovers. But intermixed was a benching, his third in-game and fourth of the season, during the team's comeback win over Pittsburgh.

Just one week after Golson returned to South Bend a conquering hero for his role in the upset in Norman, there he stood again -- sidelined in favor of backup Tommy Rees, who played the final series of the first half and more telling, the opening two of the second -- all with the Irish trailing by as many as 11 points, then their largest deficit of the season.

With Rees again deemed the man by his head coach, it was senior slot receiver Robby Toma, now co-winner of the team's coveted Nick Pietrosante award (for leadership, dedication, inspiration), who sought out his quarterback after the latter learned of Kelly's decision.

"I remember I went up to him at halftime when he found out he wasn't going in and I told him, 'You're going to have to be back in, at some point this season at least if not today. Just stay locked in. Tommy has always been there for you and its his turn.'

"Everett actually went back in the game and won us the game. I think for him to be able to do that really helped him this year."

Golson finished with 301 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, including one that brought the Irish to within two point late, followed by a game-tying two-point conversion scramble and score.

All Part of the Plan

Even during a quartet of disparate benchings, Irish head coach Brian Kelly believed in his redshirt-freshman quarterback. But the 22-year head coaching veteran understands that his 19-year-old pupil might not have received that message as he battled at the most high-profile position in college football.

"As you know, we had to take him out on a couple occasions," said Kelly. "Now, we did that to win the games.  If you think of it just from an Everett Golson standpoint, there had to have been, at times, questions about, 'Does coach Kelly want me to be the guy here?  Is this my job or Tommy Rees' job?'  Even though we told him it was his, those actions probably weren't clear enough for him.

"I think once he knew after the Oklahoma game that he was the guy, the confidence level and the trust builds and builds and builds. I think that's why I'm confident that the moment (the title game) won't be too big for him, because he knows that we've got 100 percent confidence and trust in him that he can go in and win us a National Championship."

Yet the Pittsburgh benching followed, and it was likely at his return point during the contest -- after which Golson was the determining player on 19 consecutive snaps (pass or run) -- that it became clear.

No longer was he solely a game manager. The Irish were behind by two scores and only one offensive player was capable of pulling them from the deficit. Golson's confidence grew, both in himself, and in his head coach.

"For me and coach Kelly, I think it really showed he could trust in me," said Golson. "I tried to show he could trust in me and I think it helped build up our relationship a little bit; a little bit of confidence in the both of us."

Kelly expected multiple bumps in the road. He and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin were frank with their new starter that things would not go always go well, or as planned. Likely a tough sell to a competitor of Golson's ilk.

"I think central to that was that we were going to play an inexperienced freshman quarterback.  So let's start with that decision first," said Kelly of the season's machinations at the position. "Then I didn't believe, nor did I want to use this year as a bridge year, a transition year.  I wanted to win this year. I wanted to win not only for Notre Dame but for the seniors and everybody associated with the program.

"So we had two things going on there: we're going to play a freshman quarterback, and we're not going to say, 'It's a transition year.'  We're going to give him experience, take our lumps, and move forward. So with those two things coming together, you have to find a way to win those games, manage those games, limit possessions, hold on to the football.  Because those were the two immediate factors, then you have to adapt to the way you run those games. That's how we came up with the formula this year to play the way we've played."

Golson might not have signed up for multiple benchings, a minor suspension (tardiness caused a technical missed start vs. Miami), but in retrospect, it was the best thing for him.

"I really do (feel like they were growth moments), he said. "If I were to look back on the season I'd say its the definition of a growing process. Coming in, inexperienced, and having to go through those trials. I feel like at the end of the day, if you're (pressed) like that, that's what makes great players great. Its about what you do coming out on the other side of it."

The other side produced a berth in the only remaining game that matters in college football this season. The ultimate destination, one forged by a necessary journey.

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