Golson: "Nothing will be handed to me"

Everett Golson met with Notre Dame's daily media for the first time since his May 2014 suspension from the University.

One month prior to the start of spring practice 2014, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly took great care to warn outsiders that the forthcoming quarterback competition between returning senior Everett Golson and redshirt-freshman Malik Zaire was open to whomever proved best for the position over the ensuing months.

That doubtless remains true, but Kelly tipped his hand today, offering the accepted reality of his 2014 offense.

"Your offensive line has to play well and protect the quarterback," he began. "We have to run the ball effectively, take care of it. But I think we all know college football and where it is, the quarterback really has to be the centerpiece of this offense and how we run it, and it's going to fall on him.

"Today was a very good day for (Golson) in a first day. We all live in the same world where it comes to the Notre Dame quarterback. We're going to heap a lot onto this kid's shoulders and he knows that. That's why he came back to Notre Dame. Because he wants that opportunity. Clearly he's going to be the guy that drives this for us."

Speaking with Notre Dame's media horde for the first time since his May 2013 suspension from the University for, in his words, "poor academic judgement" Golson donned his familiar #5 red practice jersey Monday morning inside the Loftus Sports Complex.

He noted that while it was great to be back "really grinding with his teammates," it was the reception from fellow students and the University that has stuck with him most since his return.

"Yeah, to be honest," said Golson when asked if he was surprised by the positive response he's received since re-enrollment in January. "But that just talks about the character of the school. Really giving a second chance and I don't really hear negative comments. To be received well really helped me out in my transition back."

Getting a grip on things…and the pigskin

Golson's first official practice in nearly 11 months was hardly his first competitive situation or chance to improve since his lost junior season. The senior signal-caller worked during his off-season -- Notre Dame's 9-4 2013 campaign -- with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield, Jr., in California.

"Everything I've been through, the training that I've had, I feel more mature for one," Golson offered. "I feel like I'm a more polished quarterback now."

Golson admitted he had to "make ends meet, I guess" when asked if his time spent tutoring came at a high financial expense, adding, "My time out there was great. We sat down and talked about the science of playing quarterback and playing the position. Talking about the footwork and mechanics, different things. I've changed so much, that goes back to even me throwing with the laces. I'm starting to see a difference with that, more controlling the ball. I think my time out there has helped me tremendously."

Apparently using the football's laces -- standard practice for the majority of quarterbacks -- proved a hard sell on Golson, set in his ways throwing with his fingers free and usually opposite of the raised seams. "At first, we kind of went back and forth," he said of Whitfield's suggested change in hand placement. "I decided I was going to give it a try but I really liked it. I'm still getting used to it now on quick (throws). Like I said, I can see a difference for sure."

A look at Golson's unique grip from high school

Kelly can as well, though the 24-year veteran collegiate coach noticed first Golson's aptitude in the film room.

"There was definitely a conceptual awareness that he had lacked at some times with the passing game," said Kelly. "He clearly has that (now). It's an easier conversation for him. The best way to explain it would be, when he would explain his progression (previously), it might take him 10 seconds. Well you have 2.6 seconds to throw the ball. Now he's precise in his communication as to what his progression is.

"He's definitely made some strides and there must have been some real good teaching (from Whitfield) that has allowed him the opportunity to come in here and have a better sense of everything."

New quarterback coach Matt LaFleur is next in line to tutor Notre Dame's prodigal son.

"It's been great. It's been about two weeks (together)," Golson said of LaFleur. "He's a guy that really wants it and I want it as well. Us coming together with that in mind only helps our connection."

Asked point blank during his press conference, "What did you do?" in reference to his suspension, Golson declined to comment, offering only that he's talked about it in a October interview with Sports Illustrated in which he admitted to cheating.

Informed of Kelly's post-practice comments that Notre Dame would, in 2014, go as far as Golson will take them, the senior triggerman offered, "I don't feel that's pressure. I feel like it's more of a platform for me. That's where I want to be. I want to in the front, to have that leadership role, and lead these guys to victory."

He also understands that while he's the accepted front-runner, the job isn't yet his.

"I think I have to win the job," Golson said of his pending competition with redshirt-freshman lefty Malik Zaire. "Nothing is given to you. I've learned that since I was young. I see it as competition. It can only make you better. It's going to push you."

The more Golson pushes himself, the farther Notre Dame Football 2014 will likely go.

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