Notre Dame football came second for DeShone Kizer this spring.
Earlier this year Kizer learned that his girlfriend, Elli Thatcher, had a baseball-sized tumor in her neck that would need to be surgically removed. That surgery came two days before the Blue-Gold Game, with Kizer stationed at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio for its 17-hour duration.
Thatcher and Kizer have been writing about the experience at www.271miles.wordpress.com , chronicling a fight and recovery that’s put the sophomore’s position on the depth chart in a difference perspective.
The Irish Illustrated A-to-Z series centers on Kizer’s football potential this fall, but there’s no question the quarterback has tried to be in two places at once during the spring semester. He’ll be back with the Irish this season while Thatcher, a pre-med student at Ohio State, writes her six-month recovery time may ultimately be much less than that.
Come Sept. 5, she may be sitting in the stands watching Kizer take his first college snaps against Texas.
Kizer locks down the No. 2 job in fall camp and wins over the coaching staff. That doesn’t mean he puts pressure on Malik Zaire for the starting job, just that he earns the trust of Brian Kelly. The Irish haven’t always had a capable backup under Kelly and it’s not clear if Kizer is one just yet. Simply moving his game forward during training camp followed by some fourth quarter work in blowout games would constitute a good season. Don’t underestimate the jump Kizer has to make going from afterthought in practice to one snap away from starting. Even if he doesn’t take meaningful game reps this season, Notre Dame needs him to be a strong insurance policy.
Brandon Wimbush proves to be even better than advertised, beating out Kizer during fall camp to take the No. 2 job. The incoming freshman would likely have to soundly beat Kizer to get there because if it’s close, the nod goes to the older player who’s already used his red shirt. On top of that, Wimbush has openly talked about not minding a year of learning on the sidelines. Considering the No. 2 will likely play this year behind Malik Zaire, getting in-game experience early could prove decisive for the long haul if Wimbush gets it before Kizer does.
The trick isn’t finding a quarterback who red shirted because Notre Dame has had a ton of those. The real comparison is finding a quarterback who sat out, then became the clear No. 2 as a sophomore. Evan Sharpley, Dayne Crist and Malik Zaire all qualify. Each saw scant playing time as sophomores, with the latter two ultimately growing into fulltime starters, although Zaire’s rise had something to do with Everett Golson’s departure. Sharpley waited his turn behind Brady Quinn, but then got beat out by five-star freshman Jimmy Clausen.
A consensus four-star prospect across the recruiting world, Kizer was a lean to LSU before Notre Dame offered in June, quickly landing the product of Toledo Central Catholic. In addition to Notre Dame and LSU, Kizer also held offers from Alabama, Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Compared to the quarterbacks ranked near him on Scout – Kizer ranked No. 17 at the position – the red-shirt was more rule than exception. Of the Top 20 quarterbacks in Kizer’s class, 15 took a red-shirt last season. Only Kyle Allen (Texas A&M), DeShaun Watson (Clemson), Brandon Harris (LSU), Brad Kaaya (Miami) and Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) played. All started at least one game.
To be determined. Kizer saw limited action during the Blue-Gold Game, essentially mixing with walk-ons during the final quarter. He went 1-of-5 for three yards and took a sack.
“There's so many things to love about DeShone. He's 6-foot-5. I love that. He's 212 pounds. I love that. So you can see you've got a tall, athletic quarterback who's got good size. He's going to be able to do the multidimensional things that we love.” – Brian Kelly on National Signing Day in 2014