First came the red-shirt. Then came the spring practice scraps.
That combination of athletic inactivity made for a forgettable freshman year for DeShone Kizer. As he took final exams last May the opportunity for upward depth chart mobility felt minimal. Then Kizer’s phone started to buzz. And buzz. And buzz.
“I had no idea why my phone was going crazy,” Kizer remembered Wednesday during his first press conference as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. “So I got out and read that he was gone. It was obviously shocking. I honestly didn't expect this.”
As much as Everett Golson’s potential transfer out of Notre Dame felt inevitable outside the program, few inside the Gug claim to have seen it coming. That included Kizer, who said he wasn’t close with Golson during their one-year overlap. They haven’t been in touch since Golson’s departure for Florida State, which opened the door for Kizer to replace the injured Malik Zaire following his ankle fracture last weekend.
Kizer ultimately threw the latest game-winning touchdown pass in Notre Dame history.
If Golson had made his intentions plain earlier, head coach Brian Kelly likely would have held him out of spring ball, giving those reps to Notre Dame’s new starter. Kizer took third-team work last spring and attempted just five passes during the Blue-Gold Game. He completed one.
Kizer said he doesn’t hold any grudges about Golson limiting his spring workload.
“I mean, my reps were going to be my reps. I was going to take them how I took them,” Kizer said. “After you red-shirt, your first year is over and you don't play, you've got to change your mindset to now there is no excuse for me not to be on the field. So I was going to take the reps that I got and prepare for them to put value in whether I was going to be third string or first string.”
Kelly revisited the Golson saga during the ACC teleconference when asked Wednesday, restating his opinion that Golson seemed like he’d stay while going through a spring practice competition with Zaire.
Kelly knew switching starters in the Music City Bowl could lead to his scenario. After the opener against Texas when Zaire threw as many incompletions and touchdowns, the point seemed moot. When Zaire broke his ankle last Saturday, it didn’t.
“We started Malik in the bowl game and obviously created some of this,” Kelly said. “We knew that obviously that was not going to create the easiest of the situations with two very good quarterbacks. It wasn’t like we didn’t have our eyes wide open that the potential could exist. I just didn’t think going through spring ball that it would happen.
“Now obviously we had to get another quarterback ready. So we were prepared for this eventuality. And we got DeShone Kizer ready and now it’s his chance. So all that other stuff is really immaterial.”
When Zaire won the job he connected with several former Notre Dame quarterbacks, including Joe Theismann and Brady Quinn. Kizer may ultimately do the same. It’s not clear with Golson will make that call list considering the departed quarterback’s personality.
“He was a guy who was kind of the same way at all times,” Kizer said. “Whether he liked it, whether he didn't like it, whether he was happy or whether he was sad, he kept a very stern and calmness about himself, so I had no idea he was heading out. I was preparing to learn from him another year and watch him and Malik battle it out through the summer and see who was going to be the guy next year. So I had no idea.”