DeShone Kizer sought advice from the best.
Working as a counselor at the Elite 11 in California two months ago, Kizer made a point to pick the brain of Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, another alumnus of that quarterback glamour show. Few had more revelatory seasons than Kizer last fall, but the Heisman Trophy finalist was one who did.
The quarterbacks talked footwork and ball placement. They sweat the small stuff that doesn’t make box scores.
Last year’s game didn’t make the confab, though.
“Competing with him and seeing what someone at the elite level looks like, it was awesome,” Kizer said. “We were able to open up and kind of talk through situations. To see a guy who has great footwork, is completely ripped and has kind of proved to the world that he's pretty good, he became almost an advisor to me when I was out there.
“We were kind of talking through each scenario and what they do and what we do. And I think those are some of the most valuable conversations I've had all summer.”
Kizer doubled back to California last month to work with quarterback gurus George Whitfield and Jordan Palmer in two separate formats before getting back to South Bend for good.
That volume of quarterback advice could overdose some, but Kizer said he’s self-assured enough to see that work as a tune up instead of an overhaul.
And that confidence showed Friday while meeting the media for the first time in training camp. Because while head coach Brian Kelly may be keeping every outcome on the table for the Kizer-Zaire competition, the incumbent will only consider one.
“I plan on being the starter,” Kizer said.
The junior has the body of work to back that up, completing 211-of-335 passes last season for 2,884 yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He led two fourth quarter road comebacks with a potential third falling short at Stanford.
Basically, Kizer couldn’t have played better for a first-time starter, surprising the coaching staff with his legs too. He rushed for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns, the most by an Irish quarterback in school history.
Now, even if he won’t admit it, Kizer faces the prospect of losing his job. Not only that, he’s been tasked with coaching up a younger group of receivers where the depth chart faces a gut rehab. It’s a funky scenario for a junior skilled in diplomacy.
“That's going to be one of the weirder parts of camp, when you're trying to compete for your own job and you have some of those selfish thoughts that come to your mind because you want to make sure you get completions while also trying to develop young guys,” Kizer said. “It’s going to be different.”
Kelly said there’s no timeline for naming a starter and acknowledged the complexity that comes with two of the team’s best leaders playing the same position. That’s pushed him to consider playing both quarterbacks this season, something he was adamantly against during spring ball.
Kizer wants to get Kelly’s head back to that starting point, meaning he’s the starter from Texas through Stanford.
“For the situation to be as it is, obviously it's not something that you want to set yourself up for,” Kizer said. “It’s something that's going to drive me and help me out, but if I could have it the other way and one guy would be ahead of the other, I'd much rather it be that way.”
Of course, Kizer would be that guy. Obviously.
After spending summer working with a potential No. 1 overall pick, Kizer’s mindset during fall camp seems less about winning a quarterback competition and more about keeping what he believes is rightfully his.