Joe Coughlin

Golson’s Return A Godsend In South Bend

Created on Mar. 09, 2014 3:47 AM EST

The fall was a learning experience for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, who won some, lost some and were again mostly irrelevant in a national portrait in which they used to smile.

But more importantly, Everett Golson was learning a lesson of his own.

The temporarily booted quarterback spent his time a world away, in San Diego getting schooled by renowned quarterback mentor George Whitfield.

On Monday, March 3, Golson trotted onto the field with his fellow Irish for the first time in a year after being removed from school for an academic incident (He admitted to Sports Illustrated he cheated on a final exam). Much has changed in that time. Golson added about 15 pounds, while the Irish went from national title contenders back to top-shelf mediocrity (if that makes any sense). Of course, there is a much more important change: the evolution of Golson.

It doesn’t matter much that Golson jogged out with a few more pounds. In fact, he said he thinks he’s faster. With Golson, Notre Dame is back.

Sure, it’s only been a year, but the run to a national championship game was supposed to be the start of a rebirth — a return to constant nationwide success that Fighting Irish fans have been aching for. The destruction Alabama laid upon Notre Dame was embarrassing, but a lost year — happening before the season even started — was just as big of a step back. With Golson, it all seems possible again.

Some may think that’s an unfair and unrealistic thought, but how soon we forget. A four-star recruit out of South Carolina, Golson was known for his rocket arm and play-making ability. Though raw and undersized (5-foot-11), he was offered by plenty of southeast powerhouses (Clemson, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia Tech).

In his first season (after a redshirt year) in South Bend, Golson piloted a 12-1 season; though, he was spelled at times — even in crunch time — by the more experienced Tommy Rees. But Golson threw for 2,405 yards, completing 58.8 percent of his passes to go with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He added six scores and 300 yards on the ground.

Here’s some freshman numbers for a couple other guys:

• Player A: 2,129 yards, 64.6 percent, 14 TDs, 12 INTs; 66 rushing yards, 4 TDs

• Player B: 1,159 yards, 54.1 percent, 13 TDs, 4 INTs; 715 rushing yards, 7 TDs

Player A is Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and B is Braxton Miller of Ohio State (both in 2011). The kinship to Miller, who is a much bigger ground threat, is easier to imagine because of the trouble spots the two share in the pocket. Miller’s accuracy, like Golson’s, was questioned, but the Buckeyes' rising senior has increased his completion percentage each season, setting a career high of 63.5 in 2013. Even with lesser surrounding talent, it is feasible Golson can follow the same arc.The skill sets are similar and Golson throws a similar missile-type spiral at a high velocity.

More than the numbers, Golson proved he was capable not just of doing the job, but doing it at a prolific and championship level. He made every throw in the book, proving it on a game-winning, cross-field heave against Michigan State in his third game.

It wasn’t all hand-pounds and touchdowns, of course. Golson wasn’t always in control of the offense or his own arm, missing reads and mid-tier throws. And it was Notre Dame’s staunch and opportunistic defense that led it to the BCS championship, not a Golson-led offense.

All that taken into account, it was the kid’s first year. Don’t get it twisted; he’s not Manziel or Winston. Those are once-in-a-lifetime types. Freaks of nature who are Top-10 draft picks at birth. Golson is a work in progress, and he’s spent the last year progressing.

In 2014, Golson will have redshirt junior status and compete with Malik Zaire, the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster and a dual-threat man himself. Around the quarterback, Notre Dame will see plenty of fresh meat, as it lost two starters on the o-line, its top receiver (TJ Jones) and starting tight end (Troy Niklas). But none of that really matters. It’s the Fighting Irish. The next man up has stars in his profile too. And this is Golson’s show — if he proves he wants it.

He spent an entire year earning his way back to South Bend and improving himself as a player and person. Right now, it all seems possible.

“I regret it now,” Golson said on his first day back about the incident that got him busted, “but I think it allowed me to grow so much. My maturity level is completely different now. I had some time to sit back and think on what I did and how I can move forward from that. I think I’m a different person because of it."

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