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Golson leads Irish to title game in first season

Andrew Gastelum | Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Everett Golson heard about the blinding spotlight of being the starting quarterback at Notre Dame. He knew about its legendary aura, its golden tradition and the blaring pressure to wake up the echoes.

But to the sophomore quarterback, pressure is simply an eight-letter word.

“I’ve always been a guy that never really feels pressure,” Golson said. “I think pressure is all about personal perception. I’ve never really been the guy to feel pressure. I just want to be the best teammate I can be for the rest of these guys, for the rest of the seniors. I just want to try to learn as quick as I can to help the coaches and the players around me. I want to achieve what we want to achieve this year.”

Golson came out of Myrtle Beach High School as a three-star recruit with an average 6-foot, 170-pound build, yet his first game action wearing a gold helmet was as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback in Ireland. Fast forward three months, and the first-year signal-caller has led an improbable march to the BCS National Championship Game all while leading the No. 1 Irish to its first undefeated regular season since 1988.

“I would like to say that I [thought I could lead Notre Dame to the national championship] but really I couldn’t have,” Golson said while holding an award for Offensive Newcomer of the Year. “With me being so young, you don’t really think about that. You think about the small things because you definitely don’t want to mess up the little details.

“One thing that I can say that I really saw in this team is that unity. Like Manti [Te'o] talked about numerous times, our teammates can hold it together as a family. Once you have that in your team, anything can happen.”

And at the end of Golson’s meteoric rise to prominence awaits Alabama’s vaunted defense – No. 1 in total defense – and Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, winner of two of the last three national titles.

“[The key is] just to stay level-headed,” Golson said. “Just knowing that there will be mistakes out there and I understand that. But it’s about what happens at the end of the night. Just keep working and it and keep pushing it and be able to look up at the scoreboard at the end and see what happens.”

Golson’s 11 wins – he missed Notre Dame’s 17-14 win over BYU on Oct. 22 with a concussion – 2,135 passing yards, 305 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns haven’t come without taking every possibly opportunity to learn.

“There were a couple of late-night discussions where he’d ask me what I though he needed to improve on and not hold anything back,” junior quarterback Tommy Rees said. “I told him the truth, although sometimes it wasn’t what he wanted to hear.”

For Golson, the steep learning curve of the Kelly offense has been more of a roller coaster ride. He endured three benchings, one on the final drive in his first home game as Notre Dame squeaked by Purdue with a 20-17 win on Sept. 8, another coming after two poorly thrown interceptions in a 13-6 win over then-No.18 Michigan on Sept. 22 and the most recent coming in 29-26 triple-overtime win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 3.

“He’s come very, very, very far,” senior running back Theo Riddick said. “Who would’ve ever thought? And he did it so quickly. He grew on the scene and that was the most significant thing. A lot of guys grow in the back, in the offseason or in the preseason. He did it during the regular season when all of the lights were on.”

Golson has fought through the challenges of growing into his hype to become a versatile dual-threat quarterback with the chance to lead Notre Dame to its 12th national title and first in 25 years.

“I think I have been through a lot and overcome a lot of adversity,” he said. “I think it comes back to me always playing with the bigger guys. There’s times growing up where I never got picked so I decided to keep working and that kept me motivated. That’s what shows now, what was instilled in me in my childhood.”

But on Jan. 7 in Miami, he will be Irish coach Brian Kelly’s first pick with an opportunity to complete Notre Dame’s Cinderella season with a glass football.

 

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu