Malik Zaire still defining Notre Dame legacy
Manuel De Jesus | Friday, November 18, 2016
Senior quarterback Malik Zaire’s story at Notre Dame is far from over.
It’s easy to narrow Zaire’s time in South Bend to a single play. In the third quarter of Notre Dame’s 34-27 win over Virginia last season, Zaire was driving the Irish down the field looking to add to the 19-14 lead. Ball on the Cavaliers’ 27-yard line, Zaire took the snap out of the shotgun and bolted right through the line of scrimmage before being brought down just three yards later.
It was at that moment that his season was taken away from him with a broken ankle, and the rest is history. But who’s to say that Zaire’s career at Notre Dame should be defined by that one play?
The story behind the Kettering, Ohio, native starts way before he took his first steps on Notre Dame’s campus. In fact, that journey began just a few years after he took his first steps ever.
“I’ve been playing football for a good majority of my life,” Zaire said. “Probably 18 out of 21 years. I love the game, and it means a lot to me. You can say that coming [to Notre Dame] is the pinnacle of quarterbacking playing at the highest level against high competition every weekend, and that’s what I looked forward to, and that’s what you look at when you determine schools and places to go as a quarterback.”
From peewee football to the high school level, Zaire’s dream has always been to make it to the NFL, but more importantly, his goal was to claim the crown as football’s greatest quarterback. In order to do that, he understood that his first task was to dominate as a high school quarterback, and he did that with ease.
He took the reigns as Archbishop Alter High School’s quarterback as a junior in 2011 and led his team to a 10-0 regular season while passing for 729 yards and rushing for 1,093, with five touchdowns through the air and 15 on the ground. That was more than enough to get him his first offer from Cincinnati and an invite to Nike’s Elite 11 quarterback camp in the summer of 2012.
“I knew that whenever I got on the field that I would be able to show [my passion for the game], so whenever I got out there my sophomore and junior year, I really just made it happen,” Zaire said.
Ranked as the third best dual-quarterback in his class by Rivals, the left-handed quarterback continued to rake in offers from Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Alabama during his junior season. However, it didn’t take long for Zaire to know exactly where he wanted to call home, with the help of his former high school football coach.
“I committed at the end of my junior year to Notre Dame, and I guess I committed pretty early in the process,” Zaire said. “But I knew what I wanted out of things, and it was a good opportunity. … Notre Dame has a lot of unique aspects that you just can’t find in other universities out there. Going here is a challenge, and, with that being said, I knew that challenge would help me as an individual, grow as a person, as an athlete and my development as an adult.”
Zaire’s commitment lit yet another fire within him in his efforts to be football’s best quarterback, and that carried over into his senior year. In 2012 he earned Associated Press Ohio Division III Southwest District Offensive Player of the Year. He recorded 1,990 yards through the air to go along with 24 passing touchdowns, and he totaled 1,120 yards on the ground with nine scores.
Just a few months after the end of his final high school season, Zaire was on Notre Dame’s campus, and despite having to learn how to navigate through the obstacles of being a freshman early, he never lost sight of what was important to him.
“It felt the same as it did in high school [being on Notre Dame’s football field for the first time],” Zaire said. “I knew the value and the things that I could add to this team to win a national championship and to prove I was the best quarterback in the country. To step on the field for the first time, I knew I could make it happen here.”
After redshirting his freshman year and sitting behind former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, Zaire finally got a shot at playing significant minutes at USC in 2014. Playing in place of a struggling Golson, Zaire led the Irish to two touchdown drives while capping his the game off with 170 yards passing and an 11-yard touchdown run.
“I just knew that I needed to be on that field,” Zaire said. “Regardless of the situation, that was my opportunity, and I had to make the most out of it. It worked out pretty good for me, and I did everything to continue to get better from there and understand that that was the next step, and getting on the field was the next step to doing what I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”
Zaire followed up his performance against the Trojans with an MVP showing against LSU in 2014 Music City Bowl. Even while sharing snaps with Golson throughout the game, Zaire owned the spotlight rushing for 96 yards and a touchdown while adding a passing touchdown to his stat line.
Now, it’s at that point where many believed that Zaire’s trajectory as a quarterback was only going to see more playing time and number of successes, and for one game through the 2015 season, that was indeed the case. In the home opener against Texas, Zaire showcased everything he was hyped up to be throughout the offseason following the Music City Bowl. He completed 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-3 rout of the Longhorns.
But the next week against Virginia is where his story took a turn. That turn may have been seen by many as one of the closing chapters of his career here at Notre Dame, but Zaire believes that it was a defining experience that molded him into who he is today and how he has grown in respect to Notre Dame as his home.
“Being injured, you never expect that, but you grow and you learn a lot about yourself in terms of how much you can handle and how much you can withstand and how strong you actually are,” Zaire said. “I had the support of the guys and the support staff through my injury, and going through that was tough, but I became a better person through that, and I learned a lot … through my time with the guys that I came here to school with … Those teammates and those students who I interacted with in my classes, who I have lifelong friendships with, that’s what makes this place great.”
Healthy and more determined than ever about accomplishing his dream of being the game’s greatest quarterback, Zaire said that his legacy at Notre Dame isn’t ready to be defined just yet.
“I’m still writing it,” Zaire said.