The Return: Everett Golson
Mary Green | Friday, August 29, 2014
Everett Golson can’t help but laugh as photo after photo is snapped of him. Strapping up his helmet, tugging on the faceguard, staring into the lens like he’s focusing on a receiver on 3rd-and-long — and then Golson even wants a few pictures for himself, smiling the whole time.
It’s clear a career in modeling — at least one that requires keeping a straight face — might not be in the cards for the senior quarterback.
But this Everett Golson — the one who is trying to stifle a chuckle but can’t help it — is leaps and bounds from the one he was a year ago.
That Golson spent Saturdays on the couch, watching his teammates struggle at times from afar while he was suspended from the team and the university for poor academic judgement.
“It was extremely difficult,” Golson said. “A lot of the times, just me being the guy I am, I kind of put that on myself immediately.”
This Saturday against Rice, Golson will take the starting snaps and put on that familiar gold helmet again — this time for 80,000 fans, not just for the camera.
A lot has improved for him in the span of a year. And even more has changed for him from his breakout season two years ago.
In 2012, Everett Golson was the starting quarterback for a team whose first loss of the season came in the BCS National Championship Game.
Golson was as important to the offense as the team’s other No. 5 was to the defense.
But he wasn’t a leader.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Golson was “spotty” in attendance and occasionally late for meetings.
In his first year seeing playing time for Notre Dame, Golson was the starting quarterback on the depth chart. But he had that privilege taken away in a game against Miami on Oct. 6, 2012, for being late to practice.
“He wasn’t doing the things leaders do,” Kelly said at the team’s media day Aug. 19.
In Golson’s defense, the 2012 squad wasn’t lacking leadership, with leaders that included Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o and two-time captain Zack Martin.
“I think 2012 was a little different,” Golson said. “I was a redshirt freshman. We had Manti; we had Zack; we had guys that were in that leadership role.”
This year, the quarterback said he saw a hole and decided to fill it.
“For the simple fact that we don’t have as many guys — all those seniors that are now gone,” he said Aug. 19. “I look up now, and I’m the senior, so I have to be the leader of this team.”
Kelly said Golson emerged as a leader for other reasons.
“He said it, he didn’t want the suspension to define who he was,” Kelly said. “He wanted this opportunity to show that he was much more than that, and I think he’s going to get that opportunity.”
Irish junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day, one of Golson’s best friends on the team, said he has seen Golson take a more proactive approach to his game.
“His ability to study film and to see where he made his mistakes to make sure he doesn’t make them again,” Day said of what makes Golson so hard to stop. “He’s always asking us, ‘What did you do here, what did you do there?’ to make sure he doesn’t make them again.”
It’s a big step from Golson’s game in 2012, when he tended to rely on his mobility rather than a thorough knowledge of the playbook to pick up first downs.
Day said that dedication is now part of Golson’s demeanor, both on the field, where he’s most visible, and in the classroom, where his original mistake occurred.
“He’s committed to everything,” Day said. “He’s always putting his heart into everything he does now, so if it’s school, he’s focused on school; if it’s football, he’s putting his all into football.”
With his tardiness and irresponsibility in the past, Golson said he now sees the value of the game he loves.
“I think it means a lot more now,” he said. “I’ve had time to evaluate. I’ve had time to see different things, being away from the game.”
And he readily shares his appreciation to learn and compete at Notre Dame once more.
“I’m so grateful for just the opportunity to be back here because it could have been another way,” he said.
In 2012, Everett Golson had a 131.0 quarterback rating.
He averaged more than 200 yards through the air each game.
But according to his coach, he wasn’t as good of a quarterback as he is now.
“He’s definitely made some strides,” Kelly said March 3 after Golson’s first practice back from his suspension. “I think there must have been some real good teaching there that has allowed him that opportunity to come in here and have a better sense of everything.”
That teaching came at the hands of George Whitfield Jr., the “quarterback guru” who made sure Golson stayed sharp in his absence.
Whitfield has worked with some of the NFL’s finest quarterbacks, such as Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck, and with him, Golson was able to fine-tune his skills out in California.
That’s allowed him to take on a more complex offense this season, which will utilize his speed and that of his receivers.
“It’s tremendously fast,” Golson said. “Two years ago, we didn’t run at as near a fast pace. It was more conservative, in a sense — slow the ball down, run the ball, that type of thing. Now, we want to be really aggressive on the offensive side.”
That improvement has helped the Irish as a whole, Day said.
“He definitely took over the role as a leader on the offense and built them to be a better unit, and he shows that through his vocal skills and his playing,” Day said.
But Day said Golson’s natural abilities may be his greatest strength.
“His ability to make a play last longer than it should, especially him being able to be mobile,” Day said when asked about Golson’s best feature on offense.
With a small and select resume — a few videos of him working out with Whitfield, footage from this past spring and his 2012 stats — Golson has found himself on the watch lists for the Maxwell, Davey O’Brien and Walter Camp awards this season.
On Saturday, Golson’s teammates, coaches and Irish fans will get their first chance to see if his much-anticipated return and much-discussed improvement will live up to the hype.
As for Golson himself?
He’ll be living in the moment that he’s waited for so long to happen.
“It’s going to be crazy for sure,” he said. “Things like that, they last for maybe 30 seconds to a minute and then you have to dial in on what’s the task at hand. That’s what I’m trying to prepare myself for most is just understanding that the crowd is there but also dialing myself in and performing my task at hand.”