QB Draw: DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire to split time in season opener
Marek Mazurek | Friday, September 2, 2016
They say that time heals all wounds, but two weeks on from Brian Kelly announcing both Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer would play against Texas, that hasn’t yet happened.
“I’m not that worried about it,” the Irish head coach said of the decision. “They’re two veteran players. They know how to play. They don’t like it. They would like to be the guy, but they want to win, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to win and find a way to win the game. … Leading up to it, they won’t be fine.
“ … It’s not an ideal situation for either one of them.”
But while much of the attention has been focused on who will or should play, not much has been said about how the two quarterbacks found themselves in this position.
For Zaire, the journey into the 2016 season has been a roller coaster. The Kettering, Ohio, native came into Notre Dame as a highly-touted recruit and redshirted his freshman season behind Everett Golson and Tommy Rees. At the end of his sophomore season, Zaire won the Music Ciy Bowl’s MVP award while sharing time with Golson. When Golson transferred before the 2015 season, it left Zaire with the job.
But that was just the beginning, as the now-senior quarterback broke his ankle and only started two games in 2015. But as he recovered, Zaire said the injury gave him a better perspective on becoming a leader — a perspective he plans to take into Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium on Sunday.
“It gave me a different perspective I wasn’t able to have when I was on the field,” Zaire said. “Being able to talk to guys on a mental level, just being able to relate information and share my story, just talk to them through their tough times as well was a real benefit to me in terms of my deeper connection to my teammates. I can only hope I can provide some positive energy and positive effects who are out there.
“Now being on the field, I get to see the things I talked about it action. I even get to help so that’s even better, it’s a good opportunity for me and those guys.”
Though Zaire is just days away from seeing his first game action in almost a year, he said he’s more focused on winning than simply being on the field.
“I think winning the game would be a milestone,” Zaire said. “Winning is a milestone. Injuries happen in the game of football, [defensive backs coach Todd Lyght] always told me you know what kind of player you are when you come back from a major injury. I know what I can do on the field and I’m excited to be able to take the opportunity and run with it.”
Kizer also knows about waiting his turn. The Toledo, Ohio, native redshirted his freshman season, but was called into action in his second year with the team when Zaire went down with his injury against Virginia. Kizer, now a junior, stepped in and salvaged a victory, complete with a game-winning deep ball to Will Fuller that will forever be remembered by Irish fans. Kizer threw for 2,884 yards in the 12 games he played, with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
But Kizer said his biggest takeaway from the 2015 campaign wasn’t the number of touchdowns he threw, but the information he learned about becoming a leader.
“Last year, I had the opportunity to take over that quarterback position and with that comes a lot of leadership,” Kizer said. “I learned quite a bit last year, so to take the experience I learned last year about how to lead a great team and apply them to this year has worked really well for me this offseason. [I have] the opportunity to fulfill that spot as a leader and an upperclassman now to take us to a successful season.”
This year, Kizer will find himself thrust into that leadership role on a younger team. Yet as he grows as a leader, Kizer admitted that part of the leadership process involves trusting other people to get the job done.
“The cool thing about our leadership style is that each unity has a leader in itself,” Kizer said. “So [senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. is] going to handle his guys. There’s four coaches that go with the receivers and multiple coaches that go with the running backs. As long as you focus on what you’re doing … those guys are going to get the job done.”
Getting the job done is also something Kizer said he himself plans to key in on this season and he feels focusing on the details will bring the team to new heights.
“In close games, it’s all about the small things,” Kizer said. “If you go back to Stanford, [I] pop off a big run right before half, I step up to pass, I don’t have two hands on the ball, I fumble the ball, we don’t get that touchdown or that field goal going into the half. That touchdown or that field goal wins the game. There’s so many of those small situations in every game we played last year. What I’ve learned most is if I can focus on the details and shy away from some of those small mistakes that most people probably forget at the end of the season, that’s what’s going to separate us and turn those small margins of losses into small margins of wins.”
If you only look at production and yards, the two quarterbacks may seem interchangeable. But the paths they have taken to reach this point are not and neither are their mannerisms or attitudes.
Just take how both players answered the question, “How do you feel feeling about having to share playing time?”
“I just want to win games,” Kizer said. “I’d obviously love to be the guy to lead Notre Dame out there and play every snap just like any other competitor out there. If we go out there and play five overtimes, I want every last snap of those overtimes. But in this situation, you just have to trust the big man up top and that’s Coach Kelly. Whatever he has going in his little mind is probably going to be the right one … I should probably say big mind after 26 years of football.”
Zaire responded with a simple, “We’re just ready to play.”
Each answer rings true, because it fits each player. And while it’s important to remember Kizer and Zaire are approaching the same problem from different angles, it’s just as important to remember they share the same goal.
“A successful game for me personally would probably look like a win first and foremost,” Zaire said.
“We want to win games, that’s one thing we can agree on,” Kizer said