Zaire not taking status as Irish’s starting QB for granted
CULVER, Ind. (AP) Malik Zaire laughed when he heard coach Brian Kelly talk about how the quarterback sometimes needs to be reined in because he’s so emotional.
”I wake up with a lot of energy,” Zaire said. ”I just love being out here, I love being at practice and I love being around these guys and doing the things necessary. Coach Kelly will tell me if I’m doing a little too much, a little too much energy, and I need to calm it down a little bit.”
Zaire has reason to be excited. He’ll be the starting quarterback when the Fighting Irish open at home against Texas on Sept. 5.
There was supposed to be a competition for the job, but Everett Golson earned his degree and decided to use his final season of eligibility at Florida State.
Zaire said that hasn’t changed how he’s approaching the season.
”Being the No. 1 quarterback, there’s never a clear-cut anything,” Zaire said. ”Coach Kelly does a great job of keeping it competitive and keeping us on our toes knowing that anything can change at any moment. Continuing to compete and continuing to push these guys with the acknowledgement you never know who is going to be the guy the next day.”
That’s certainly been the case at Notre Dame in recent seasons.
After leading the Irish to the national championship game as a redshirt freshman in 2012, Golson appeared set to be set to be a four-year starter. Then he missed the 2013 season for academic impropriety, allowing Tommy Rees to reclaim the job. Golson helped Notre Dame get off to a 6-0 start last season, but he committed 22 turnovers and the Irish lost five of their final six regular-season games.
Zaire replaced Golson when he struggled in the regular-season finale against USC. The 6-foot, 222-pound left-hander made his first start against LSU in the Music City Bowl and was named the game’s MVP. Zaire said the experience helps.
”I’m not the new kid on the block any more,” he said. ”So I think the expectations out there for me should be high because I have high expectations for myself.”
His teammates say they’re impressed with Zaire’s leadership as they began preseason practices at Culver Academies, 40 miles south of campus.
”He’s very charismatic,” receiver Corey Robinson said. ”He’s very energetic. He’s a great leader. In the past two months he’s kind of become the guy that everyone on the team, all the leaders on the team, can look to in a situation like a two-minute drill and say, `What do we need to do? How are we going to score?’ And Malik, he’s been grasping that kind of leadership and saying, `I’m the leader. I’m the quarterback. I’m the guy. I can get us there.’ "
Kelly said Zaire needs to work on doing things consistently.
”Don’t vary from this, and he’s getting better at that,” the coach said. ”Not because he doesn’t want to do it, he just has so much going on sometimes we just have to get him focused on `We just want you to do it this way, no other way, every single time.’ "
The Irish welcomed back cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who sat out last season after being investigated for possible academic dishonesty. Russell said it felt ”surreal” competing again with teammates.
”It’s literally about fun. I love these guys,” he said. ”I train with these guys. That’s why when I was back home I trained harder to come back and play with these guys. It’s like a kid in a candy story, just an amazing feeling to be back out here playing.”