Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson admits to being jittery at the first spring practice last month after being suspended from school last fall for academic impropriety. Returning to the field was a big moment for him.
He was eager to be back with teammates — and eager to try to reclaim the starter's job he held when he helped guide the Fighting Irish to a 12-0 regular season and a berth in the national championship game. Heading into Saturday's spring Blue-Gold game, coach Brian Kelly isn't ready to name a starter. But other than a brash prediction by Malik Zaire, who didn't play as freshman, that he will be the starter against Rice on Aug. 30, there have been no signs Golson isn't the leading candidate.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Golson said he spent his time away honing his game.
"I have that mindset that I do want to be great. So it's not about just getting back into the flow for me. It's every day to come out you're going to work to be the best that I can be," he said.
Kelly said Golson hasn't graded out that well, but neither has Zaire.
"We graded our quarterbacks the other day and nobody had a 2.0 cumulative," Kelly said.
Kelly said that's a good thing, saying the low grades are because they have been going against a defense where new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is throwing everything at them. Kelly said some coaches wouldn't allow a defensive coordinator to use so many wrinkles, but he believes it will help make the Irish quarterbacks better prepared this fall.
"It's really hard on them. But I'd rather have it be difficult so when I go into that meeting we have great meetings that we can teach off of and learn off of and get better at," Kelly said.
Offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock has said Golson and the rest of the offense have looked good at times, but have struggled as well.
He said young players in new positions have added to the struggles, but said he's been pleased with practice overall. He's hoping to the Irish offense will be able to put it all together Saturday.
"I'm looking for an attacking style of offense and these guys carrying the fight to the defense and going after it and doing their business the right way," he said.
VanGorder said he's pleased with the work his squad has done this spring, especially learning new terminology and a more aggressive defensive scheme.
Kelly said the Irish don't have enough healthy linemen to play a true scrimmage. So it will be offense vs. defense with Golson and Zaire splitting time. Points will be awarded for things such as two points for passes of more than 20 yards and runs of more than 15, and four points for defensive stops before the 50-yard line and two points for a three-and-out.
Kelly said he knows how much importance fans place on the game, joking about it when talking about how there won't be any kickoff or punt returns.
"That will be all fair catches — and I'm sure we'll drop three of them and the Internet will blow up," he said.
Golson is just looking forward to playing in Notre Dame Stadium again, saying he's looking forward to the Blue-Gold game.
"I view it as a fun thing," he said.