In Rome, the selection of a new Pope is signified when the black smoke billowing from the Vatican becomes white. That confirms to the audience waiting with bated breath in Vatican City that the decision has been made.
For Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Everett Golson, who was fourth team last year, his version of white smoke was a visor in his helmet for the Aug. 23 practice.
Upon arriving at Notre Dame last year, Golson made a request to head coach Brian Kelly for a visor inside his helmet.
“You won’t get the visor until you start here,” Kelly replied.
There were hints this Wednesday for Golson that Notre Dame Nation, waiting with bated breath, would finally officially hear that the Myrtle Beach, S.C., native would be the starter for the Sept. 1 opener against Navy.
“We talked about it yesterday,” said Golson of his conversation with Kelly. “I woke up this morning and, before class, I came over here hoping to see the visor in my helmet. And it wasn’t there, so I was a little down today.
“I came back in [for practice} and it was just there. I was kind of happy about that… From my perspective it was a little monumental just to get the visor.”
It’s official now: “Habemus Quarterback! Habemus Quarterback!”
“I just want to thank my teammates and also the other quarterbacks for really just us being there and pushing each other,” Golson said. “I felt that I wouldn’t have reached the potential from where I had come if it wasn’t for Andrew [Hendrix], Tommy [Rees] and Gunner [Kiel[ out there just helping me out.
“It definitely means a lot, but with this also comes a lot of responsibility, so I’m not going to rejoice in it. I’m happy about it — but understand it’s also time to go right now. So my main focus is going to be Navy and just going to work.”
It was exactly one year ago today (Aug. 23) that Kelly announced that senior Dayne Crist had edged out sophomore Tommy Rees for the starting position. Hendrix and Golson were a distant third and fourth, respectively. Crist’s duration as the starter lasted all of one half, or until Notre Dame fell behind 16-0 by halftime of the opener against South Florida. It’s little wonder that Golson is able to maintain a balanced perspective.
“They made the announcement that I’m the starter for Navy … doesn’t really solidify that I’m the starter for the whole season,” Golson said. “I’m going to keep my foot on the gas and keep pushing and keep working, just try to be the best player that I can be.”
Keeping the foot on the gas often is easier said than done. Earlier this week, Kelly was not pleased with the pace of practices. The team began to hit the proverbial wall because it was the end of the fall camp grind with three two-a-days last week, plus the start of the fall semester on Tuesday. After noting last week that Golson had thrown only one interception in 126 pass attempts charted, Kelly revealed the figure had grown to three recently.
“Going through practice there are going to be up and down days, but you have to know how to handle that adversity,” Golson said. “We came back today and it wasn’t our greatest practice but it was a step up from where we were yesterday."
Since the start of freshman eligibility in 1972, Golson will be the fourth Notre Dame quarterback to take his first career snap at Notre Dame as the starter in the opener. The others were sophomore Tom Clements in 1972 (ineligible for the varsity as a freshman in 1971), red-shirt freshman Ron Powlus in 1994, and red-shirt freshman Demetrius Jones in 2007.
Golson credits several factors for his rise. Among them was actually going on the road trips last year and working with the quarterback “Red Army” on the sidelines.
“It helped tremendously,” Golson said. “Just kind of seeing how game day actually works, just being in the film room with the guys and traveling with the guys, and knowing that when we go on the road it’s really a business trip and you have to be really focused.”
In the spring, the constantly repeated theme was that while Golson understood the art of being a quarterback, he didn’t get the science. So he dedicated himself throughout the summer months and this camp to diligent film study and comprehension to get a greater comfort level of the reads and progressions.
“I’ve still got a long way to go, but I can see progression,” said Golson, who lauded Kelly and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Chuck Martin. “I think I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about the game. This year they really clarified a lot. They don’t leave a stone unturned.”
Another element essential to his rise is not getting wrapped up in looking at the depth chart.
"Staying level-headed and being focused,” Golson said. “Never really getting into rankings and the depth chart. Just being the best player I can be. That was my theme going in, and it’s still my theme right now ... and hopefully everything takes care of itself.”