The writing on the wall started to clearly point to Golson as early as a week ago when Kelly praised his progress at the team’s official media day. The sophomore likely started spring practice as the team’s fourth option at quarterback, but has since climbed past junior Tommy Rees, freshman Gunner Kiel and most recently junior Andrew Hendrix to earn the starting job.
“He won the job,” Kelly said. “Andrew did a great job, made great improvement. [I’m] really, really pleased with the progress of both those young men. It was good to see. It was a tough decision, but Everett clearly won the starting job.”
Golson’s rise to the top started during the Blue-Gold game in April when he led the quartet of passers with 120 yards and two touchdowns while completing 11 of his 15 attempts. He also ran for 25 yards, showing a glimpse of what the Irish offense might look like with a mobile quarterback.
The sophomore’s poise and his ability to extend plays separated him for the competition during fall camp. Kelly said that ability to keep plays alive has been the key to success for other young quarterbacks he has coached in the past like Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour and Cincinnati’s Zach Collaros.
Kelly said Thursday that he prefers to build his offense around the personnel he has on the field and that will not change with Golson. He said the past few weeks have been aimed at constructing an offense that will be comfortable for a first-year starter under center.
Almost exactly a year ago, Kelly named then-senior Dayne Crist the team’s starting quarterback only to change his mind 30 minutes into the season opener. While he didn’t say it definitively, it appears that the coach might have a slightly higher tolerance for missteps with his young, inexperienced starter this year.
“Anytime you’re starting someone with four seasons of competition [remaining in eligibility] you know he’s going to learn more. He’s going to experience more as he plays,” Kelly said. “…You want to be able to stick with a guy and build continuity, especially a guy that’s got four season of competition.”
Junior Andrew Hendrix will be the team’s second option at quarterback and will get roughly 30 percent of the team’s snaps during the next eight days as they prepare for Navy. If Hendrix is called on to step in at some point he’ll be expected to run the entire Notre Dame offense. Kelly said he wouldn’t have any “change-up” packages for a second quarterback like he did a year ago.
“Everett is the starter and if things go the way we’re planning it he’ll play the whole game,” he said.
Kelly also answered several of depth chart questions that had loomed through fall camp. Freshman Davonte’ Neal will return the first punt for Notre Dame this season. He’ll be tasked with trying to pull the Irish out of the statistical cellar in that category.
Freshman KeiVarae Russell will replace the recently injured Lo Wood as the team’s second starting quarterback. Wood ruptured his Achilles tendon on Monday, and Russell quickly separated himself from a group of four other young cornerbacks vying for the starting job.
“There’s always a couple of kids that just have it. He’s a great kid. He’s so confident in his ability. He’s extremely athletic. He’s picked it up so quickly,” Kelly said of the freshman from Everett, Wash.
Russell and junior Bennett Jackson will flips sides on the defense depending on their opponent on a week-to-week basis.
And in the trenches, Kelly cleared up the second team at several positions. Sophomore Nick Martin is the first option behind both offensive tackles and sophomore Conor Hanratty backs up both guard positions. Freshman Romeo Okwara is the team’s second-string Dog linebacker behind sophomore Ben Councell.
Check back with Blue & Gold tonight for reaction from Golson on winning the starting job.