Oh, For A Perfect Ending

Golson’s Journey Hardly Ordinary

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — Everett Golson’s journey to tonight’s BCS national championship game cannot be described as perfect.

But then how can one describe the season of Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, who, despite being benched twice and sidlelined twice more, led his team to the only undefeated record in major college football?

Was it mercurial? Sure.

Tumultuous? Okay.

How about improbable?

Because if Notre Dame’s run to the season’s final game wasn’t implausible enough, the fact that it has been a sophomore first-time starter at the helm of the team’s offense makes it borderline unbelievable.

Notre Dame coaches knew that they had something special in Golson, the supremely athletic kid from Myrtle Beach, S.C., — but he was the quarterback of the future, not the present. Those destinies collided at the beginning of the season, and he helped turn it into one for the ages.

“Our confidence never wavered in anything he was going to become,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said of his quarterback Friday. “We knew physically what he was capable of doing, and we knew there was going to be a maturation process. … We were just pushing the envelope to how quickly we could get him to the level we knew he could play.”

So Golson learned how to play the most important position of the game, for arguably the nation’s most important team, on the fly. And though his season might not have been perfect, tonight’s matchup against Alabama at Sun Life Stadium presents an opportunity to finish it with a perfect ending.

Golson’s transformation from unseasoned project to team leader brought the Fighting Irish to this point, and the change has been so radical that Golson’s coaches and teammates, as well as the opposition, expect that his best is yet to come.

Golson wasn’t supposed to be the Notre Dame starting quarterback at the beginning of the season. The presumptive starter was junior Tommy Rees, but Rees was suspended for the season’s first game after an off-season, headline-grabbing arrest.

Golson slid into the starting role, one running back Theo Reddick thought he wasn’t quite ready for.

“I remember we couldn’t go through practices without asking coaches, ‘Is this is the right check? Is that the right check?’ ” Reddick said.

After a 12-for-18 performance and a blowout win over Navy in Dublin, Ireland, earned Golson another start. Golson started strong in Week 2, but he spent the end of the game on the bench.

That’s when the wheels came off.

He completed only 43 percent of his passes the next week and was benched a week later, after throwing two interceptions on his first eight pass attempts of Notre Dame’s game against Michigan.

Golson didn’t start the next week, against Miami. That was punishment for missing a team meeting, not for the poor performance. Golson did play against the Hurricanes, and his best was on display.

But Golson wasn’t able to build on his strong play. Notre Dame escaped Stanford the next week, but Golson was concussed late in the fourth quarter of that game. That injury knocked him out of the Irish’s game against BYU.

As Golson returned to practice to prepare for Oklahoma, questions were raised if he was the man who could beat the nation’s No. 12 team on the road. Golson had the flu, to boot. With the Irish’s perfect record and BCS title hopes on the line, perhaps it was time for a change.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly didn’t think so, and his gamble paid off. The Irish rocked Oklahoma, 30-13.

Teammates say that game in Norman was Golson’s turning point. Since that win, his confidence has been high and his talent has been unfettered by insecurity and immaturity.

“I felt like just how he ran on the field at Oklahoma gave our whole team confidence because he seemed very comfortable and calm out there,” Martin said. “His non-verbals on the field were outstanding that night, and to me that’s the night that I really saw the maturation.”

Gone are the days where he’d interrupt practices to ask a question of his coaches. Now Reddick says Golson is running the show.

“I want to say that’s when he went from a boy to a quarterback,” Notre Dame receiver T.J. Jones said of the Oklahoma game.

Golson finished the regular season with that confidence, only throwing two interceptions in Notre Dame’s four final games — and it’s that confidence — both in and out of the pocket - that scares No. 2 Alabama.

The Crimson Tide’s only loss this year came at the hands of another young, scrambling quarterback, Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel. And while no one would rightfully put Manziel and Golson on the same level, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart knows that the latter has the talent to do to the Alabama defense exactly what the former did.

“Yeah, he plays with a lot more confidence, a lot more skill,” Smart said of Golson. “He’s grown a lot. I can only imagine in the last 35 days — however many it’s been — they’re going to let him do some more.”