Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.
When Everett Golson sees a piano, he usually sits down and starts entertaining. He plays several instruments, keeps a keyboard in his room and loves to sing.
Music is a huge part of his life, perhaps only topped by basketball.
And in Golson’s spare time, he plays quarterback for Notre Dame.
“He’s pretty good at his hobby,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. “This being his hobby.”
Golson’s biggest game – and biggest opportunity – awaits Monday night when the top-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) take on No. 2 Alabama (12-1) for the BCS national title. Golson’s season started with him winning a competition to be the quarterback for a then-unranked team, and now he’s got the chance to lead Notre Dame back to the top of college football.
Or in musical vernacular, to be ND’s maestro.
“It is a big stage,” Golson said. “I don’t ride the wave too much. I’m kind of just focused on what’s played between the yard lines, what’s played on the field. Can’t really focus on everything that’s off the field because that’s out of my control.”
A redshirt freshman, Golson didn’t play last season, instead running the scout team. He won starter job entering this season, yet even when he was picked to be under center as Notre Dame opened the season in Ireland against Navy, there was some question about how long he actually would be able to keep his spot.
Golson had all the answers. His numbers aren’t catchy – 11 passing touchdowns in 11 appearances – but his record is unblemished, 10-0 as a starter.
“I think he understood more of what our coaches wanted from him,” Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert said. “When they would coach him up on something, he kind of better understood that as the year went on.”
One of the major issues Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had with his offense a year ago was its penchant for turning over the ball.
Poised more often than not, Golson has only five interceptions in 282 attempts this season. He averages 191 passing yards per game – only 79th-best in the nation – but he’s not necessarily asked to win games with wild throwing sprees, either. Kelly’s mandate simply was for his quarterback to avoid the big mistake that would lose games.
So far, so good.
“First-ever college game in Dublin, Ireland; first-ever home game against Purdue; road game primetime Michigan State; night game at Notre Dame against Michigan; on the road at Oklahoma; on the road at USC; coming off the bench ... take any other quarterback this year and try to figure out if they’ve gone through as much as Everett Golson,” Martin said. “To me it’s not even close. Not even close.”
When Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart first started breaking down tape of the Irish, he predictably watched every play of every game several times. And by the end of that film study, Smart knew the Golson who started the season isn’t even close to the player who now is tasked with running the Irish offense.
“You can’t give the guy the ability to run all around and make plays, yet that’s what he’s going to do, so it’s who’s got the greater will to contain and keep him in the pocket,” Smart said. “So it’s a tough thing. The guy is going to scramble. He’s going to be a better, quicker athlete than the people we have up front.”
Even when things were tough at times this season – particularly the game against Pittsburgh when Notre Dame trailed 20-6 entering the fourth quarter, then won 29-26 on his touchdown run in the third overtime – Golson continually showed he can do the job.
“He’s a very important part of our offense, and he’s a big playmaker,” Notre Dame lineman Zack Martin said. “Any time we can take a hit off of him, it’s going to be big. He’s a playmaker. He makes plays.”
If that happens Monday, Golson may make football’s equivalent of beautiful music.
“The race is not given to the swift or the strong ... but it’s given to the one that endures to the end,” Golson said. “We’re obviously the underdogs coming into this game. ... Alabama has, like I said, a great defense, great team, bigger, faster, stronger. But it’s really about who’s going to endure to the end.”