Irish's Golson to follow Johnny Football's footsteps?

ASSOCIATED PRESS
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: January 07, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Alabama lost once this season, mostly because of what Texas A & M's Johnny Manziel was able to do to extend its defense.

Now Notre Dame is pinning much of its national title game hopes on the dual-threat skills of another redshirt freshman quarterback. The difference being, Everett Golson hasn't won a Heisman Trophy yet.

"Third downs were key for [A & M], and then [Manziel] ad-libbing a little bit," said Chuck Martin, Notre Dame's first-year offensive coordinator. "When things weren't there, he made three or four plays. So we're planning on [Golson] doing the same thing for us, that when we call a lousy play he just . . . makes something happen, which he has a tendency to do at times, which we really like."

In 2003, when Martin was also working for Brian Kelly in what would be Kelly's final season at Grand Valley State, the Lakers won a Division II national title with freshman QB Cullen Finnerty. After Martin took over the program, he got two more rings with Finnerty in 2005 and '06.

"It's not a very similar style of quarterbacks, but very similar in terms of watching a young player grow up and really become a player right in front of your eyes," Martin said. "By the time we got to the championship game [Finnerty] was a lot different player.

"So we're hoping that history repeats itself. Everybody is worried about that next one, we're trying to make this the first of three, actually. Trying to think big picture here."

He was smiling, of course. But since the Fighting Irish haven't hoisted a trophy in nearly a quarter-century, leprechauns everywhere would obviously settle for taking care of the moment at hand Monday night at Sun Life Stadium. Then they can start contemplating the possibility of going back-to-back for the first time since 1946-47.

Golson, who concedes his first love is basketball, originally committed to North Carolina. In 2011, when the Irish started 0-2 and finished 8-5 for the second straight year, he was relegated to the scout team. It might have been the best thing that could have happened to him. That, and getting replaced a few times this season by former starter Tommy Rees.

"Coming in, I thought I was ready to play," said Golson, who admitted he often wondered what might have been had he became a Tar Heel. "It really humbled me, made me kind of reassess myself. It wasn't all perfect. Just enduring through the adversity has made me think I made the right decision.

"Tommy has helped me out tremendously. He's been nothing but a friend. [His contribution] was for the betterment of the team. I couldn't see it because the competitor in me wanted to be out there. But that's why we're 12-0.

"We were always counted out from the beginning of the year until now. You just don't look ahead. I think we definitely want to make a statement. It is a big stage. But being the person I am, I don't really ride the wave too much."

The process is still evolving. He has made mistakes. He has also turned nothings into somethings. Sometimes on back-to-back series.

"He's about as battle-tested . . . 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."

Now all he has to do is come through once more, against the reigning champs, who are trying to become just the third team in the poll era to win three titles in 4 years.

"Being that I'm from the South, I remember I used to get asked why didn't you go to South Carolina or any SEC school," said the Myrtle Beach native. "But God had a plan for me. If I would've got down on myself or not believed, we wouldn't be sitting here today."

Since freshman eligibility was restored 4 decades ago, only one first-year quarterback has taken his team to a title. That was Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway, in 1985, who only got the chance after Troy Aikman went down early in the season.

"I think for me it's been like a combination of luck and preparing," Golson said. "We're obviously the underdogs. But it's really about who's going to endure to the end. I see it as another game. I see it as another opportunity."

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