Is Notre Dame’s Malik Zaire’s Time Now?

Malik Zaire - Notre Dame QB
Malik Zaire (8) rolls out to pass during the second half against the LSU Tigers in the Music City Bowl at LP Field. Notre Dame won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Watching him from the sideline, Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire seemingly was a picture of patience and understanding – a true student of the game. From the inside though, the quarterback from Kettering, Ohio, tells a different story. A story that would include angst, lack of maturity, preparedness, and mental engagement. It’s not a story that is fun to tell for any individual, but by doing so, it most definitely helps eradicate those personal demons. For those fans damning Brian Kelly last year for not replacing embattled starter Everett Golson, sometimes the coach really does know best.

It is no secret now that Malik Zaire struggled to force the hand of Brian Kelly, in the decision of who to start for the 2014 season. While most just assumed that Kelly chose Golson to start because of his experience, the choice and the reasoning behind it actually ran much deeper than that. Reasons that Malik Zaire himself has openly admitted to perpetuating.

A four-star recruit coming out of Archbishop Alter, Zaire had plenty of programs who were interested, but ultimately chose the Fighting Irish. While his numbers were reduced during his senior year in high school, which was a purely a result of his coach’s request to change his approach, Zaire still showed signs of a strong and accurate arm, and the ability to scramble up field.

Many would have you believe that Zaire is simply a left-handed clone of Everett Golson, but with slightly less mobility. I would disagree. Even with his earlier issues, Zaire possesses a certain confidence in his actions on the field, and one could see the growth and maturity in just the short time between the USC game and the Music City Bowl, against LSU.

If you just looked at his numbers for the bowl game against LSU, it would be easy to describe them as pedestrian at best. If you watched the game closely though, you saw a young man who made quick, calculated decisions, and was constantly thinking two to three steps ahead of the current action taking place.

While he may not have a lot of in-game experience to fall back upon going into 2015, he possesses a lot of knowledge that has been passed on to him from both the coaching staff and teammates after two full years in the program as an early enrollee.  It was certainly no fun for Irish fans and coaching staff to witness last year, but Zaire had a front row seat to the mid-to-late season struggles of Everett Golson. He saw the daily and weekly pressure that Golson dealt with from fans, media, and coaching staff. Now the question that looms largely is, can Zaire retain the information from the previous experiences, both good and bad, and use it to his advantage?.

With a total of just 35 passing attempts, and 28 rushing attempts, Zaire has yet to define the type of quarterback he will be at Notre Dame. Although many people believe that Zaire has earned the right to start, and gives the Irish the best chance to win going into 2015, nothing is guaranteed at this point. It’s imperative that he takes the lessons learned and keep applying them throughout his entire career while in South Bend. The key point to remember for Irish fans, coaching staff, and even himself , is that he is still learning, and a work-in-progress.   Zaire’s aspirations are high, no doubt, and fans expectations are even higher, but a lot of work remains before those aspirations become a reality.

Being the starting quarterback for Notre Dame is pressure packed situation.  When you include the academic requirements that these kids face, it is truly a position that only a person of maturity and experience can handle. Not only will Zaire have to deal with the return of Everett Golson, he is also completely coherent that former red-shirt QB DeShone Kizer is waiting in the wings and incoming freshman Brandon Wimbush are waiting in the wings. Both will be just as anxious as he is to see the field.

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