Golson’s rapid growth puts BCS title within Irish’s grasp

Diamonds are made under intense heat and pressure. Apparently, so are college football stars.

Such is the case for former Myrtle Beach High standout and Notre Dame redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson, who will lead the No. 1-ranked Fighting Irish into Monday’s BCS National Championship Game in Miami against No. 2 Alabama.

Forget about easing a QB into the starting role while he learns from the safety of the sidelines and practice field. Golson was thrust into the job over three other candidates last summer after being demoted to the scout team last season.

“Being out back on the scout team a humbling experience for me,” Golson said during Friday’s final press conference before the big game. “I had confidence i was ready to play but it was an awakening. It humbled me and made me re-assess myself.”

It also made Notre Dame coaches reassess Golson. From scout team QB to the starting role, Golson showed he was ready to run the offense and capable of leading the team in a rapid maturation process that landed Notre Dame in the national title game.

“It’s been a steady improvement as the year went on,” said Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. “The difficult thing but nice thing for him is he got thrown to the fire … he didn’t get to ease in this thing like a lot of quarterbacks do.

“Our confidence never waivered as far as how great he would be. We just pushed the envelope on how quickly he could get to the level we knew he could play. We knew there was going to be a maturation process … (but) he probably put more pressure on himself on how quickly he wanted to play at the level we knew he could play.”

Golson took his first snap as starter in the opener against Navy in Dublin, Ireland, then struggled as the Irish survived scares from Purdue and Michigan. He was benched four times through the season for various reasons, but kept coming back and getting better with every game.

In his first six games, Golson ran or passed for seven touchdowns while turning the ball over six times. Through the final six games, which included wins over Oklahoma and Southern Cal, Golson scored 10 touchdowns with only two turnovers and nearly doubled his yardage production.

Despite the late surge, Golson believes it was the Miami game when he started to turn the corner. Kelly benched Golson shortly before the game for being late for a team meeting, then watched Golson respond when he entered after the first possession and led the Irish to a 41-3 win.

“Going through what I’ve been through and coming back to help this team be successful, that built a little bit of confidence,” Golson said. “I didn’t see it at the time because I’m a competitor and I wanted to play, but the coaches were doing what was best for the team and that’s why we’re where we are right now.”

Golson and the Irish face their biggest test in Alabama, which brings a talented defense to Miami to stop the Notre Dame offense. Golson is confident in his and his teammates’ abilities to matchup with the Crimson Tide.

“For me it’s definitely going to be a great opportunity to compete for this national championship. I’m looking forward to it,” Golson said. “We’re obviously the underdogs coming into this game … but it’s really about who’s going to play to the end, all four quarters.”

The Tide is listed as a 10-point favorite over the Irish, but Notre Dame relishes the underdog role. But should Alabama prevent the Irish from winning their first national title since 1988, it won’t be because of an unprepared quarterback.

“Coming through all the things he’s been through, he’s about as battle-tested as they come,” Martin said. “Look at any other quarterback in the country this season and see if they are as battle-tested as Everett. I don’t think so.”

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