SOUTH BEND, Ind. — DeShone Kizer isn’t pretending to be someone else, whether it’s with his teammates, friends, strangers or the media.
Case in point: When asked what Kizer would’ve said to Tom Brady — the New England Patriots quarterback who was in the room with coach Brian Kelly when Kizer offered his verbal commitment to Notre Dame in 2013 — the redshirt freshman quarterback’s quick wit quickly produced one of the better quotes of the season.
“That's a question that I could answer in a thousand ways,” Kizer said, pausing to think for a few seconds. “Why would he ever choose to head up north to a school like Michigan is probably the first question I want to ask him.”
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Kizer will start his eighth game on Saturday at Fenway Park against Boston College. He’s gone from relative a relative unknown to a household name among college football fans, throwing for over 2,000 yards and accumulating 24 total touchdowns since that Week 2 game at Virginia in which Malik Zaire suffered a season-ending fractured ankle.
Inside Notre Dame’s locker room, on the practice field and during Saturdays, Kizer’s steady, composed presence has been asset for a No. 4 Irish side that’s currently in position to reach the College Football Playoff.
“He's very comfortable, which is huge,” graduate student center and captain Nick Martin said. “I think he's found his voice, which no matter what age you are when you are a quarterback, people are going to look to you, look to you to make plays and look to you be to be the guy to lean on.”
That voice came naturally to Kizer, who more than anything needed an opportunity to grasp it. He was Notre Dame’s third-string quarterback during spring practice earlier this year, and was solidly behind Zaire on the depth chart after Everett Golson transferred over the summer. Wide receiver Will Fuller said after that Virginia game he was shocked how composed Kizer was for a player thrown into his first real college action in a difficult situation, but that’s just who the Toledo, Ohio native is.
And as he established himself as a successful piece of a playoff contender, Kizer’s been able to grow into a more vocal role within the Irish offense, too.
“I'm still not a guy that's going to go out there and yell at everyone,” Kizer said. “We just want to execute each play that we get the opportunity to execute. And when it comes to my verbal end of things, I'm learning the offense still and I'm becoming more comfortable each week. And the more comfortable I become, the easier it is for me to push that out to the players out in the field.”
Notre Dame firmly believes Kizer, in both the quantifiable realm of production and the nebulous one leadership, can be a championship quarterback. All he has to do is push Notre Dame to wins over Boston College and Stanford for the Irish to have a good — but not guaranteed — chance of making the College Football Playoff.
Coach Brian Kelly sees Kizer also having the right process in place to allow Notre Dame to reach its playoff goal.
“When you give him information, he doesn’t, like, skip over B and C and go right to D,” Kelly said. “He's A, B, C and D. And that's what it requires. A great quarterback has to be that detailed.”
But that’s just another example of Kizer not altering himself. All that’s changed from that afternoon in Charlottesville to the last stretch of a playoff race is the platform he has.
“I’ve learned quickly that you can't be fake,” Kizer said. “These guys are in the locker room with you, they spend 365 days almost with you throughout the year. These guys know who you are. And you've gotta be yourself.”