SOUTH BEND, Ind. — DeShone Kizer wasn’t groomed to be a quarterback from the day he could throw a football, and the newly-minted undisputed starting quarterback of Notre Dame couldn’t be happier about it.
There was a time not too long ago during which Kizer, who also played basketball and baseball in high school, didn’t look like a sure thing to stick with football. After a disappointing 2015 spring practice in which he dealt with his then-girlfriend going through a serious medical procedure and wasn’t throwing the ball as well as he would’ve liked, Kizer admitted he considered giving up football and reaching out to Mik Aoki and the Irish baseball team about a roster spot.
A conversation with Torii Hunter Jr. — himself a football and baseball player at Notre Dame — followed, as did a few trips to the batting cages. It was more of a brief fling with baseball than anything else, and he came to the realization his best path would be to stick with football.
“After that spring, I was at a low moment,” Kizer said. “I wasn’t throwing the ball well. Malik (Zaire) and Everett (Golson) were playing really good ball at the time and I thought I could take my talents elsewhere, and I thought baseball might be the best thing for me.”
Kizer recalled his college nadir only a few minutes after he revealed coach Brian Kelly told him the dual-quarterback offense was being ditched and he’d be Notre Dame’s No. 1 quarterback going forward.
“But obviously I stuck with the path, put in the work and now we’re sitting in a good position,” Kizer added.
It was a decision by the seventh-year Irish coach that was inevitable since Kizer threw for five touchdowns and rushed for another in Notre Dame’s 50-47 double overtime loss at Texas on Sunday. The redshirt sophomore’s showing in Austin represented another step forward for a guy who wasn’t particularly impressive a few years ago as a recruit, let alone after that 2015 Blue and Gold game.
Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman looked back to DeShone Kizer’s recruiting process, a time in which the former four-star prospect was hardly a sure thing. Feldman talked to former pro quarterback Jordan Palmer, who was one of the coaches at the Elite 11 quarterback recruiting camp in which Kizer participated — and struggled — back in the summer of 2013.
“Everything was new for him,” Palmer told Feldman. “He was learning how to drop. It's difficult to come into a drill and do as well if you're learning far more elementary stuff than the other kids around you. At the time, he was doing basketball, baseball, academics, and he didn't have a private quarterbacks coach throughout those years. His QB game wasn't getting the same attention as a lot of other high schools QBs.”
Rivals.com rated eight dual-threat quarterbacks higher than Kizer in the class of 2014. Only one of them — Clemson’s DeShaun Watson, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback that year — has gone on to notable success so far. One of them, Texas’ Jerrod Heard (No. 4), was moved to wide receiver this summer and caught a 68-yard pass against Notre Dame on Sunday. The others: Will Grier, Treon Harris, Brandon Harris, Clayton Thorson, William Crest and Rafe Peavey.
While Kizer was behind those guys at the time because he wasn’t solely focused on being a quarterback, he credited his three-sport high school career to helping him out now. His explanation was an enlightening one — and is one that stands out in this era of one-sport specialization.
“I think that was one of the best things that ever happened to me is to play three sports,” Kizer said. “It allowed me, one, to create the athletic ability that it takes to be able to adjust on the fly when you’re playing at this high level. And two, I’m learning more about the quarterback position every day than I ever have.
“To go through all three sports in high school, I never really locked into one, so there’s a lot of stuff that I wasn’t able to learn in high school where people have preached it since they’ve been eight years old. So a lot of that new stuff got put on me my redshirt freshman year when I was mature enough to learn from it, and now it’s kind of put me at a higher learning curve now that I’m in my 20s where things are a little easier to understand.”
Fast-forward to Sunday, when Kizer accounted for six touchdowns against Texas, and then Wednesday, when he officially beat out Zaire for Notre Dame's starting gig. He's also receiving some early chatter from NFL evaluators as a potential first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Kizer is no longer behind the game. He's ahead of it.