Malik Zaire got his wish, and he’ll be Notre Dame’s Captain Jack Sparrow in 2015 after all.
In his statement addressing Everett Golson’s transfer from Notre Dame, coach Brian Kelly also took the opportunity to name Zaire, a redshirt sophomore, his starting quarterback for the upcoming season.
“We, of course, have approached our preparations for the upcoming season with this possibility in mind,” Kelly said. “The emergence of Malik Zaire, based on his performance in the Music City Bowl win over LSU and throughout spring practice, has given our staff supreme confidence that he can lead our team to great success in 2015.”
In March, when asked about sharing time with Golson, Zaire said it wouldn’t be the ideal situation because “At the end of the day, there’s only one Captain Jack Sparrow of the offense.”
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Behind Zaire on the depth chart will be redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer and true freshman Brandon Wimbush. While Wimbush comes to Notre Dame as a highly-touted recruit, expect the plan to be to redshirt him this fall — as Notre Dame did with Zaire in 2013, even as Tommy Rees struggled and Andrew Hendrix was ineffective in limited time as a backup.
Zaire is the only one of those three quarterbacks with college experience, having mopped up for Golson in a blowout loss to USC last year and started the Music City Bowl. In that 31-28 win over LSU, Zaire rushed 22 times for 96 yards with a touchdown and completed 12 of 15 passes for 96 yards with a score, as well.
“Malik has that, a really great spark, and I guess it kind of resonates with everybody on the offense,” slot receiver/running back C.J. Prosise said after the Music City Bowl. “It really feels good — he’s always excited, he’s always ready to go and he’s a great competitor. So it’s great to have that.”
Notre Dame focused on two areas of Zaire’s game during spring practice: throwing mechanics and decision making. New offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford worked with Zaire on tightening his throwing base, which Sanford said has a tendency to get too wide and lead to inaccurate throws.
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As for decision making, Kelly pointed to a time when Zaire inexplicably checked out of a play when he didn’t need to during a scrimmage portion of spring practice. Whereas with Golson, Kelly knew what his quarterback was thinking before, during and after every play, he’s not quite to that point yet with Zaire.
But without Golson around to siphon coaching time and practice reps from him, Kelly, Sanford & Co. can focus their attention on trying to develop Zaire to the point where they’ll be comfortable with him running the entire offense come Sept. 5 against Texas. And one thing doesn’t appear to be lacking in the equation for Zaire, and that’s a belief in his ability to handle running the show.
“I’ve always had to believe in myself first because at the end of the day nobody’s going to believe in you until you believe in you,” Zaire said. “I believe that I can do the job and I can do it well, so once I had that confidence and my belief I just continued to work hard and do what I need to do.”