(MCT) — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In his first official appearance as a Notre Dame quarterback about to play for a national championship, Everett Golson followed a phalanx of teammates and security through hotel doors and into a wall of waiting cameras. His head and eyes darted back and forth before he spotted the entrance to a small ballroom, and he headed toward it.
It was a bit of misdirection by the sophomore. Golson heard officials call his name for a reroute. He was escorted to the cavernous ballroom next door with dozens of rows of chairs and a bank of still more cameras in the back. He climbed a few steps and took a seat on the dais, inextricably on the big stage, in the middle of everything.
There may be just one player who, alone, can swing Notre Dame’s fortunes in the BCS championship against Alabama on Monday with jaw-unhinging plays or stomach-turning errors. It is the soft-spoken Myrtle Beach, S.C., native humbled time after time for two years and steeled by all the failures, now staring down monumental success.
“I don’t see myself being rattled,” Golson said. “There is going to be some adversity in this game, but it’s about how you handle it, how you come out on the back end of it.”
It may be that, at the ground level of Notre Dame’s restructuring plan for 2012, everything was to be done to ensure that Golson and his robust arm and speedball feet would be the starter. Nothing before or after was as unswerving.
He was an early-enrollee freshman treading furiously to stay afloat and, ultimately, shunted to the scout team. He was a sophomore starter yanked from a game once, then again, then again, each a new welt upon his confidence until he was anesthetized to it and motivated by it.
The quarterback who was barely audible in spring can say everything about what transpires at Sun Life Stadium on Monday.
“The thing I love about Everett is, through the adversity, he has grown,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We certainly wouldn’t be here without him. He’s put himself in a position now that everybody trusts that he’ll lead this football team.”
Said offensive coordinator Chuck Martin: “Take any other quarterback this year and try to figure out if they’ve gone through as much as Everett Golson. To me, it’s not even close.”
The issue isn’t Golson conquering nerves. How far he can take this team depends upon how far his football mind has come, whether he can swiftly process wrinkles Alabama concocted over the last month and make the correct play.
His grasp of even a stripped-down offense was shaky to begin the season. After an error, Martin would ask if Golson identified the problem, and Golson had. He just couldn’t implement the solution.
“The frustrating thing was he was seeing it,” Martin said, “and not always reacting to it.”
Golson has had 40-plus days to evolve even more and, for what it is worth, he demonstrated a confident presence in abbreviated viewing windows at Notre Dame practices last week. It seemed a logical progression from the deferential figure he cut in August.
Alabama has had a month, though, to conjure unfamiliar looks that will stress Golson’s ability to ad lib intelligently and accurately.
“In the beginning of the season, we couldn’t even go through a practice without the coaches constantly stopping us on every play, telling him what he did wrong,” tailback Theo Riddick said. “Now, he’s telling the coaches, ‘Hey, this is what I see,’ and communicating very well.”
Said receiver TJ Jones: “He’s able to tell everyone on the field what to do now.”
He is fulfilling the mission set forth by the last Notre Dame quarterback to win a national title, another fleet South Carolina native. Golson knew little about Tony Rice upon his arrival, but soon learned about him and then heard from him, Rice offering advice throughout a trying freshman campaign.
Rice reiterated it during a springtime conversation, setting forth the duties Golson had to face but had no concept of.
“He’s helped me out a lot, really helped me to understand the responsibility of being the quarterback here at Notre Dame,” Golson said. “That’s what I’ve carried through spring ball and fall camp, cleaning up stuff that I was doing in the past, really not being that leader that I could be.”
No one player can etch the Irish’s destiny, by his own hand, as much as a sophomore who has been through everything and hasn’t seen anything yet.
Two days before kickoff, Golson was asked if he has any concept of what he is in for after Monday, should he become a national championship-winning quarterback at Notre Dame. His approach to the biggest night of his life sounded loud and clear.
“If we do happen to win it this year, I’m going to want to win it next year,” Golson said. “I’m never going to accept where I am. I’m going to keep pushing for more.”