Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 18 of 55 SEPT. 19, 2016 19 BY MATT JONES L ife has changed quickly for Notre Dame junior quarterback De- Shone Kizer. Entering the 2016 football sea- son, he found himself in a competitive enough battle where he was basically the co-starter on his own team. After just one game this season, the now full- time starter Kizer is gaining huge mo- mentum as a potential first-round pick in the NFL Draft should he leave South Bend after this season. Welcome to the life of a Notre Dame quarterback. It's what made ESPN's Beano Cook declare Ron Powlus a fu- ture two-time Heisman Trophy winner before he even played one snap of col- lege football in 1994. It's what led Sports Illustrated to de- clare sophomore Matt LoVecchio a Heisman candidate after helping lead Notre Dame to the Fiesta Bowl as a freshman (LoVecchio would lose his job three games into his sophomore year to Carlyle Holiday). It's what made Jimmy Clausen "the LeBron James of football" before sign- ing with Notre Dame. Just 16 months ago, Kizer was far from professional football's radar. In fact, the Toledo, Ohio, native seriously contemplated quitting football and playing baseball, a sport he also ex- celled at Central Catholic High School. Stuck behind Everett Golson and Malik Zaire on the depth chart, the freshman Kizer had a subpar spring of 2015. He recalled how poorly he was throwing the ball and how he hit a "low moment." "Malik and Everett [Golson] were playing really good ball at the time and I thought that maybe I could take my talents elsewhere, and I felt that base- ball might be the best thing for me," Kizer said. "I stayed the path and I put in the work and now we're sitting in a good position." In a roundabout way, Golson's transfer to Florida State that spring provided a reinvigorated spirit and determination in Kizer to stay the course. Ironically, it came from Golson — who opted to not stay because he didn't want to share time with Zaire in 2015. "He had a kind of a win-from-within mentality that I never had," Kizer said of Golson. "I was Mr. Nice Guy all the way through high school, and he really showed me how to be an elite competi- tor, to be able to compete against your- self and not really worry about the guy next to you. "That kind of showed me how a quarterback competition at an elite school like Notre Dame should look. I tried to add on my little spice to it, and that was to not only be in a great com- petition and have a win-from-within mentality, but also buy into the quarter- back room and try to develop us both [himself and Zaire] at the same time." The 6-4½, 230-pound Kizer led Notre Dame to a 10-3 finish in 2015, throwing for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns, putting together one of the seven best single-season ratings in school history (and the best by a sophomore at 150.0). He also ran for 520 yards — fourth most by an Irish quarterback — and 10 touchdowns, a single-season school standard by a signal-caller. Despite his success, Kizer was asked to win his starting job back in a pre- season battle with Zaire. After splitting some snaps with Zaire against Texas — a game in which Kizer completed 15 of 24 passes for 215 yards with five touchdowns to go along with 77 yards and one score on the ground — Kelly informed Kizer he would be the team's No. 1 quarterback moving forward. "In the last eight months, I've learned quite a bit about myself as a quarterback, as a leader, as a team- mate," Kizer said. "From that I've defi- nitely developed into someone that I wanted to be for this season." Kizer 's performance against the Longhorns was notable in that he be- came the first college QB since Sports Reference began this tracking system in 2000 to throw for 200-plus yards and five-plus touchdowns with zero interceptions while also rushing for 75-plus yards and at least one TD in a losing effort. And it came from a three-sport prep standout that never devoted his full attention to football until he arrived at Notre Dame. "That was one of the best things that's ever happened to me is to play three sports," said Kizer, who played football, baseball and basketball at Central Catholic. "It allowed me to cre- ate the athletic ability that it takes to be able to adjust on the fly when you're playing at this high level." Though Kizer — who was listed a four-star prospect and the No. 9 dual- threat QB in the class of 2014 by Rivals — participated in the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp, he struggled in the finals and finished near the bot- tom of the 18 participants. Kizer com- mented how because he never "locked in" on one sport growing up, he had plenty to learn once he enrolled in college and was receptive to learning rather than "having it all figured out." After spring practices concluded in 2015, Kizer said he had conversations with Irish wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., who also plays baseball at Notre Dame, about possibly switching sports. Kizer, who played outfield and hit cleanup in high school — he "shut down" the huge pitching arm as a sophomore to concentrate more on passing a foot- ball — went to the team's batting cages a few times, but he never spoke with coach Mik Aoki about joining the team. The feeling among NFL scouts and draft analysts is that Kizer made the right decision sticking with football. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has Kizer listed as the No. 1 draft-eligible quarterback in the 2017 draft, project- ing the Irish QB to be selected first overall by the Cleveland Browns. "The redshirt sophomore from Notre Dame has the arm, football IQ and poise from the pocket and on the move to be a worthy pick at No. 1 overall," Miller wrote. "He's young, so there is still room for failure that would push Kizer down the board, but right now, he looks like the best arm in college football and one heck of an athlete to complement it." TOP OF THE CLASS? DeShone Kizer has quickly evolved into an NFL prospect In just more than a year, DeShone Kizer has gone from almost quitting football to a projected first- round pick in the NFL Draft. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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