There was a lot of offseason buzz surrounding the quarterback situation at BR-29 Notre Dame, but not around the guy who now holds the keys to the Irish’s trek toward the College Football Playoff. With rumors swirling of a potential fall camp battle between Malik Zaire and the incumbent Everett Golson, very few outsiders paid attention to the man waiting quietly behind the two frontrunners. Even after Golson announced his intention to transfer, picked Florida State and won Seminoles’ starting job, people assumed his former program would be just fine, if not better off, with Zaire calling the shots. The name DeShone Kizer was barely mentioned, if at all.
A season-ending injury to Zaire on Saturday was followed by Kizer’s adequately efficient 8-for-12, two-touchdown performance that included a 39-yard game-winning toss to Will Fuller with 12 seconds remaining. The touchdown shocked Virginia and vaulted sophomore DeShone Kizer from unknown backup to household name.
But who is he?
Notre Dame’s new starter held offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Penn State, LSU, Tennessee and many others before ending his recruitment with a verbal commitment to the Irish in June 2013, two months before his senior season at Central Catholic in Toledo.
“Their quarterback situation had something to do with it,” Kizer told the Toledo Blade after committing to the Irish in June, 2013. “They will be short at the quarterback position, and that will give me an easier opportunity to come in and compete and try to get some playing time early.”
But Kizer nearly blew his chance with Notre Dame after putting on an unimpressive showing for former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin during his junior year. The Irish initially passed on offering him a scholarship, thus forcing the prep quarterback to leave the nearby school off his preliminary list of finalists.
“When coach Martin came in the first time I was just raw,” Kizer told CSN Chicago this week. “I was a big guy, big arm, really, really long motion of a baseball player, so that didn’t really go the way I wanted it to go. Didn’t throw the ball well at all. He left, and Notre Dame left, and I kind of just X-ed them out.”
It wasn’t until he began whittling down his college choices that he realized Notre Dame might be the perfect fit. Kizer wanted another opportunity.
He called Irish assistant coach Mike Elston in hopes of securing a second shot to impress their staff and convince them to add a quarterback to their 2014 class. Elston agreed and told the soon-to-be senior to make the short 150-mile journey west to South Bend. The offer came one week later, and it didn’t take long for Kizer to make a decision.
It was reported that both LSU and Alabama were in hot pursuit of the multi-sport star. He was scheduled to visit Baton Rouge the week after his commitment to Notre Dame before canceling the trip.
Although Ohio State has an embarrassment of riches at quarterback, some fans wonder how in the world the Buckeyes let a four-star signal-caller escape their intoxicating in-state gravitational pull. Rumors of an OSU offer were swirled over Kizer during his final two prep seasons, but despite a shade of interest from Urban Meyer’s staff, the offer never came, at least not to the public’s knowledge.
Most first impressions of Kizer focus around his size. He stands 6-foot-4 and carries 230 pounds, making him Notre Dame’s biggest full-time starting quarterback since Dayne Crist in 2010, although Kizer might actually be a tad bigger. Tommy Rees (6-foot-1, 215), Everett Golson (6-foot-nothing, 200) and Malik Zaire (6-flat, 222 pounds) are substantially smaller and shorter than the still-developing sophomore.
He used that size beautifully at Central Catholic, passing for 5,684 yards and 56 touchdowns over his career while adding 1,211 yards and 17 touchdowns on just 151 rushing attempts. Oh, and he also punted for the Fighting Irish (yes, he went from the Fighting Irish to the Fighting Irish), averaging a shade below 40 yards per boot.
Brian Kelly won’t be calling on his new quarterback to take over the punting duties from Tyler Newsome (especially with Newsome averaging 48.5 yards per punt), but we’re willing to bet he’ll look for Kizer to do everything he expected of Golson in 2014 and Zaire through the first six-plus quarters of 2015. And, if the first appearance of his collegiate career is any indication, it might not be an unreasonable expectation for this weekend.
Notre Dame faces BR-7 Georgia Tech at 3:30 PM ET on Saturday in South Bend.