NOTRE DAME — While the buzz surrounding the return of Everett Golson fuels spring football, Malik Zaire won't sit quietly in the shadows.
In fact, he flat-out expects to be the man under center by this year's home opener.
"There will only be one guy starting Aug. 30 against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium," he said. "There will only be one guy on the field, and I believe that will be me."
The redshirt freshman's confidence oozes from the interview room and onto the practice field. During a scrimmage Saturday, March 22, Zaire dashed untouched into the end zone and raised his arms, waiting for a referee to signal the score. When the referee confirmed the touchdown, Zaire jumped into the arms of his teammates.
Throughout Saturday's practice, he side-stepped charging defensive ends with an ingrained reflex, knowing precisely when to throw the ball and when to tuck it and run.
Much of Zaire's thirst for the top spot comes from head coach Brian Kelly's own feelings on the matter. In January, Kelly said he wasn't "ready to hand everything over to Everett."
True, Golson has an 10-1 record as a starter and national championship game experience under his belt. But Zaire watched and learned from the sidelines in 2013 while Golson was suspended. In practice, he developed a rhythm with young receivers that Golson had never thrown to.
"My chemistry with the receivers is only getting better," Zaire said. "Last year it was a good start and it was definitely the roughest part of it, but it's definitely getting better."
Golson returned to Notre Dame stronger and steadier than ever, but he is still struggling to get timing down with his targets.
"I don't think he's feeling comfortable yet," Kelly said of Golson. "He doesn't have TJ (Jones). (DaVaris) Daniels isn't here. He's working with all new guys...An all new cast of characters."
Golson can feel Zaire is nipping at his heels, too. Kelly said their relationship — while friendly — isn't similar to what Golson shared with Tommy Rees, where Rees would sit down and teach Golson the offense.
"They're good together. They like each other," Kelly said. "Everett's not going to sit down and teach (Zaire) the playbook, though. ... These are two competitive kids. Malik wants to beat out Everett."
Kelly said that, while not an ideal situation, he hasn't ruled out playing both quarterbacks come fall. But if there's going to be a clear number one, Zaire knows the road ahead will be hard.
"It's always going to be an uphill battle at the end of the day going against a guy who has been there and done that in a sense," he said. "Being that it's an open competition, there are definitely some challenges I will have to overcome to get there. It's not going to be an easy ride."
- Both offensive lineman Christian Lombard (dislocated wrist) and wide receiver Will Mahone (broken foot) expect to be out four to six weeks following injuries this spring. Kelly said Lombard will require a pin to be inserted into his wrist.
- Kelly is high on a lot of young players but none more so than sophomore safety Max Redfield. Kelly said Redfield has "crazy, crazy, crazy ability. He can make a mistake and get himself out of it.”
- While Kelly said all of his receivers could stand more polishing, he is most pleased with sophomore Corey Robinson.
"He does exactly what I ask him to do all the time and he does it right," Kelly said. "He may screw it up the first time, but you coach him and he does it right the second time. I love that kid.”