SOUTH BEND, Ind. — If Everett Golson lived the season in one night, it was Oct. 27. No one expected Notre Dame to enter the clamor at Oklahoma and survive, and its fledgling first-year quarterback slogged through the flu to boot.
At halftime, Golson needed reassurance from linebacker Manti Te’o: We’re going to get through this together, Te’o told him. By the end, Golson jogged off victorious and later laughed as his offensive coordinator teased him about what he supposedly can’t do, when Golson and his team had just established anything was possible.
“I would say this is the definition of a growing process,” Golson said as he prepared for the BCS championship game against Alabama, an opportunity the sophomore from Myrtle Beach deems “surreal.”
“After having to go through those trials, the adversity had to be dealt with. But I feel like if you’re tried like that, that’s what makes great players great. You have to be tried. It’s about what you do on the other side of it, how you come out of it.”
What happens Jan. 7 might pinpoint exactly how far Golson is on the way to that other side.
He is hardened and clearly more functional running the offense than he was in September, if nowhere near a finished product. But as fast and disciplined as Alabama will be, it can’t be much more torturous than the gauntlet Golson already endured.
“There had to have been, at times, questions about, ‘Does Coach Kelly want me to be the guy here? Is this my job or Tommy Rees’ job?’ ” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Even though we told him it was his, those actions probably weren’t clear enough for him.
“Once he knew after the Oklahoma game that he was the guy, the confidence level and the trust builds and builds and builds. That’s why I’m confident that the moment won’t be too big for him.”
A mobile, improv-heavy, combustible quarterback drove Alabama to its one loss. That quarterback was Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, and he won the Heisman Trophy with 4,600 yards of offense, nearly double Golson’s 2,440.
Notre Dame would take a Johnny Football knock-off outing. It also will take calm and composed and take its chances.
“I said I can tell you’re a better performer not based on performance,” offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said he told Golson. “I can tell you’re a better player based on how you jog out onto the field, how you conduct in between snaps and communicate. You just look so much calmer. The way you’re moving is so much more methodical and more confident.”
Steady is one thing. But methodical alone might not be enough in South Florida.
“We’re going to have to find some big-chunk plays,” Kelly said. “He’s going to have to be integral in that. He knows that and we know that. I think Alabama knows that too.”
Golson says he has his head down. He says his mother wrangled all ticket requests. All he has on his mind is the coming Tide, and another night overloaded with possibility after seeing it all before.
“That’s another thing that has been instilled in me – you never want to get complacent with where you are,” Golson said. “Wherever you are, you have to keep pushing.”