FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — When Everett Golson sees a piano, he usually sits down and starts entertaining. He plays several instruments, keeps a keyboard in his room and loves to sing.
Music is a huge part of his life, topped only, perhaps, by basketball.
And in Golson’s spare time, he plays quarterback for Notre Dame.
“He’s pretty good at his hobby,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. “This being his hobby.”
Golson’s biggest game — and biggest opportunity — awaits Monday night when the top-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) take on No. 2 Alabama (12-1) for the BCS national title. Golson’s season started with him winning a competition to be the quarterback for a then-unranked team, and now he’s got the chance to lead Notre Dame back to the top of college football.
Or in musical vernacular, to be ND’s maestro.
“It is a big stage,” said Golson, who is from Myrtle Beach. “I don’t ride the wave too much. I’m kind of just focused on what’s played between the yard lines, what’s played on the field. Can’t really focus on everything that’s off the field because that’s out of my control.”
A redshirt freshman, Golson didn’t play last season, instead running the scout team. He won the starting job entering this season, yet even when he was picked to be under center as Notre Dame opened the season in Ireland against Navy, there were questions about how long he would keep his spot.
Golson had all the answers. His numbers aren’t catchy — 11 passing touchdowns in 11 appearances — but his record is unblemished, 10-0 as a starter.
“I think he understood more of what our coaches wanted from him,” Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert said. “When they would coach him up on something, he kind of better understood that as the year went on.”
One of the major issues Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had with the Irish offense a year ago was its penchant for turning the ball over.
Golson seldom dealt with that problem.
Poised more often than not, Golson has five interceptions in 282 attempts this season. He averages 191 passing yards per game — 79th-best in the nation — but he’s not necessarily asked to win games with wild throwing sprees, either. Kelly’s mandate was for his quarterback to avoid the big mistake that would lose games.
So far, so good.
In Golson’s mind, not getting a chance to play in 2011 might have been more significant than the experiences of 2012 in pushing his development along.
“I think me being put back on the scout team, it was just really a humbling experience for me,” Golson said. “Coming in, I thought I was ready to play or had that confidence that I was ready to play, but it wasn’t that way for me. I think being put back on the scout team, like I said, really humbled me, made me kind of reassess myself.”
Even the Crimson Tide can see that.
When Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart first started breaking down tape of the Irish, he predictably watched every play of every game several times. And by the end of that film study, Smart knew the Golson who started the season isn’t remotely close to the player who now is tasked with running the Irish offense.
“You can’t give the guy the ability to run all around and make plays, yet that’s what he’s going to do, so it’s who’s got the greater will to contain and keep him in the pocket,” Smart said. “So it’s a tough thing. The guy is going to scramble. He’s going to be a better, quicker athlete than the people we have up front.”
The thing the Irish rave about most when talking about Golson is his confidence.
Even when things were tough at times this season — particularly the game against Pittsburgh when Notre Dame trailed 20-6 entering the fourth quarter, then won 29-26 on his touchdown run in the third overtime — Golson continually showed he can do the job.
“He’s a very important part of our offense and he’s a big playmaker,” Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin said. “Any time we can take a hit off of him, it’s going to be big. He’s a playmaker. He makes plays.”
If that happens Monday, Golson might make football’s equivalent of beautiful music.
“The race is not given to the swift or the strong … but it’s given to the one that endures to the end,” Golson said. “We’re, obviously, the underdogs coming into this game. … Alabama has, like I said, a great defense, great team, bigger, faster, stronger. But it’s really about who’s going to endure to the end.”