- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The spotlight found Everett Golson, however badly Chuck Martin wanted to shield his rookie quarterback.
Here was Golson, three starts into his career, leading Notre Dame to a prime-time road victory against the nation's No. 10 team, his first-quarter scramble and 36-yard touchdown heave to John Goodman popping up on highlight shows throughout the Irish's undefeated season.
"That kind of overshadowed the rest of the game, where in his mind he knew he didn't play great at Michigan State," Martin, the Irish's offensive coordinator, said of Golson. "The whole world thought he played great at Michigan State, but in his mind he was not" satisfied.
Fast-forward six weeks later, to Golson's next prime-time road start against a top-10 opponent.
"He left the field at Oklahoma feeling like, 'Hey, I really played my tail off tonight for four quarters in a hostile environment,'" Martin said. "I think up to then he knew he did a lot of great things in all the games and a lot of things that he needs to continue to work on. I think he kind of felt like he played a complete game, and had the confidence from there that, I can do this at this level, at a very high level, all the time."
The peak of those planes comes Jan. 7 against defending champion Alabama, which boasts the nation's top rush defense and will almost surely force the redshirt freshman quarterback to attempt several big plays with his arm.
"We're going to have to throw the football," head coach Brian Kelly said. "We're going to have to find some big chunk plays. He's going have to be integral in that. He knows that and we know that. I think Alabama knows that, too."
That Oct. 27 night against the No. 8 Sooners served notice that Golson could handle the big stage, that, for a first-year player with upward of 40 starts remaining in an Irish uniform, it is never too soon for defining moments.
His 50-yard pass to freshman Chris Brown illustrated that, setting up the go-ahead touchdown in a final frame that Notre Dame turned into a public proclamation of its return to on-field relevance.
"I'm not the type that really succumbs to pressure, I guess," Golson said. "I don't make any moment bigger than what it is. To me, it's about that game that is played between the lines. It's not necessarily about what's going on around it. At the end of the day, it's about, on Jan. 7, about playing Alabama."
When Golson was still competing for the starting job back in camp, Martin had to convince the 19-year-old that recess was over, that he had to trust in what the staff was telling him.
The trial-and-error session played right into the somewhat backward philosophy that has guided Martin's 27 years of coaching: The players never believe you until they try it your way and it doesn't work.
"It doesn't matter what your resume looks like or how much success you have," said Martin, who moved over from safeties coach this year. "They had success in high school and they're going to try it exactly like they did in high school, which is pretty much like recess. And then you get to college and you try to do some different things and they still will fight you, fight you.
"And then when they've exhausted their way and it stinks, usually then it's like, OK, I know you've been saying this for weeks, but what exactly did you say I was supposed to be doing? And that's every position I've ever coached, and that's really every team I've ever coached. They like it to be easier than it is, and it's never that easy out there."
Added Golson: "Our relationship has definitely evolved. It started off from what I thought was a little rocky -- I think that was just me being young and inexperienced, couldn't really see the bigger picture at the beginning. But he's really kind of stuck with me and really developed me."
After the Week 3 triumph in East Lansing, Martin wanted to hide Golson from the cameras, knowing what he saw was far from a finished product. As he often would early this season, Martin jabbed the signal-caller afterward, telling him: Dude, you stink. Golson came to expect the message from the convivial coach, nodding his head knowingly before explaining what he needed to work on.
After the Oklahoma game, their exchange was far less complicated.
"I looked at him and I was like: That was pretty darn good," Martin said, adding, "He's a sharp kid, so he knew all along. I was just trying to keep him away from you guys because you kept telling him how great he was."