Notre Dame Football: Hugh T. Wallace

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson's last trip to the Sunshine State was unique, to be sure. The bells and whistles of the BCS title game presented their own set of distractions. Alabama's defense was unforgiving. There was, of course, the final score, a 42-14 humbling of then-No. 1 Notre Dame.

And then there was the aftermath, an unfamiliar feeling whose imprint remains, frankly, unknown: Golson had lost a football game that he took the first snap in -- a blemish that, given its distinction, has seemingly taken on added significance with each passing win.

Golson brings a 16-1 career record as a starter into Florida State this Saturday. That outlier is what, in many ways, sets him apart from the man likely to be under center on the other side of things, 19-0 Jameis Winston. No active FBS quarterback with at least 10 starts can touch the winning percentages of Golson (.941) and Winston (1.000), who has a national title to his name.

Golson exited Miami nearly two years ago and, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, would not play a football game again for 600 more days, thanks to an academic suspension imposed nearly five months later. The shame of discipline overshadowed the only real on-field black mark of his career. Given his inward nature while on public display, it is no easy task untangling whatever resentment has stuck with Golson from Jan. 7, 2013.

One of the first people outside of the Irish locker room to see Golson in wake of the defeat was Hugh T. Wallace, a former assistant principal at Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) High who has served as a mentor to the signal-caller since his days as a prepster. Wallace had driven down to Miami and back, there to pick Golson up from the airport at home a day after the loss to the Crimson Tide.

Little was gleaned.

"He wanders out of the terminal with his little backpack, gets in the (car) like nothing has ever happened, and he asks me, 'Did you see the game?' " Wallace recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, I watched it on television in a bar outside the lobby.' And I said, 'Didn't anybody say anything to you after the game?' He said no. I said, 'You played good, your team just got beat. Too much speed.'

"He keeps that wanting-to-play pretty internal. Every now and then he'll say, 'I'm competitive.' But almost all of that stuff he really internalizes. He's very quiet, self-determined. If he talks, it's about music. He doesn't say a lot about football. He's not your swaggering jock."

On a team that was outplayed and overwhelmed that night, Golson was solid, though not spectacular. Spotted a three-touchdown hole three Tide drives into the game, Golson finished with 21 of 36 for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He added another score on the ground.

Head coach Brian Kelly quipped before this season that Golson "rode the bus" to the title game during that 2012 campaign, a comment borne out of coachspeak and one in deference to a defense that was loaded with future pros. But Golson had taken on much greater responsibility down the stretch then, leading a late comeback against Pitt and executing the game plan to a T at rival USC. He has taken almost all of the responsibility now, for better and for worse.

He remains on practically every Heisman short list, but he has turned the ball over nine times over the past three games, with the Irish surviving the last two by the skin of their teeth -- and, of course, because of late plays from their quarterback.

"I'm going to do a better job, for sure," Golson said. "I come in here every week for the last couple of weeks saying I have to do a better job. Right now, it's time for me to stop saying that and time for me to put my words into action and actually do that."

Kelly said this week he is more concerned with "self-inflicted wounds" than he is with the chaos a hostile environment in Tallahassee will present. He did not mention his quarterback -- or anyone, for that matter -- but he no longer needs to.

"Just it goes back to me," Golson said after his last win. "I just got to prepare. I think the game is big, but this week is going to be big in how we prepare and how we kind of take care of our business."

For Golson, that means winning football games. Business has been good. Only one person is doing better. Golson gets a chance to change that in the only state he has left unfulfilled.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The picks against Michigan, the late arrival to a pre-Miami meeting -- such lapses have much bigger consequences now for Everett Golson than they did before he came to Notre Dame.

The rookie quarterback can no longer atone with a simple flick of the wrist or by directing a few good plays. Penance comes in the form of practicing better and communicating more with his teammates before putting out the finished product on Saturday.

"I think the small failures and not playing as well as he can play and the mistakes he made has really made him think," said Hugh T. Wallace, Golson's mentor and former assistant principal at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High. "It came just so easy to him in high school: All he had to do was snap the ball, and if he made a mistake it didn't matter. If they got two penalties it didn't matter, because they scored from anywhere."

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhEverett Golson flashed his running skills against Miami, but could see tougher going against Stanford.
Golson quelled plenty of fears in last Saturday's victory over Miami, completing 17 of 22 passes and rushing for 51 yards in the best game of his young career. The fate of the Irish's undefeated season likely comes down to whether he can continue that success this weekend against an unforgiving Stanford defense.

Golson carried the ball six times against the Hurricanes, flashing speed in a way he hadn't before, but the task will be much tougher against a Cardinal defense that ranks fourth in the nation in tackles for loss (8.6 per game). The unit knocked starter Tommy Rees out of the teams' meeting last season.

"Certainly we're not going to run him 25-30 times up inside, he's not built that way," coach Brian Kelly said of Golson. "But they'd better be aware of him. If they overplay the run, he can get out on the perimeter and he can attack their secondary, and I know they don't want that to happen."

Golson's trajectory has been uneasy through five games -- strong performances in games 1, 3 and 5 sandwiching a pair of yankings against Purdue and Michigan. The first benching was disappointing to the redshirt freshman because he had played fairly well in a tied game; the second because his parents were watching him play inside Notre Dame Stadium for the first time.

Kelly called the days before the Miami game Golson's best week of practice, and the coach's stating and re-stating of Golson as his starter has helped with his growth.

"I don't think Kelly put him through 'You're trying out for the job,' " Wallace said. "I think that probably reassured Everett. He's amazingly competitive and confident at what he can do and very private in what he puts out about what he thinks about all of it, too."

Golson was not made available to the media again this week, but teammates have said he has become more vocal over the past month, particularly with the offensive linemen, whom he often joins in position meetings to ensure he is on the same page.

"He's just vocally trusting himself that he's making the right calls," center Braxston Cave said. "And with Everett, he's kind of getting that swagger back. When you watch his high school film he's all over the field making plays and [has] all the confidence in the world, and I think he's getting that back."
Everett GolsonMatt Cashore/US PresswireSophomore Everett Golson beat out Andrew Hendrix and Gunner Kiel to be the Week 1 starter.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Two months removed from the breakout spring game, which was the first tangible evidence that Everett Golson was ready to leap from scout-team superstar to Notre Dame starting quarterback within a year, a deal was brokered between mentor and student on the links of Dillon, S.C., some 90 minutes north of the school and town that has begun to trade in local allegiances for the blue and gold of arguably the country's most popular football program.

"Are you going to start?" Hugh T. Wallace asked on the early June day.

The question was no different than the ones Golson had been hearing for the better part of two years, ever since he took his 151 touchdown throws -- the sixth-most in national high school history -- and de-committed from his childhood sanctuary on Tobacco Road and moved some 700 miles away, to a place his parents have been to only twice.

"Yeah," Golson replied after another drive he'd pushed to the right. "I'm going to start."

"Well, if you start, I'll go to Dublin and see the game," the retired Myrtle Beach assistant principal said matter-of-factly.

Wallace had been there for all of Golson's starts in high school, first noticing the eighth-grade phenom at the middle school across the street before standing on the sideline for the 44 prep wins and five losses Golson was responsible for as the four-year starter.

"I was just kind of like that old granddaddy guy that's always around when you need something," Wallace cracked, adding: "I let him know that I was there. That he was going to do what he was supposed to do. He was going to be on time. And when he needed something, that I would be there for him."

Hired as Myrtle Beach's junior varsity football and varsity basketball coach before the 2007 season, DeAndre Scott remembered varsity football coach Scott Earley taking him to the school's weight room to meet the newcomer with the braided hair who would take the school to great heights.

"I can still remember him as a little scrawny kid with those braids and I was underwhelmed, just from the eyeball stance," Scott recalled. "But once I saw him sling that football a little bit, and he got in the gym and played a couple pickup games, I was like, 'Oh, OK,' maybe he is going to be pretty good."

The cornrows soon were replaced with a buzz cut, the lean frame filled out some, and Golson was off and running, winning a pair of state titles for Earley and successor Mickey Wilson, and one for Scott on the hardwood, the playing surface where Golson felt most at home.

All this time, the shadow of Chapel Hill loomed.

Longtime North Carolina fan Lynn Auman, who taught orchestra to Everett and older brother Edwin for more than a combined 10 years, dangled weekend trips to Tar Heels football and basketball games as a carrot to Everett, whose teenage star power sometimes isolated him from his peers and would be the source of an academic drop-off before entering high school.

"When Everett was in middle school, I thought he would never make it to high school," his mother, Cynthia, said with a laugh.

Golson pledged to Butch Davis and UNC after his junior season, and the legendary Roy Williams welcomed the future football recruit to try out for the basketball team.

But expected NCAA sanctions stemming from impermissible benefits and ineligible players proved too much of a bear. Golson decommited from UNC for Notre Dame after much lunch-break soul-searching in front of the school piano. Auman stopped by every now and then to check on the student she'd known since he was in the sixth grade.

"He said, 'I'm going to wait two and a half more weeks, til Dec. 1, and if I still feel as excited as I am right now and I still think it's the right thing to do, then I'm probably going to go,'" Auman recalled Golson saying of his mid-November visit to South Bend.

"I said, 'Well, I think that's a good thing. Give it some time, let the dust settle, think about it.' And he said, 'Yeah, I'm going to be thinking and praying, and I know I'll figure out what I'm supposed to do.' I said, 'Yeah, you will.'"

A little more than a month later, Golson decided to turn his 18th birthday into a going-away party, welcoming family, friends and teachers to Mount Olive AME Church for a night of singing and storytelling, with Everett putting on a rare public display of his vocal chords with Edwin, who records gospel albums.

After Sunday school teacher Mary Pryor told stories to the gathering of all the times Everett made it to her class after a big weekend game, Auman pulled the guest of honor aside, two weeks shy of his college move.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Matt Cashore/US PresswireEverett Golson threw for 120 yards and two touchdowns in Notre Dame's spring game.
"You know Everett, I think God likes football," she recalled telling him. "I think he really likes it when you're playing, so you go on up there to Notre Dame and forget about North Carolina, and make God smile a whole bunch."

It was hardly that simple at first. Golson called Auman from campus to complain about the cold Midwest weather and lack of a nearby Golden Corral, their favorite dining stop on those high school trips to UNC.

Then, of course, there were the immediate academic concerns -- struggles the soft-spoken Golson did not shy away from when speaking to reporters. The lack of attention to detail bled into the football building, where Golson eventually lost the battle for change-of-pace quarterback to Andrew Hendrix and ended up redshirting.

Scout team player of the year was hardly the kind of hardware he envisioned taking home when arriving on campus, but he can see now the growth it afforded him.

"It was very difficult," Golson said. "Obviously coming in I thought I was ready to compete for the starting spot, but going through fall camp I kind of saw my reps go down a little bit. I was a little discouraged at first but it kind of humbled me. And now that I look back on it, I'm glad I went down to the scout team because it really humbled me and made me realize I have to start at ground zero and work my way back up."

Extended film study, a more vocal command and the occasional stress relief from playing the piano before practice put Golson in position to ascend the Irish's depth chart this offseason. With his strong spring game, and then the arrest and one-game suspension of incumbent Tommy Rees, Golson was front and center when camp opened earlier this month.

Golson stuck with the first team through much of the preseason, fending off Hendrix and newcomer Gunner Kiel before coach Brian Kelly officially announced Thursday evening that he was Notre Dame's starter.

"It was tough. It was a tough decision," Kelly said at the announcement, "but Everett clearly won the starting job and he'll get to start against Navy."

Five days earlier, while returning from a day on his boat, Wallace, the former assistant principal, received a text message from Golson that simply read: "Mr. Wallace: Ireland." When Wallace asked if that meant he'd be starting, Golson said yes. That text led to a phone call, which led to Golson putting Wallace's name down for a ticket to Aviva Stadium, which led to the retired teacher plopping down in front of a computer to find airfare and hotel accommodations for the impending intercontinental trip.

Three flights spanning 10 total hours will place Wallace in Dublin, where Golson is now assured that his first college start will have at least one familiar face among the crowd of 30,000 traveling Americans.

Back where it all started, a town of roughly that size will be watching.

"Everybody at Myrtle Beach is calling into work that day -- nobody's going to work that Saturday," Everett's father, Wayne, said through a chuckle. "We've got a lot of people anticipating the season."


Drawing Conclusions: Week 8


Friday, 10/24
Saturday, 10/25