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Friday, January 4, 2013
An unassuming star, home and away

By Matt Fortuna
ESPN.com

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Myrtle Beach, S.C., is a place people visit. At any given time, the town will host roughly 78,000 tourists; the other 27,000 or so are its full-time residents.

So when one of its own finds success in a faraway place -- for example, quarterbacking a once-proud Indiana football program's return to college football's biggest stage -- people take notice.

Brian Kelly, Everett Golson
Teammates point to Notre Dame QB Everett Golson's improved communication as the biggest gain he's made this season.

Everett Golson will lead Notre Dame against Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship. The game will be played Monday, six days after the dawn of a new year but momentous enough to warrant another holiday, nonetheless.

Jan. 7 is Golson's day in his hometown of Myrtle Beach.

Officially.

On the day after Christmas, while attending the Beach Ball Classic, an annual prep basketball tournament, the signal-caller of the nation's No. 1 team was handed a plaque by Mayor John Rhodes that proclaimed Monday as Everett Golson Day.

"Just real low-key, nicest kid ever," said Hugh T. Wallace, Golson's mentor and the former assistant principal of Myrtle Beach High. "Comes home, visits his family and gets back on the plane to fly back. Just a neat, unassuming kid."

Sit down with Golson for an hour, and football will rarely, if ever, come up, friends and teammates say. If one wished to find him during lunch period in high school, he could usually be found alone near a backstage auditorium playing the piano, according to those who taught him at Myrtle Beach.

"He's the same old Everett that we all know and love, and I don't think anything can change that," said Lynn Auman, his former orchestra teacher.

His older brother Edwin is a self-taught musician who started his own choir as a teenager, throwing concerts at the high school. He has recorded gospel albums since.

Everett will occasionally stop by the Notre Dame campus' band room on the way to the football complex before practice, where he will calm his nerves by playing the piano. He has a keyboard in his dorm room.

"There's many times where I come from practice or come from class, and I'll just sit down and play," Golson said. "It's more so my outlet, kind of lets me get away from what's actually going on, what I'm actually doing."

What he could actually do on Monday is lead the Fighting Irish to their first national title since 1988, when fellow South Carolina native Tony Rice was starting under center.

From Woodruff -- a town of roughly 4,000 that is nearly four hours north of Myrtle Beach -- Rice knows what Golson is in for should the Irish upset the Crimson Tide.

"Every time he steps on the field at Notre Dame, that's his day," Rice said of the holiday. "But I'm glad. That's his hometown. When I was growing up and being at Notre Dame, I was grand marshal in the parade and I had my jersey retired from high school. And it's going to be the same way.

"But again, you've got one game left. You play that like you played every other game. Don't look at the hype of it being the national championship, and you leave everything on the field."

Tony Rice
South Carolina native Tony Rice led Notre Dame to its last national championship in 1988.

Coaches' and teammates' confidence in Golson to do just that has grown with seemingly every game for the redshirt freshman, who has started 10 contests, missed one with a concussion and was benched for the first series of another because of tardiness for a team meeting.

The push-and-pull between Golson and former starter Tommy Rees has gone from a pair of yankings in the season's first month to Golson absorbing a bigger portion of the playbook and establishing his presence in the huddle and in the run game along the way.

"It's unbelievable," left guard Chris Watt said of Golson's progress. "Even from the spring. He would come to the line and sometimes we'd have no idea what the play was and it was just hard to hear. And over the progression of the season he's gotten way better with his communication.

"And even over the last few months his leadership has just been unbelievable. Getting guys going before we start practicing. If we're down in practice as an offense, trying to get us up and things like that. So it's really cool to see from a redshirt freshman that kind of progression."

During Friday's media session, teammates all pointed to the Oklahoma game on Oct. 27 as Golson's coming-of-age moment, as he led the Irish to a 20-point fourth-quarter barrage, tallying 241 yards of offense, avoiding turnovers and making big plays down the stretch to solidify his program's return to the sport's upper echelon.

From that night on, Golson has completed better than 59 percent of his passes for 1,167 yards, adding 224 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns while turning it over just twice. He has lifted Notre Dame to the final game of this college football season, and he has carried himself well enough in the spotlight to warrant the highest possible praise from back home.

For Christmas, Wallace, Golson's mentor, received Sally Jenkins' book "The Real All Americans," an account of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School football team, from a friend. He read all 368 pages the next day, and he has since kept going back to page 233, a description of an early 20th century college quarterback named Frank Mount Pleasant.

Mount Pleasant was a springing runner, the book said. He could sling the ball half a football field with ease, it noted. He played the piano. He was modest. To meet him was to like him, to know him was to admire him and to live near him was to be touched by his noble character.

"That is almost Everett," Wallace said.