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Kelly may have his perfect QB recruit in Malik Zaire

May 14, 2012, 2:16 PM EDT

Malik Zaire

If having two quarterbacks really means you have none, Irish fans must be wondering what having four quarterbacks does to a team. With the offseason headlines dominated by a four-headed quarterback race featuring Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel, the search for the Irish’s offensive leader overshadowed the commitment of Ohio quarterback Malik Zaire to the Notre Dame 2013 recruiting class. While Zaire has flown under the radar for Irish fans already trying to make sense of the current depth chart, he might be the perfect quarterback recruit for Brian Kelly’s offense, and one of the nation’s most exciting prospects.

Zaire’s invitation last week to the Elite 11 quarterback camp finals in Redondo Beach, California gives you an idea of what the ceiling is for a quarterback that’s just starting to understand how good he can be. With offers from schools like Alabama and Ohio State, Zaire’s upside seems to be truly elite, and the 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior will spend a week this summer working working alongside the top quarterbacks in the country at the Elite 11 camp, competing for a mythical crown that usually means the future is bright.

To get a better grasp on Zaire’s abilities, I spent some time with Yogi Roth, who hosts ESPN’s Elite 11 showcase and knows quite a bit about quarterback play himself. Roth has seen a lot of Notre Dame football. While he’s most widely associated with Pete Carroll’s USC program, where he worked his way up to quarterback coach of guys like John David Booty and Mark Sanchez, he’s followed Irish quarterbacks all the way back to when he was competing with Matt LoVecchio, Carlyle Holiday, and Jared Clark as a wide receiver at Pitt. (Before you accuse Roth of bias, he grew up an Irish fan, with an autographed poster of Ron Powlus adorning his bedroom wall.)

Roth recruited Dayne Crist for USC when he was a top Southern California prospect, coached against Jimmy Clausen and Brady Quinn. He hosted Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel at Elite 11 camps over the past two summers. To say he’s had a close look at Irish quarterbacks is an understatement. Ask Roth who he’d want of that group quarterbacking his team, and he might shock you when he doesn’t hesitate to pick the least hyped prospect of them all: Malik Zaire.

“If you look at his skill-set and where football is at this day and age, he’s a great vision of what the QB position is right now,” Roth said of Zaire’s abilities. “Sixteen of the top 25 teams in the country run a spread offense. The game has changed and the quarterback position has changed from just being a big guy that can throw the football to a quarterback that’s one of the best athletes on the field. That’s Malik.”

With Zaire labeled as a run-first type quarterback, I wanted to get a feeling from Roth just how good of a passer Zaire could be. With height (Zaire’s listed at 6-foot-1 on his Elite 11 profile) not one of his best assets, throwing the ball accurately will be a key to any future success at the college level. And it’s one area where Roth thinks Zaire will thrive.

“If you look at his skill set, he’s such a dynamic thrower,” Roth said. “He’s a pure passer, he’s so smooth that you forget how mobile he is.”

After glowing about Zaire’s athleticism and arm, Roth also pointed to the intangibles Irish fans are seeing as Zaire has taken a leadership role in building his recruiting class. The skills that are toughest to measure might be Roth’s favorite aspect of Zaire’s game.

“The biggest thing we saw was his competitiveness with his talent,” Roth said, noting Zaire was learning many of the drills for the first time. “Of all the quarterbacks I’ve mentioned, especially the ones that I’ve been around, he’s got the best presence. They’re all talented, but he’s got that natural knack. He lights up a room. From the moment he walked in with his mom to the day he said goodbye, he was fully engaged.”

Zaire’s invitation to Redondo Beach for the Elite 11 finals is likely only the beginning of an offseason that’ll see Zaire blossom into an elite player as a senior. And while we’re two full seasons away from seeing Zaire done the blue-and-gold for Notre Dame, Roth thinks the future is bright for the Irish will Zaire behind center.

“He might not walk in and save the day, but he’ll be an elite performer for the Fighting Irish.”


You can catch Yogi as the host of ESPN’s The Elite 11 Quarterback Competition. He’s also an actor and a New York Times best-selling writer. His most recent book From PA to LA is available now.


UPDATE: Now with tape from the Elite 11 camp in Columbus.

  1. dickasman - May 14, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    Great thing about college football is that you don’t have to have 6’4″ 230lbs QB standard like NFL does. You can with with a decent QB(earth to TR)You have to have the right system and players around with solid coaching! (AHEM, waves hello to BK and his non existent QB coach)

    • 1historian - May 15, 2012 at 10:28 AM

      (With thanks to Ann Landers)

      Richard – you are rambling, your spelling is atrocious, your knowledge of the niceties of English grammar seems to be lacking.

      That having been said – you may have a point, but if you keep your hat on maybe no one will notice.

  2. jerseyshorendfan1 - May 14, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    Hey Keith……Shhhhhh! Urban might be listening.

    • dickasman - May 14, 2012 at 4:35 PM

      Love me some Queef Urban!

  3. andy44teg - May 14, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    All I can say is “Just Win, Baby!” We’ve had our share (or more) of hyped up QB’s before they ever put on a Notre Dame Jersey in the last 25+ years, and they didn’t amount to a hill of beans as far as W’s & L’s are concerned. Anyone remember Beano Cook predicting Powlus would win 2 Heisman’s??? Yeah…not so much….Jimmy Clausen and the College Football HOF announcement…ugh…that made me emabarrassed to be an ND fan…Dayne Crist was a 5 Star HS QB and was obviously never yelled at from his parents cuz he wilted like a tulip in the mid-day sun from any sideways glance by BK. So, back to my initial comment…all the hype and individual honors are great for a recruit…but that and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee (unless you go to OSU or *insert school here* from the SEC) Just win, and you’ll go down in ND Lore, lose and you’ll be just another over-hyped ND QB recruit.

    • dickasman - May 14, 2012 at 5:11 PM

      Im with ya…Im ready for the season to start! Good, shtty or ugly. Let it begin and we all shall see!

  4. nudeman - May 14, 2012 at 5:16 PM

    I’ve loved the look and sound of this kid since Day 1 and still do. But now I’ve read conflicting opinions about Zaire’s as a passer.

    Tim Prister, who has written about ND for years and is no slouch when it comes to evaluating talent himself rates Zaire high among current Irish commits. But he also says that (paraphrasing) “arm strength and a 43% completion rate last year” can’t be ignored.

    43%???? FORTY THREE PER CENT?? Sheesh …

    Contrast that with what Roth says: ““If you look at his skill set, he’s such a dynamic thrower,” Roth said. “He’s a pure passer, he’s so smooth that you forget how mobile he is.”

    A pure passer who throws 57% incompletions? Apparently “Pure” ain’t what it used to be.

    So which is the real Zaire?

    • andy44teg - May 14, 2012 at 5:20 PM

      LOL…when you spell it out like that it really looks a lot worse…
      I don’t know how much it matters anymore…but he was just a junior with those stats..if he does that again as a senior, I’d be more concerned, IMO.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - May 15, 2012 at 1:27 PM

      Update: the video seems to confirm the 43% completion rate.

  5. andy44teg - May 14, 2012 at 5:17 PM

    Absolutely, dick, BTW where ya been?…long time no off the wall comment??

  6. seanb20124 - May 14, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    Way to many QBs in the Bend. Some will flourish, and some will transfer.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - May 15, 2012 at 1:50 AM

      When there are five cooks in the kitchen, you can get a disaster, but you also have five chances for a masterpiece :)

      • 1historian - May 15, 2012 at 10:31 AM

        Kelly is waiting for someone to step forward and take the job. Thus far it seems that no one has.

  7. don74 - May 14, 2012 at 6:05 PM

    If there are any questions why ND has not made faster progress the below quote from Yogi (not Berra) sums it up. Have we seen one of the best athletes on the field at the QB position? Here’s hoping that situation is corrected come fall.

    “Sixteen of the top 25 teams in the country run a spread offense. The game has changed and the quarterback position has changed from just being a big guy that can throw the football to a quarterback that’s one of the best athletes on the field.”

  8. 10of14 - May 14, 2012 at 7:02 PM

    He had slow, crappy receivers and suspect O-line at his High School…his completion percentage might have something to do with the skills around him.

  9. Keith Arnold - May 14, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    @Nude — Great point about the completion percentage. I asked Roth about his game tape and it seemed like the system he was playing in — basically playing the role of Ricky Dobbs at Navy — is quite a bit different than what they ask the kids at Elite 11 to do.

    Developmentally, this summer will be a huge evolutionary step for Zaire, and actually has me pretty impressed with the Irish staff’s ability to pluck this kid out of relative obscurity. (Then again, the fact that Alabama and Ohio State offered him with that 43% percentage shows you the Irish aren’t entirely nuts.)

    I thought it was more telling that Roth saw both Golson and Gunner in camp the last two years and didn’t hesitate for a second in picking Zaire if he had to chose.

    • turknd - May 14, 2012 at 8:52 PM

      keith, will any footage of this Elite 11 camp be available? if so can you post please?

      • turknd - May 14, 2012 at 9:06 PM

        Sorry I didn’t capitalize your name, hope I got this in before Nude busts me.

      • nudeman - May 14, 2012 at 9:09 PM

        You’re cool
        But please … be more careful going forward

    • nudeman - May 14, 2012 at 9:03 PM

      I agree on Zaire.
      Didn’t back down from academics and isn’t conceding anything to anyone who’s already at ND.

      Dare I say … RKG?

    • bernhtp - May 14, 2012 at 9:46 PM

      Malik looks like a great guy with a lost of promise a couple of years from now. His leadership in recruiting is most appreciated. But I am infinitely more worried about the QB situation this year.

    • ndrocks2 - May 14, 2012 at 10:21 PM

      Sounds like Hendix

    • ndrocks2 - May 14, 2012 at 10:26 PM

      sound like the system Hendrix ran, he hasn’t been too quick to adjust in the two years he has been on campus to a different system, just saying…

  10. ndrocks2 - May 14, 2012 at 10:18 PM

    Talk about the grass is always greener. This kid is still in high school and the flavor of the month and now he is going to save the program? Let’s deal with the players we have it’s a long way from Malik being on campus let alone ready to contribute.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - May 15, 2012 at 2:05 AM

      Malik who? I heard that ND got a strong verbal from a kid born last Tuesday. Motor skills are off the charts and he’s working with a QB coach already. He’s gonna save the program. I heard BK texted him twice yesterday and Chuck Martin took his in home visit the day that he got out of the hospital. Martin said the kids already holding up his own head, projected to be 6’2″, runs the option in a Tuesday league, a prostyle offense in the Thursday league and a spread offense in the Saturday league.

      …it’s not all upside though. He cries when you take away his mouth guard and he’s up all night drinking (and like Lynch, he’s a bit of a momma’s boy…likes the breast meat, if you know what i mean)

      IDK, sounds like the RKG for BK and ND. Maybe the next RG3 if he doesn’t join the USMC for the USA. Pitches like CC, so he might go to the MLB if the NCAA KO’s his early enroll…could be the BMOC. Just have to wait NC.

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - May 15, 2012 at 2:06 AM


        You have tape on this kid yet?

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - May 15, 2012 at 3:58 AM

        Let’s hope some SEC school doesn’t offer the QB a BMW.

      • audomer - May 15, 2012 at 11:06 AM

        Or an IRA

      • bb90grad - May 15, 2012 at 12:33 PM

        Too funny. He will shave time off his 40 once the cord stub dries up and falls off.

  11. yaketyyacc - May 15, 2012 at 6:55 AM

    let’s see/ Rees, erratic, Golson can’t learn the playbook, Hendrix still trying to figure out what campus he’s on, and Gunner shellshocked. so we reach for straws and now it is poor Malik, to save the day. is it that bad? not at all.
    look at an offense that has josh atkinson as wideout, eifert as tight end, tj and riddick,running and catching, george atkinson or ceirre wood at running back,with golson calling the plays he knows, and who can thorw the bomb or run as the situation allows. and a great offensive line.
    AND, an extra, a defense that is becoming faster, more vicious and agressive.
    shhh! keep it to ourselves. answer like Frank Leahy, when asked how the Irish would do, replied, ah, the poor lads will lucky to make a first down, and then ran up a streak of 36 straight wins.

    • 1historian - May 15, 2012 at 10:34 AM

      ah, the joys of the off-season

      thanks guys

  12. 808raiderinparadise - May 15, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    I would want nothing to do with this guy. Not a fluid motion, wide stance, long release, innaccurate and wobbly ball.

    If Kelly is such a great recruiter then Golson should be the guy for next 3-4 years and then Kiel. His obsesson with QB’s at cincy was outrageous, the defense will be stout next year and the run game will be very nice. No more 6 man QB races. Golson is the real deal, can make plays all over, he is a college QB for Kelly’s system that can win now.

    Hendrix is painfully raw as a passer and reminds me of Tim Tebow lol. But not in the good Hiesman way, more like the NFL way.

  13. fnc111 - May 15, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    I will put money on Zaire never wears the blue and gold. When his popularity he’s to an all time high this fall he will do what Darby did and bolt. When a bigger and hotter program offers adios. Kelly still hadn’t learned his far ND has fallen. Time to focus on the three stars that don’t get any attention so we can stop this de-committing extravaganza we see every year.

    • nudeman - May 15, 2012 at 4:16 PM

      1) 808, in the post before yours basically says he’s no good
      2) fnc, You say he’s so good that some other hot program will scoop him up
      3) Anybody want to predict he switches to baseball?
      4) For my money, he’s no Darby; Catholic school kid; he’ll be in SB
      5) I have made the same observation about AH here and been killed for it
      6) fnc, as long as you’re around, I’m only the 2nd biggest turd in the punch bowl

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - May 15, 2012 at 11:20 PM

      “Time to focus on three stars that don’t get any attention so we can stop this decommitting extravaganze we see every year”

      You’ve gotta be kidding me!

      You’re the guy that dated the fat chicks because he was always afraid that the cheerleaders would say no. I’ll leave you with this piece of nostalgia

      “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

  14. nylouie - May 15, 2012 at 4:58 PM

    If Rees can’t outrun the local police, he should find a better profession than being an ND or NFL QB.

    • andy44teg - May 15, 2012 at 5:28 PM

      Hello, nylouie

      Welcome to the 3rd week of May!

      • nudeman - May 15, 2012 at 5:33 PM

        ny louie … any word on Lynch?

      • joeschu - May 16, 2012 at 12:11 PM

        Lynch?!?! Did something happen? 😉

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - May 15, 2012 at 11:22 PM

      To be fair, we don’t know if he can or can not outrun the police. We only learned that he can’t avoid being tackled by a middle-aged cab driver.

  15. fitz79 - May 15, 2012 at 8:29 PM

    When is the “perfect QB recruit” going to be wearing a Golden helmet for once and not be just some potentiality in the future?

  16. fnc111 - May 16, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    Now I know why all this ND to Big12 talk is happening. It’s ND and FSU as the 11th and 12th teams. Louisville no mas. The Sec and Big12 would be the two best conferences by far and ND gets to recruit all of the south and west still with USC staying on the sch. The fan base will stay in tact and the only negative is ND basically won’t be able to recruit the NE, no big deal there. ND fans will be watching all over the US. I’d rather watch games against Texas and OU then Pitt and BC. This is all if ND can at least be somewhat competitive in the coming years . Kelly couldn’t win with superstar Weis recruits so the next few years are a bit scary b/c he is playing his turnover prone players now.

    • nudeman - May 16, 2012 at 2:37 PM

      1) There is ALWAYS low level “chatter” about ND joining a conference, but lately I’ve heard no more than the usual BS.

      2) Kelly was left with a roster that had a few high profile skill players, no defense, no OL or DL, and a lousy program without even a strength coach. Lombardi couldn’t have won with that crap.

      3) Check out the recruiting the last couple years and for 2013. Much MUCH improved over the CW years. Especially if you consider defense and line play to be important aspects of football.

      4) I do not see how joining the Big 12 benefits ND in any way. They would still have the same academic challenges when recruiting and would be looked at as more of a regional school. What is good about that?

      Is Kelly perfect? No.
      Is he an improvement over CW? I’ll go with “yes” as would 99% of everyone else reading this.
      Will they join a conference some day? I suppose it’s inevitable. But it’s not imminent.
      And I’d say when the time comes, the Big 10 is more likely.

  17. fnc111 - May 16, 2012 at 2:50 PM


    ND will be forced to join a conference within two years so why not join the big 12?

    Recruiting? I don’t follow overrated recruiting much at all. One thing I know is ND is always ranked in the top 20 of recruiting but when every season ends they are no where to be found in the real polls.

    Talk to Kstate, Nebraska and wisky about recruiting. They never get top 25 classes for the most part yet they win. The first season for Kelly that offensive line looked pretty good. All Weis recruits. Under Kelly there are more arrests for drinking and turnovers on the field then there are wins.

    Come on nude. Call me a turd all you want but I go to four ND games a year and I’m just tired of the crap product on the field. I’m a realist ND fan. Make changes or the team will continue to suck. Can’t do better than 6 or 8 wins shut the doors then.

  18. fnc111 - May 16, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    Joining the big 10 would be the worst move ND could ever make. Talk about a regional program then and they would never survive in recruiting against Ohio state or Michigan. The fact that there is very little talent in the Midwest would eventually kill off the program. ND to even have a fighting chance has to recruit nationally. Going to Florida, California, Texas, Oklahoma to recruit players trumps getting second rate talent from Michigan or Indiana.

    Defensive and offensive line play is critical but if you don’t have a QB you end up having a lot of games like the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl. Not good.

    • nudeman - May 16, 2012 at 4:35 PM

      First I also called myself a “turd in the punchbowl”. So you’re in good or terrible company, depending on what you think of moi.

      On the conference thing, if ND joins the Big 12, they will STILL be a small, Catholic university with tremendous academic challenges for some of the best HS players, REGARDLESS of what states they’re coming from. Many here say SB is a strike against them (I think that’s overrated); if so, it will STILL be a strike against them. It solves little or nothing in the way of recruiting.

      Last thing: ND has huge fan bases on the east coast, mainly Boston and NY. Kiss that area of the country good bye of they go to the Big 12. Would they ever be able to play Army in Yankee Stadium or BC in Boston? Or for that matter Miami in Soldier Field? Schedule probably wouldn’t allow it.

      Too bad they can’t hand pick a conference.
      Call it the National 10 and get the 10 schools with the greatest national appeal.
      ND, Miami, Texas, Michigan, MSU, tOSU, Northwestern, OK, USC, UCLA

      Now THAT wouldn’t suck.

      I fail to see how the Big 12 makes sense for them.

  19. mtflsmitty - May 21, 2012 at 11:55 PM

    I miss Kieth.

    Goat & Nude…Not so much. 😉

  20. nudeman - May 22, 2012 at 11:40 AM


    Who is “Kieth”?

  21. mtflsmitty - May 24, 2012 at 2:58 PM


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