Author: Keith Arnold

Oklahoma v Notre Dame

KeiVarae Russell takes to social media to announce his return


If a picture is worth a thousand words, KeiVarae Russell’s most recent post on Instagram is worth plenty more than that. The Notre Dame cornerback, who spent last school year serving a university suspension, has announced his return to the university via Instagram.



While his acceptance to re-enroll has been imminent for a while, Russell making things official solidifies a key component in the Irish secondary. Pairing Russell, an All-American candidate and lock-down cornerback, with rising junior Cole Luke gives the Irish defense a huge boost.

No word officially out of Notre Dame, but with Ishaq Williams heading to South Bend this weekend, the timing is right. So with his academic detour out of the way, Russell now has a summer to make up for lost time with his teammates before officially returning to the field in September.

Williams to return for summer school, football future unclear


Ishaq Williams‘ future at Notre Dame was thrown off course last August, when he and four teammates were caught up in an academic dishonesty case. Nine months later, the defensive end, a projected senior starter in 2014, appears to have some clarity on the school front, though his on-field future is still cloudy.

The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen reports that Williams will be back on campus Monday to begin summer school. That means Williams’ re-admission into the university after a two-semester suspension appears to be complete.

What isn’t as certain is his return to the football field. With Notre Dame’s 85-man scholarship limit pushed to the brink, Williams return to Brian Kelly’s team—or his ability to be qualified academically to play—is still unclear.

While Kelly has spoken clearly about cornerback KeiVarae Russell’s return to both the field and university, Williams’ status is murkier. And without the details of what actually happened last August—student privacy laws and university policy have kept that under lock and key—it’s impossible to know what Williams’ situation actually is.

(Williams could be in a situation similar to the one that DaVaris Daniels reportedly found himself in, wanting to return to the football field, but unable to meet eligibility requirements after grades were adjusted.)

As Kelly himself pointed out in April, summer school could be part of the road back to eligibility, with his role on the team not necessarily solidified until fall camp.

“(There are) things that he’ll have to take care of in the summertime just to get the ball moving for his ability to be reinstated,” Kelly said back in April.

Making things even more interesting is news that Williams could potentially graduate from Notre Dame (something that’d likely take until the end of the fall semester) without playing for the Irish this fall. That scenario was thrown into the mix on Twitter, reportedly coming from a Brian Kelly talk to the ND Club of Miami.

That scenario sounds like it’d be a complete surprise to both Williams and his family. But with Williams’ eligibility clock technically still running last season, he has just this fall to complete his four seasons of on-field play.

The reality of the situation is that there isn’t necessarily a playbook for something this complicated, with too many variables for anything to be set in stone. A bursting-at-the-seams roster, a confusing eligibility situation and the process of readmission are all playing factors.

But getting Williams back on campus is the first step, and after a long layoff, that’s set to happen on Monday.


Come September, all eyes on Yoon

Photo Property of Boston Herald

On Signing Day, nobody wants to talk about the kicker. But come September, Notre Dame’s most important true freshman won’t be a five-star tight end or blue-chip cornerback, but rather kicker Justin Yoon.

With Kyle Brindza graduated, Brian Kelly and the Irish coaching staff are all but turning over the placekicking duties to Yoon. And the true freshman will have no choice but to sink or swim next season.

Our friends at Irish 247 went out to Massachusetts to check on the soon-to-be-enrolled newcomer. And after talking to both Yoon and his former prep coach Kevin MacDonald, lack of preparation won’t be what stops Yoon from succeeding.

“The fact that he practices so hard, he has no reason to doubt himself,” MacDonald told Irish 247. “Every kick he makes he practiced 1,000 times.”

The entire article is worth a read, as Yoon talks about the keys to his success, the concentration he demands and how he looks forward to kicking in front of the 81,000-and-change fans at Notre Dame Stadium.

Here’s video of Yoon’s practice work from earlier this week. After watching Brindza play a draw (right to left ball flight), Yoon looks to work the ball the opposite way.



Golson talks about transfer (though what he doesn’t say is more interesting)

Jameis Winston,Everett Golson

As he has from the beginning of this odyssey, Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman has been out front on the Everett Golson transfer news. Releasing Golson’s original statement and getting the first comments out of the former Notre Dame quarterback, Feldman is back at it, talking with Golson about the thought process that led him to pick Florida State.

The quotes, as you may have guessed are quite interesting. As Golson trains in San Diego, interestingly still working with Irish slot receiver Amir Carlisle, it’s clear that the change to a different program is still one that takes getting used to.

“I’m still wearing Notre Dame stuff. It’s something that’s pretty crazy right now for me to adjust to, but I do think it was best for me,” Golson told Fox Sports. “I just needed a fresh start. It was me sitting down and thinking, ‘OK, where do I feel the most comfortable?’ It was nothing to knock Notre Dame. I just had to put myself in the best position possible.”

Finding that “best position possible” wasn’t easy.

Golson acknowledged that some of the SEC destinations were tougher to consider because of the conference bylaw that required a waiver process. He also talked about the idea of playing for Charlie Strong at Texas, a move that didn’t seem possible with the Irish opening up against the Longhorns to start the season.

“It was pretty awkward, but it was kind of expected. It would’ve been interesting to see Texas,” Golson told Fox Sports. They (Notre Dame) basically limited me to the schools that we wouldn’t play. I wasn’t really surprised by it.”

But those early reports that had Notre Dame over-zealously blocking scholarship opportunities didn’t turn out to be a reality. Golson actually appreciated how Notre Dame’s staff and compliance team helped him work his way through the process.

But Golson’s most interesting comments pertain to his new relationship with Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher. Here’s Golson’s initial reaction to meeting with the Florida State head coach.

“One of the things I was looking for in a coach was for him to be genuine,” Golson said. “What he’s built there at Florida State really sold itself before I started really looking. Actually sitting down and talking to him, I felt like he was gonna shoot me straight and he was a genuine guy. If you’re not doing so well, he’s gonna tell you, and if you are doing well, he’s gonna tell you that, too. I can really respect a guy like that.

“For me, it all started with him being genuine and for me to be able to (play) free again. I think that’s what I lost sight of last season. At the beginning of the season, I was playing free. I was having fun. Closer to the end of the season, it kinda came to feel like a burden.”

While Golson didn’t say a thing about his previous head coach in this statement, what he did say certainly tells the story. While there’s certainly a danger of reading too far into these comments, it’s hard not to wonder what Golson is saying about his past coach when he’s saying this about his new one.

And while he made it clear that being coached hard wasn’t an issue (Fisher has done that plenty, too) “playing free” was the goal. (Though it certainly feels a lot like how Golson played down the stretch, turning a hot start into a turnover-plagued mess as the Irish’s offensive leader couldn’t get out of his own way.)

Golson talked about the mistakes and 22 turnovers piling up, and how he plans on making sure that’s not the case in 2015.

“It was me just not taking care of the ball. It was me trying to do too much at times,” Golson told Feldman. “Not giving up on plays. Me trying to escape the pocket and not keeping two hands on the ball. Just being real careless. Lots of little detail stuff. And that costs us a little bit. At the end of the day what didn’t happen was me getting back to the fundamentals.”

In the end, while all parties involved have said the right thing—Golson included—it’s hard not to conclude that this split is mostly about Golson wanting a change of scenery. As someone who worked through significant adversity to earn his degree from Notre Dame, Golson certainly earned that opportunity.

So while it’s hard for certain Notre Dame fans to understand how a quarterback could walk away from a loaded depth chart and a strong returning roster to take a leap into the unknown, Golson has already done it.

Now it’s time for all parties to move on.


For Golson, challenges won’t disappear now that he’s at FSU

Everett Golson

Everett Golson left Notre Dame for Florida State. Degree in hand, free agency well earned. But for some who thought Golson left South Bend because he wanted nothing to do with a quarterback competition that Malik Zaire seemed to embrace, the fifth-year quarterback’s arrival in Tallahassee won’t mark the end of a position battle.

Golson left a competition for the starting quarterback job at Notre Dame for the vacancy Jameis Winston left behind at Florida State. And Jimbo Fisher apparently made it clear that he welcomed the Irish transfer to campus, but guaranteed him little more than a shot at the starting job.

“Controversy and competition is two different things. It’s competition,” Fisher told the AP’s Ralph Russo. “And players on the team, when a guy is a competitor and he does well — whether it’s Sean [Maguire], it’s Everett, it’s De’Andre [Johnson], it’s J.J. [Consentino], it’s Deondre Francois — whoever is on our team, they’ll follow the guys who play the best, respond the best and lead them the best.”

There’s few who doubt that Golson will win the starting job in short order. But then again, few looked at Notre Dame’s spring practice and saw a job that didn’t look like Golson’s, either.

So as we step back and look at Golson’s decision to start anew, it’s worth looking closer at the relationship with the quarterback and his head coach, and also the instability at the top of the offense, with Golson asked to establish yet another relationship in the more-than-fluid offensive leadership under head coach Brian Kelly.

While Golson only played in one system at Notre Dame, he had multiple teachers. During his freshman year, Charley Molnar was the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. After Molnar left to take over the UMass program, Chuck Martin ran the offense and the position during Notre Dame’s 2012 BCS title game run.

After Golson’s academic detour in the 2013 season, he returned to a reshuffled coaching staff after Martin took the head coaching job at Miami (Ohio). Golson was then working under Mike Denbrock‘s leadership with new quarterback coach Matt LaFleur asked to work on technique and position responsibilities with Golson and a young depth chart.

LaFleur’s short stay in South Bend was a misstep for Kelly, the young assistant happier in the professional game and returning to work with Kyle Shanahan. Enter another young offensive assistant in Mike Sanford, who had just weeks to build and develop a relationship with his embattled starting quarterback, and it’s fair to consider these factors when people talk about Golson going to learn and work with completely new coaches.

Of course, Golson’s primary coach has always been Kelly. From Day One, the Irish head coach has kept Golson’s tutelage under his purview. And as Kelly moves forward running the Irish program, the head coach needs to take a step back and access whether that arrangement serves his football team best.

Multiple sources close to Golson cite the head coach-player relationship as a significant factor in Golson’s decision to depart. And while some fans would point out that Kelly stuck by and believed in Golson for far longer than any reasonable coach should have, the decision to seek a clean slate was one that hinged on the working relationship between the two men most responsible for the offense’s efficiency.

With Sanford’s arrival and the addition of off-field resources like former Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn, there’s no shortage of proven offensive leaders in the Notre Dame coaching room. And while Kelly’s DNA won’t change from that of an offensive coach, given a new opportunity to work with Zaire, perhaps the singular nature of the relationship between head coach and his quarterback will change.

All that being said, Kelly isn’t the first head coach to tightly manage the quarterback position. Successful coaches at every level establish that bond with their quarterback, and if there’s any blame to assign—or any perceived failure in Golson deciding to leave—it’s fair to put some of that on the quarterback’s shoulders.

Golson isn’t a guy completely comfortable in the spotlight. And in a program and playing a position where eyes are always watching, the minor details—things like body language on the sideline and press conference demeanor—end up being fair game. And as the mistakes piled up last season, Golson became less and less able to deal with the adversity, finally benched after a flat-line performance against the Irish’s biggest rival in USC.

Even if his season ground to a halt before playing well in limited minutes against LSU, there’s no reason to think that Golson won’t have a good season at Florida State. For all the worries that the offense is too complex and Golson’s timeline is too truncated, this is an offense that allowed players like JaMarcus Russell to thrive, and turned mediocre NFL players like Christian Ponder and EJ Manuel into first-round picks. Golson’s a smart kid with better-than-most skills. He’ll be just fine.

So while Notre Dame fans can only wonder what the Irish offense would’ve looked like with the 1-2 punch of Golson and Zaire, it’s one thing to embrace an unknown quarterback platoon as a fan. It’s an entirely different thing to do it as a player, especially one that hopes to continue his career at the next level.

Golson’s move to Florida State will certainly cut both ways when NFL talent evaluators access his abilities—both to play and to lead at the next level. So while Golson made one difficult decision when he decided to leave South Bend, he faces another set of challenges at Florida State.