FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. | Everett Golson has played on the big stage, but Monday he will play on the largest stage in all of college football.
Notre Dame's redshirt freshman quarterback will play in the BCS National Championship Game against defending national champion Alabama, and the Fighting Irish believe he will be ready for it.
Chuck Martin, Notre Dame's offensive coordinator, is certain Notre Dame's undefeated 2012 season has prepared Golson for this moment.
"When you come out and you play three Big Ten teams your first four games and two or three huge rivals your first four games, he didn't get to ease into this thing like some young quarterbacks do," Martin said, "so he got put in a bunch of different situations."
Those situations have often been a test for the 6-foot, 185-pound quarterback from Myrtle Beach, S.C. He beat out last year's starter, Tommy Rees, for the starting job but had to have Rees come off the bench to bail out a 20-17 victory over Purdue in the second game of the season. Golson didn't start against Miami three games later, a penalty for being late for a team meeting. He was under center when Notre Dame struggled to pull out wins over Stanford, Brigham Young and Pittsburgh, but he played well as the Fighting Irish closed out with more impressive wins over Boston College, Wake Forest and Southern Cal.
It might seem like a roller coaster of a season for a first-year starter, but Golson has tried to remain steady.
"I don't ride the wave too much," he said. "I'm kind of just focused on what's played between the yard lines, what's played on the field."
Golson's numbers are modest: 2,135 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, a 59 percent completion rate and another 305 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
It was in Notre Dame's 30-13 victory over Oklahoma in the eighth game of the season that Martin saw signs that Golson was starting to get it. He completed 13 of 25 attempts for 177 yards without an interception and ran for 64 yards, but it was his command of the offense that impressed the coach.
"Just based on watching him take the field and watching him direct our offense, OK, he looks comfortable," Martin said. "I don't know how comfortable he is on the inside ... but to me it really looked like ... he's not worried about too much, he's just kind of running the show out there."
Notre Dame elected to stick with Golson, rather than turning back to Rees, who had started 16 games over the previous two seasons. His growing pains included the overtime victory over Pittsburgh, in which he first rallied the Fighting Irish from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter, though he threw an interception in the end zone with four minutes left and Notre Dame trailing by eight.
"You talk about the game, I think certain situations in that game allowed for me not to, unless my confidence would have been shot - talking about me throwing that pick late in the game - if I would have got down on myself or not believed, we wouldn't be sitting here today."
The coaching staff, especially Martin, believed in Golson.
"The thing for us with Everett is our confidence never wavered in anything he was going to become," the offensive coordinator said. "We were just pushing the envelope to how quickly we could get him to the level we knew he could play.
"He was our guy, and we knew mentally what he was capable of doing, we knew physically what he was capable of doing, and we knew there was going to be a maturation process like any other young (player), particularly at the quarterback position at the University of Notre Dame."
Golson has matured as a quarterback in the spotlight that comes with playing at a high-profile program like Notre Dame. Now he will face an even brighter spotlight in the national title game.
"I think he's going to handle it just fine," wideout TJ Jones said, "just like he's handled the spotlight in other games this year. What we have to do as players is not blow this game up to bigger than what the national championship is. There's obviously going to be added pressure from it being the national championship, but we just have to know how to control that and play our game."
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.