SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Eight months ago, DeShone Kizer wasn’t even the back-up quarterback at Notre Dame.
He was the back-up to the back-up. He was so far out of the picture he got to throw only five passes in the Fighting Irish’s spring game.
But after an injury to starter Malik Zaire and the transfer of former starting QB Everett Golson, the Toledo Central Catholic graduate moved to the front of the line and helped Notre Dame come within a half dozen points of getting to the College Football Playoff.
Friday, he will lead No. 8 Notre Dame (10-2) against No. 7 Ohio State (11-1) in the Fiesta Bowl.
Zaire finished the 2014 season as Notre Dame’s starter and was spectacular in the opener this season when he completed 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-3 win over Texas before he went down with a broken leg the second week of the season against Virginia.
Golson transferred to Florida State in May after it became clear he wouldn’t be the starter at Notre Dame this season.
So, it became Kizer’s job when Zaire was injured. It began well when he handed off to C.J. Prosise for a touchdown on his first play and ended even better when he threw a 39-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Will Fuller with 12 seconds to play in a 34-27 win.
For the season, he has completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,600 yards and 19 touchdowns and has run for 499 yards and nine touchdowns.
“Everett decided to transfer in May and I decided to compete as much as I could with Malik in the summer to prepare myself to hopefully go out and compete. I felt by game one I was ready to be the starting quarterback,” Kizer said.
“When my number was called there was no time to think, it was just go out there and play ball and take all that preparation I had done in the summer and show it to the world,” he said at Fiesta Bowl media day on Wednesday.
Operating behind a veteran offensive line, led by first-team All-American Ronnie Stanley, helped, too.
Kizer competed against Lima Senior in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, where he was Offensive Player of the Year in football and Player of the Year in boys basketball as a senior in 2013-14.
The redshirt freshman has another Lima connection. He played AAU basketball for the Lima Panthers, coached by Warren Pughsley, with teammates like Xavier Simpson and Elijah Pughsley.
“Lima Senior was always kind of a rivalry for me. I was always competing against some of those guys. Anytime we had a chance to compete against them it was an exciting time to go against kids you grew up with. I remember playing probably a couple times a week in practices at the Bradfield Center,” Kizer said.
While Kizer thought he was prepared to play, he says he might not have been ready for all the attention that comes with being Notre Dame’s starting quarterback.
“There is so much that comes along with being a Notre Dame quarterback off the field that I didn’t know about — fan interactions, media obligations and things like that. That kind of sets you back and creates a little bit of a stressful environment,” he said.
“I’m at the point now where it’s daily life. In the beginning it was very tough. As loved as you are after a big win as the University of Notre Dame’s quarterback, you can be hated just as much if you go out there and turn the ball over a couple times. But I’ve always wanted to be in that position, I’ve always wanted to have the ball in my hands.”
Even though his family was mostly Ohio State fans and he was surrounded by OSU fans at Central Catholic, whose school colors are scarlet and gray, Kizer never was a Buckeyes fan.
“The Buckeyes were always the enemy to me. When you’re in Ohio, you kind of make the decision to be for Ohio State or Michigan and I definitely chose Michigan. I decided to go the opposite way,” he said.
But he knows how big a win over Ohio State would be for Notre Dame.
“We feel like Notre Dame has kind of been knocked down the last five or six years. We’ve kind of been taken off that top-tier list,” Kizer said.
“We believe that with the play we’ve had in the last couple years and the season we’re putting together this year we deserve to be considered one of the top teams in the country year in and year out. This is an opportunity where we can go out and beat a team like Ohio State who was a national championship team and returns a bunch of guys from a national championship team last year,” he said.
Ohio State is almost universally favored to win. But Kizer already knows a lot about overturning the conventional wisdom.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.