Notre Dame opened spring practice on Monday, resulting in the first public comments from Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson since his return to campus in January after a semester-long academic suspension.
"I want to say surreal in a sense," Golson said of his first practice back with the team. "I felt accomplished for a split moment, that I went through what I went through and now I'm back and I'm moving forward now and still continuing the process of trying to grind and be better."
After leading the Fighting Irish to an undefeated regular season and a BCS title game appearance as a redshirt freshman in 2012, Golson was suspended in May 2013 for what he initially called "poor academic judgement."
According to Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly, Golson has returned with a better understanding of the team's offensive concepts.
"I can talk to him about things that I didn't believe I could talk to him about relative to protections, hot routes, just the nuances of the game," Kelly told reporters on Friday. "So clearly he has evolved there."
Kelly also said that this will be "a huge spring" for redshirt freshman quarterback Malik Zaire. Zaire and Golson, who is now a redshirt junior, are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the team's roster for spring practice. While Golson figures to have an experience edge over the Zaire, the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback from the 2013 recruiting class, the starting job is considered to be up for grabs for both players.
"It's a huge spring for Malik Zaire. Huge," Kelly said Friday. "He's got to step up. He's got to show a maturity level in terms of leadership, taking over the offense, and he's got to practice as if he's the starter.
"He's got to practice with the vision of him being the starter against Rice."
Notre Dame will also be breaking in two new coordinators during spring practice after losing two assistants to head coaching opportunities. Brian VanGorder joined the staff to replace defensive coordinator Bob Diaco (UConn) and Mike Denbrock was promoted to offensive coordinator after the departure of Chuck Martin; now the head coach at Miami (Ohio).