Exiled Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has been a hard man to track down. After taking responsibility for "poor academic judgment" that led to his suspension for the fall semester at Notre Dame, Golson vanished. There were no public mea culpas. No media car wash to lay the tracks for a redemption story. Interview requests went unanswered (I know, because some were mine).
Golson's only public appearance came and went in July, with the one-time North Carolina basketball recruit tracked down at a hometown charity basketball game by a local Myrtle Beach news crew. Even then, Golson wouldn't blab about his dismissal or the steps needed for his return to Notre Dame, only vowing to WPDE-15 that he'd be returning to South Bend in the spring.
In an era where high-profile college quarterbacks only seem to get more popular the more trouble they cause, Golson did a better job of evading attention during his academic exile than he did during his impressive redshirt freshman season in South Bend. That the quarterback of the first Notre Dame team to have an undefeated regular season in 25 years could disappear like that? Even Keyser Soze would be impressed.
After getting only snippets from head coach Brian Kelly about Golson's progress this semester, the quarterback finally made public his last few months in an exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples. It was there that Golson confirmed the widely reported news that he was suspended for cheating on a test, an admission Staples could barely pry from the still-embarrassed lips of the mild-mannered quarterback.
Golson has never wavered on his intent to return to South Bend. While it didn't stop Irish fans from worrying, the quarterback was once again adamant that he had unfinished business in South Bend, music to every Irish fans' ears, especially looking at the unproven roster options for next season.
"My heart was set on going back to Notre Dame," Golson told SI's Staples. "Not necessarily to prove to anybody, but really just doing it for me. I felt like that's something that I started. And I didn't want to run away from it and go to a JUCO or go to another school. I was going to face it."
If that news made Irish fans happy, then Irish head coach Brian Kelly trumped it Thursday afternoon by speeding up that timeline considerably. Expected only to return for spring practice, Kelly announced that Golson should be back on campus in the next few weeks. Even better, Golson could be practicing with the Irish during bowl preparation, essentially giving the quarterback two spring practices to make up for lost time.
"Let’s say he’s admitted back into school on December 15th. He would be eligible to practice," Kelly said. "If that’s the case, then we would practice him, but he would not, of course, be eligible to compete. Provided of course he gets readmitted."
Kelly clarified that he was speculating on the exact date Golson could return. But a look at Notre Dame's academic calendar lines up with Kelly's hypothetical. December 12th is the last day of classes for the fall semester. Final exams start that next Monday. There's a chance Golson could be practicing with the Irish as quickly as two weeks after the Irish play Stanford.
Looking for another BCS or bust scenario? If the Irish qualify for one of the top five bowls, they'll have three weeks to practice with Golson. If they don't? Two likely non-BCS destinations, the San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and the New Era Pinstripe Bow, take place in the days just after Christmas.
Kelly and the Irish staff use much of bowl preparation as a development tool for next season. With Golson's ten-week training session in San Diego complete, the Irish could get their most important offensive weapon back in time to develop a relationship with young receivers like Will Fuller and Corey Robinson.
After a stormy offseason and an excruciating time away from his teammates, Golson's return might finally be here. And sooner than many of us thought.