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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 1:59 pm

Irish give Zaire release to transfer

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

The departure of backup quarterback Malik Zaire will be the first domino to fall in Notre Dame’s busy offseason.

On Wednesday, Zaire told ESPN he has been granted his release from his scholarship by Irish coach Brian Kelly.

However, Zaire did say Kelly put restrictions on what schools Zaire can transfer to.

All but one team on Notre Dame’s 2017 schedule are off limits. North Carolina, which plays host to the Irish Oct. 7 in Chapel Hill, is the exception.

Because Zaire is on track to graduate in December, he would be immediately eligible.

The other opponents on the 2017 Irish schedule: Temple, Georgia, Boston College, Michigan State, Miami (Ohio), Southern California, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Miami, Navy and Stanford.

Zaire was the type of dual-threat quarterback Notre Dame fans could have seen leading their team to a big win in late December or early January.

Unfortunately for Zaire and his soon-to-be former school, the timing always was off.

In the 2015 season opener, Zaire had the look of an elite quarterback with 313 passing yards and an 86.2 percent completion rate, the second-best in Notre Dame history.

Then, the next week, Zaire broke his right ankle and missed the rest of the season.

DeShone Kizer stepped in as a freshman in 2015 and hit on 63 percent of his passes for 2,884 yards in an opportunity that came along only because of Zaire's injury. But Kizer changed everything for Zaire.

In spring practice and in fall camp, Kizer and Zaire battled to be the 2016 starter, and after sharing time in the opener, Kelly settled on Kizer.

Everett Golson started all 12 regular-season games in 2014 and went 7-5 but played sparingly in the Music City Bowl, as a freshman Zaire completed 12 of 15 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown and ran 22 times for 96 yards and a score in a victory against LSU.

Spring practice in 2015 was marked by the competition of Golson and Zaire, but drama left town in May with Golson; he transferred to Florida State and ceded the crown to Zaire.

Zaire’s time atop the throne was tantalizingly short, and it all has come full circle with his decision to leave Notre Dame.

Kizer is mulling whether to leave early for the NFL draft. But even if he does, Notre Dame has prospect Brandon Wimbush waiting in the wings.