Oh how things could have been different for Everett Golson.
He is in South Florida this week, going through interviews, practices, activities and hoopla in preparation for the BCS National Championship game Monday night at Sun Life Stadium.
It’s a dream situation, really, for the starting redshirt freshman quarterback at Notre Dame.
But it only became a reality for the former Myrtle Beach High star because he rescinded a verbal commitment to attend the University of North Carolina.
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Where would Golson, Notre Dame and North Carolina be if he had kept his initial commitment to the Tar Heels?
“I often do [think about it] sometimes, but I think me praying about it has helped me to make the right decision,” Golson said. “… A lot of people questioned my decision going to Notre Dame. I think there were a lot of people who didn’t really understand it.
“But I think this shows that without a doubt I am in the right spot.”
Golson, who turned 20 Wednesday, was solidly committed to North Carolina until the NCAA began investigating the football program under the suspicion that players received impermissible benefits and had illegal contact with agents.
Unsure of the penalties the program might face, Golson became open to other options and took an official visit to Notre Dame.
“Coming here was kind of out of the blue for me, to be honest,” Golson said. “I was committed to UNC for a while and they had everything going on there, which allowed me the opportunity to look elsewhere. I took my first official visit here, and it was kind of like a game-changer. Coming here and being a part of this Notre Dame community, it meant a lot to me and that’s when I committed.”
Golson’s parents are lifelong UNC fans, and Golson inherited their partiality. “We had one plan for him, but the man upstairs had a better plan for him,” said Golson’s father, Wayne.
While Golson led the Irish to a 12-0 season, North Carolina went 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, though it was ineligible for postseason play.
The NCAA investigation ultimately determined that players received benefits from sports agents and their representatives, an assistant coach received money from an agent to whom he steered UNC players, a tutor committed academic fraud, and the school failed to monitor its athletic programs.
Coach Butch Davis, whose regime recruited Golson, was fired in July 2011. UNC received sanctions in March that included the postseason ban for the 2012 season, a loss of 15 scholarships and a three-year probation period.
So as Golson has been prepping for the national championship game, UNC players have been serving their bowl ban.
“God has a plan for me,” Golson said. “I feel that I’m at the right place.”
After redshirting as a true freshman, Golson began his second year at Notre Dame in a four-way battle for the starting quarterback position.
Junior Tommy Rees entered the season 12-4 as a starter with 3,977 passing yards over the previous two seasons, the more mobile junior Andrew Hendrix spelled Rees in 2011, and freshman Gunner Kiel was a prolific high school passer who many considered the top quarterback in the class of 2012.
Golson spent his freshman year as the scout team quarterback, preparing the Notre Dame defense for opponents in practices.
“I think being put back on the scout team was just really a humbling experience for me,” Golson said. “Coming in, I thought I was ready to play or had that confidence that I was ready to play, but it wasn’t that way for me. … [It] made me kind of reassess myself.”
He was replaced by Rees in four games this year because of injury or ineffectiveness, yet managed to keep his starting job.
The starting role at North Carolina would have likely been as intense as it was at Notre Dame.
Bryn Renner, who was ranked third and sixth among high school quarterbacks by SuperPrep and ESPN.com as a senior in 2008, has started the past two years as a redshirt sophomore and junior.
Also on the Tar Heels’ roster is Marquise Williams of Charlotte, N.C., who like Golson redshirted as a true freshman in 2011 after being ranked the No. 9 dual-threat quarterback in the country by Rivals.com in 2010.
In a nearly 50/50 rushing-to-passing offense at North Carolina, which plays a far easier schedule than Notre Dame, Renner completed 276 of 422 passes (65.4 percent) for 3,356 yards and 28 touchdowns with seven interceptions in 2012. The traditional pocket passer, who is 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, also rushed 61 times for just 38 yards, and was spelled by Williams for running situations. Williams had 29 carries for 186 yards and three touchdowns.
The versatile Golson, who is listed at 6-0 and 185 pounds, handles rushing and passing situations for the Irish.
Golson has completed 166 of 282 passes (58.9 percent) for 2,135 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions. He has also rushed for 305 yards and five touchdowns on 89 carries.
Had Golson attended UNC, would he be playing against Virginia on the hardwood in Charlottesville, Va., on Sunday night – the eve of the national title game? “Maybe so, but you can never say,” Golson said.
When he was leaving high school, Golson aspired to play both football and basketball in college. He had spoken to Tar Heels basketball coach Roy Williams about being a two-sport athlete at UNC.
In addition to leading Myrtle Beach to two Class AAA state titles and three consecutive state championship games in football, Golson was an all-state basketball player who also led the Seahawks to a hoops state championship as a freshman point guard.
In his final season of basketball as a junior, Golson averaged 19.6 points, 5 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game. He enrolled at Notre Dame midway through his senior year.
Golson said Friday he hasn’t given up on the idea of possibly playing for Irish basketball coach Mike Brey at some point, but it’s not a concern right now. Brey’s team is 12-1 and ranked in the top 25 nationally.
“Me and coach Brey exchanged words but nothing too solid to really stick,” Golson said. “Obviously basketball is my love. That’s what I love. But my primary focus right now is football. I’d like to say I would like to have the chance of playing basketball someday here. But like I said, football is my primary focus.”
Notre Dame football coaches are fine with basketball being first in Golson’s heart and football being first on his priority list. “If his primary love is basketball, he’s pretty good at his hobby, this being his hobby,” Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said.
Most of all, they’re thankful he chose to go to school in South Bend, Ind.