SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The Showtime cameras were there to capture all of the tears and agony: Malik Zaire being carted off the field in Virginia, a towel over his head unable to restrict the sobbing that came from the realization of a season over before it really even got started. The emotions overflowed in the winning locker room afterward, players consoling the quarterback on the arduous road ahead, a path that would go on to become all the more difficult due to the success of Zaire's successor, DeShone Kizer.
Those tears, Zaire said Friday, were not about the pain in his broken right ankle, but about seeing everything he worked for disappear in a flash.
"I know that I'm confident in my abilities and I know that I'm the most hardest working quarterback I think in the country, so for me to be traveling all these places that I did to get ready for the season and for me to put so much effort and blood, sweat and tears into this team and not be able to get the prize at the end of the day, it was kind of hard for me to deal with in the moment," Zaire said. "Ankle's the ankle, everybody has injuries. It was more so the work that I put in that I didn't get to see pay off in that moment, but everything happens for a reason, so you've just got to keep rolling with it."
That Zaire has done, from remaining engaged with the team throughout its 10-3 campaign last fall, to working ahead of schedule with his rehab, an attack that has allowed him to compete with Kizer and Brandon Wimbush this spring.
Zaire stayed back in Arizona after the Irish's Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State, hanging at his father's place during winter break while he worked out with private quarterback coach Dennis Gile. He spent much of the spring semester breaking in some of the younger Irish receivers, hoping to replicate the early chemistry he displayed with the likes of departed pass-catchers Will Fuller and Chris Brown. Coach Brian Kelly lauded Zaire's aggressiveness in winter testing, as the QB shunned aside the staff's offer to pass on some drills.
His 3-0 record as a starter offers a snapshot of his capabilities, but that mark in many ways belies Zaire's body of work at Notre Dame, where he enters his redshirt junior year. He surpassed Everett Golson at the end of his redshirt freshman year in 2014, and he spent an entire summer and ensuing fall camp as the program's entrenched No. 1 guy in 2015.
"It probably says a lot about Malik that we're giving him that opportunity to compete for the starting job," Kelly said last week, an acknowledgement of all that Zaire has done at Notre Dame despite boasting eight fewer starts than Kizer.
Despite the challenges of the past year, Zaire's philosophy toward the job hasn't wavered. He says he competes only with himself to get better. Asked if there is a job to be won for 2016, the 6-foot, 225-pound Zaire said:
"I believe there's a championship to win. With that being said, I'm working on being a championship quarterback."