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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In the days after Everett Golson learned he wouldn't be allowed to play the 2013 season, questions surrounded him: Was an eventual return to Notre Dame possible? Did Notre Dame even want him back? Would he transfer?
Hugh T. Wallace drove more than 800 miles from Golson's hometown of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to South Bend to get to the bottom of things. Together, the exiled Fighting Irish quarterback, his hometown mentor and assistant Tony Alford gathered on Alford's back porch to discuss Golson's options.
They had just learned Golson would be suspended for the 2013 fall term because of what he called "poor academic judgment." He was told that summer school was off the table, too, and that he could apply for readmittance to Notre Dame for the spring semester. If Golson thought about transferring, it's not something he discussed publicly.
"It was the first time I ever heard Everett speak for himself at length," Wallace, the retired Myrtle Beach High assistant principal, said. "He doesn't say a lot."
Golson decided to move in with a cousin in Chicago, where he could train and stay active. Two months later, he would be bound for sunny San Diego and one-on-one work with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr.
Like that, the wheels were set in motion for Golson's second act. The road to get here has brought about shame, self-evaluation and, if all goes according to plan, redemption.
Notre Dame's familiar face under center is a redshirt junior now, still with just one career loss to his name. He is 2-for-2 in quarterback competitions, needing just 10 preseason practices this month to fend off Malik Zaire and reclaim the starting role he had let go two springs ago.
Reality hit hard during the Irish's first two games last season. Watching the opener from his cousin's place 90 minutes away was tough. Watching the next week's loss at rival Michigan, the same week he moved west to begin his comeback, was worse.
"That one kind of tore me up a little bit, just for the simple fact that they lost," Golson said. "The competitor in me always felt like maybe I could've done something to change the circumstances."
Out in California, Golson was training with Whitfield, hoping to erase that feeling.
"'What are we going to do next?'" Wallace said, describing Golson's attitude through the ordeal. "Unsuccessful people want to go back and talk about what happened. Successful people want to know what's next."
For Golson, that meant getting better without the structure his old teammates had en route to their 9-4 season. Whitfield remained on him, helping him improve his footwork, which new Irish quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur has praised so far in fall camp.
He even learned to throw the ball with the laces, a habit that, frankly, has yet to really set in.
"My guess is that he learned a whole lot from George, but even then, I don't think he'll grip the ball by the laces," Wallace said. "I told him, 'You won't remember to do it.'"
He added 15 pounds, swelling to an even 200. Irish strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo gave Golson a training program for his time away, and while he downplayed the weight gain, he came away impressed with all that the signal-caller did behind the scenes.
"More than anything, he grasped the concept that you're in training 24/7, not just when you're working out," Longo said. "It's what you're putting into your body, and I think he took that time to really take that to heart and started eating better and keeping a better routine in terms of sleep and those types of things, and that progress shows up pretty quick when you do that."
On the field, "night and day" is the phrase of choice for those around the program when describing Golson's differences over the past year.
Offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said Golson recognizes coverages better and sets protections on the line more. His arm strength for a 6-footer continues to impress, with the similarly built LaFleur expressing amazement at a 65-yard toss Golson lofted in a scrimmage this past week.
Head coach Brian Kelly has described the change in mentality as going from fearful to fearless.
When Golson takes the first snap against Rice next Saturday, the occasion will mark 600 days since the last time he played in a game, the BCS title loss to Alabama. Kelly made a remark at the outset of camp this month -- before he named a starter -- that Golson had been more passenger than driver during that 12-1 campaign. Golson's response to reporters when asked about the comment was exactly what all wanted to hear: "I think that's more so for y'all."
"At the end of the day, 20 years from now, if things go the way we all want them to go, we'll look back and it'll be a great story," said Alford, who recruited Golson to Notre Dame. "But in the midst of it, as we're growing every day as a football family and Everett as a man, he's continuing to try to do the best he can do and grow and mature and be the best he can be every day."
The biggest question, it seemed, was if Notre Dame wanted that mature kid back on the team after he was accepted back into the institution in December, a notion likely rooted in paranoia above all else.
Golson is notorious within his circle for being a hard man to reach by phone. The way Wallace tells it, about a week before Golson returned to Notre Dame for good this past January, the Irish staff could not get ahold of him, creating an internal joke -- albeit a likely uneasy one -- about whether the future of the Irish offense was truly coming back.
Alford called Wallace, who assured him that the two would be driving 15 hours overnight through the Midwestern polar vortex to restart Golson's career.
Nearly eight months later, the Irish are here, a week away from another season, with the quarterback they need running their offense.
"It says a lot about his character: When things get hard, instead of running away and saying, 'This thing got hard, I made some mistakes, I'm going to tuck my tail and run and be embarrassed or be upset,' he took ownership," Alford said. "It speaks to his character as a guy who wants to finish and follow through."