For Season 3 Episode 8 of Slingin It with QB Velocity we got a chance to sit down and talk to former Notre Dame and Florida Quarterback Malik Zaire.
Malik Zaire was a highly touted quarterback coming out of Kettering, Ohio. He played four seasons at Notre Dame and then played his graduate years at Florida.
In the episode we got a chance to talk about how Malik Zaire stood out from the rest of the recruits, how it was getting recruited, why he chose to go to Notre Dame, and how he dealt with his injury and his journey back.
When did you first fall in love with the game of football?
“...Going back to flag football days. When I was in second or third grade and then having that comradery and being an only child, getting out there with like 21 other people on the field.
It just felt like that was the place for me to use my drive and to do the best. The competitive aspect picked up there. I did not want to put the football down after that.”
What makes you appreciate the game of football so much?
“In the world from the quarterback perspective. There is nothing else in the world where you get to direct and manage ten other guys in the field, like that to accomplish one goal. Being on your P's and Q's and then making sure that you got everything in the right place, it’s really a great chess game that I like to play.
That’s why I love playing. It's like my little chess set. Just to be able to have 11 guys on the field and accomplish an objective. In the midst of all the crazy stuff that happens in between its unpredictable. It's better than going to the movies, so that and then half of it is entertainment.
So, you know you got to have an entertaining guy. You as a player, you know a lot of guys that do not. It is not that exciting to watch, so it is a mix between being entertaining and being like an ultimate warrior. So, I appreciate the process of the game and what it brings but the challenges that come within the unpredictability as well.”
In your opinion what did you do on or off the field that made you stand out?
“Man, it is a cliche, but it was the work I put in for me. I honestly just felt like my constant communication, working hard to feel like I was doing what my coaches want. Talking to my teammates, building those relationships. It really comes down to trust.
You get out on the field and so much going on. You got to be able to really trust that person and really trust the coaches. That they are thinking the same way you are, especially in the heat of the moment and making sure the players that you are looking for are on the same page because that makes or breaks a lot of offenses and makes or breaks a team.
So constantly building relationships on and off the field, in my opinion, is the best way outside of just saying I worked hard. It really meant something to me, and it came together very well when the time came for me to be able to play. That, in my opinion, separated me throughout my whole football career in terms of what was the difference between me and the next guy.”
How do you communicate with a teammate that you do not agree completely with?
“Part of it is just having that common goal, like what is the objective? Why are we even here together? And when you are in that space of competitive working in team buildings, it’s not really about liking the other individuals. It’s what is it going to take to get on the same page to get the job done.
When you're working within a team situation, you really avoid a lot of them. The emotional side and the things that come with it that you really can't control.
I believe it's very important to build relationships on and off the field, because that's how you can really squash and handle the things that can come in. And fearing in and when you need it the most in the meeting or the other so it’s super important for you to be able to, you know, not be emotional a lot of times.
So what if somebody doesn't like you? Not everybody is going to like you, especially these fans. You shouldn’t worry about liking and not liking somebody.
You know for yourself, challenge yourself. How can I get somebody that is not on board on board? You got to really understand that because it can really make or break your whole operation and it is the smallest thing.”
Is there a particular drill that you like to do as a Quarterback?
“Oh man, I was super ritualistic when it came to drills and fine tuning up my skill development. One of my favorite drills, it's funny because it's like ‘How do you explain the drillable phone?’ but actually, I got some pretty good drill work stuff from the Packers QB school.
So, there's some simple like L movements and really just working on the small movements within the pocket with bags. Do the high knees over, being able to get comfortable moving in confined spaces and then just daily continuous working on that motion.
Looking in the mirror visualizing, where a lot of the things mentally, that I felt help increase my game that much more. At a certain point you can only do so many drawbacks and so many throws into the out routes. So, for me my biggest changes once I got to a certain level was the mental aspect, and visualization of the game.
This game is really concerned because quarterbacks got to be the most technical in my opinion. As the most efficient player on the team, even though you are not lifting or running the most. Even not the most visible you got to be able to be posted and so that it requires a lot of mental focus. It takes a lot of practice to do that.”
What advice would you give a young quarterback?
“It has to be, being a great leader and having fun is really important. You can get lost in the competition at a game because you know quarterback competitions can be very competitive. You can get lost in not understanding how the politics of the game works.
So, the biggest advice I can give is falling in love with your game and the only way you do that is by practicing to the point where you fall in love with getting better. And being a student of the game is so important because you do not know what you are going to be going into when you go to some of these teams.
Cause like you go from high school, college, and wherever professionally. You’re going to be in a different environment around different guys that may not be your best friend like we talked about earlier, but when you fall in love with your own process, that's a really gravitate force for a team to get around and support you because they know that you're taking it seriously and you want to see them do well or making sure you know your job. A lot of that, like I said, relationship building and mental training. Being able to have fun with it and love the game.
A lot of things that really you wouldn't even be able to feel for you know, but these are the things that get you into that light where your first-round pick gets you into that light, where you could feel good about where you are in a quarterback battle. So those are the difference makers as opposed to something that is very cliche, you know? I try to stay away and not use cliche quarterback quotes.”
Do you feel like Lefty quarterbacks are underrated?
“100% underrated. A lot of good moves because we give it a different look. I think a lot of times the look is so peculiar that it works to our advantage as well as at this point it's just a lot of comfortability with the right-handed quarterbacks.
There’s only one in the [National Football] League right now, with Tua [Tagovailoa] being the only one. We definitely need more. And I think you're going to face stigmas, just because a lot of systems are built off the right hand of God. You got to train yourself in both ways, but the left-handed quarterback can.
Any offense is going to give you something of a different perspective. Every quarterback that is left-handed plays with a different kind of standout quality which is great. Like I did not even play as many games as some other quarterbacks, I was on the same roster as but the games I did play in were better than some of their games, you know. So finding ways to be unique with that left hand is not hard but when you’re in there, don't mess it up so make us proud.”
What are some of the things mentally that helped you get back after your injury?
“You really find out how strong of a player you are mentally. Going through a season ending injury, a lot of it is because you get stuck watching not too many football players or people that work standing on the sideline watching and being unable is even worse.
When you love the process, and you love the journey of what it takes to get to where you want to go, it’s really just another roadblock in another opportunity for you to advance your game in other areas and a lot of guys don't appreciate that because it's so forward thinking on getting back on the field.
But you can still get better as a player off the field, especially from a leadership standpoint when the guys on the team are looking at you still trying to make efforts to be impactful, even with not being physical, it does something for guys seeing that, so your leadership skills are tested.
When you go through an injury, a lot of guys don't respond well, but the ones that do, these are real guys, real stand-up solid guys that you can rely on. So, for me, that was a big challenge. You know, especially since the fact we were winning and supporting the team while you are winning, and I have my own personal feelings like I was going to impact the team. There’s a lot that goes on that they don't prepare you for.
There's no book for it or how to deal with this. Being able to find that inner strength and like I said and fall in love with that process. It's just something that happens, and before you know it, you keep falling in love with what you're doing. You're going to wake up and be back on the field so when you get back on the field, that's where it really matters too, because you can't look back and say time was wasted.”
What was it like being such a highly rated prospect coming out of high school?
“You really don't think too much about it just because you're coming out and you want to keep going to the top school. By the time you get ranked as the top high school player, you’re almost done with high school. You focus on climbing the chart in the college level and continuing on.
By the end of high school and having a high ranking is great because now you want to be able to carry that momentum into the next stage.
I felt like I set myself up pretty good. By doing that, especially going to the Elite-11 where you know I'm playing with Jared Goff, JT Barret, Max Brown, and Christian Hackenberg, a lot of guys that got opportunities to get into the League.
I beat some of those guys, I was called before Jared was for the finals and I thought that was pretty cool. I was starting against the quarterback for the Rams, or I guess the Lions now. That was a great benchmark going into college.
Being able to see where I stacked up and I've always been very competitive so. Knowing that I was going to see those guys down the road at some point played a lot of him being another day. Got to appreciate it and knowing that.
When you see them have the success on their college teams that you could have been doing the same time, I mean you saw him up close and personal and knowing that gives you confidence that they go out there and kill it and I know I can do the same.”
What made up pick Notre Dame coming out of high school?
“I just didn't want to say no to any opportunity to play quarterback. It's hard to just put it past the top two. So, for me and being black, I mean, let's just be honest being a black Notre Dame quarterback is pretty amazing.
So, I didn't want to pass it up between the upper, especially because it had just come off national championship. And one of the top five teams in the country and my own personal beliefs being competitive and I was going to kill being a quarterback going there. And we are doing well in the Elite 11. I was like, well, if I can beat those guys that know their names and there's no way I'm not number one like how do you not know? Add that up right?
So, my math was right going in there. You know I felt like that was the best position to really just prove to myself that, you know, if I work this hard to get here, how far can I really go? Getting the chance to play at a place like Notre Dame. If you started three games, you’re going to have a chance to go to the NFL, just cause it's Notre Dame.
It was just the perfect situation. Always around. I feel like if I deserved and earned my way to get on the field, there was no way I wouldn't want to play cause you got to have a high expectation for that. Just being out there on national television every week with the Notre Dame Jersey on, you know you can get some good looks from the NFL, so it was it was really a winning setup for me, and it was a no brainer.”
How was the tradition and culture like at Notre Dame?
“You got to be there to really understand just the depth of it. Outside looking in, it's just expectational just like anywhere else where you know you're in a position where you're expected to win. I don't think people really understand what that feels like going on a mass scale where I did not plan for no conference championships or whatever.
Every game means something. Every game is a rivalry game. Every game is a game that can take you out of the playoff contention, so your standard is competitiveness and your standard of what it takes to be the best just means a little bit more. And like I said, you're expected to win, so there is no going into a season not thinking you're not going to win a national championship.
That’s the pressure that you want. You know the pressure. I went there for it and it made me better. I got to see a little bit of everybody that's doing well in the League now. For me the play with them or against them playing at Notre Dame you get a chance to play all across the country. So, seeing a little bit of everybody and watching the games now is kind of cool, you know. See how because careers develop and even the guys, I play with career development. “
Can you talk about your favorite memory at Notre Dame?
“Oh man, so many favorite memories. I just think the experience itself. You know, being able to remember having the feelings of excitement going there and then the same feelings of excitement leaving and you know, everything in between the total experience is what I appreciate because I know it wouldn't be something like that if I didn't.
I wouldn't have those same experiences if I did not tell myself every day I can get there. Just from being in those 3 1/2 years and to have an opportunity to get myself there was probably my favorite memory. It was just the process in itself and everything networking that came with it.”
What teammate had the biggest impact on you?
“Let's see mine was probably Greg Brian, man he was my running back and best friend at Broward, Florida, West Palm Beach area. My best friend going through it together in my class. We, you know, have a lot of inner connection within the games.
When I got out there my first couple times playing a lot of games, that was his first couple times and just the fact that we went through it together, getting to that point and being best friends the whole way.
We had a lot of potential and what we could've did and in the short time we end up doing a good amount, so you know my best friend still to this day and the lasting memories that we had together at Notre Dame along with all the other guys it just it felt like it was a place I need to be.”
Was there a guy on defense that you loved competing against?
“Jaylon Smith. This man is my favorite player of the men I've ever played with just because he's just a next level type of type of level. Just like Will Fuller was the next level. Thinking back on it now those two guys man you knew they were three and done.
If I didn’t get hurt, I might be with him, so it was really fun playing when I mean these guys make the game easy. It made the game exciting, especially through years. And you know there's no question why they’re still there now.
I mean they deserved getting their money. So, shout out to those guys and they were both in my class so ironically enough at all the players I play with. The best players came from my class, and I recruited both of them so.”
How have you been able to use your experience as a player to now your professional career?
“Yeah. What really translated for me was the dedication I have for studying and really getting into winning games and going through the process of getting ready for games. It was able to translate really well to when I started talking about it on TV.
Just because I know what goes into getting prepared for a game, of a certain magnitude or being the starting quarterback throughout the week and what it says extends just playing a game out as if I was actually playing, except I'm not getting hit and I get to go on TV.
So, it translated pretty well and then just being a vocal person and in working on relationships that translates anywhere you go. It was pretty easy for me to be able to go in there and do my thing...
You know you go to corporate it’s just another version of football teams. I was able to not be uncomfortable with doing something outside of football just because the relationships make it easier. When you know somebody, it plays a lot into your life and in football teaches you a lot about different types of relationships, so I think at all played in well together and got me to where I am today.”
What are some life lessons from the football field that you use in everyday life?
“One is underrated, but it's the next man in. I think the next play mentality next man in and that will let a lot of things roll off your shoulders because like in the game of football, when something unexpected happens, you really don't have time to dwell on it.
You got that next play, that next mission. It's OK if you don't accomplish it. You just got to keep going. So, the next man is entirely not dwelling on things that you can or can't control, I think is important and it also helps you stay motivated and continue. When you take the lessons that you learn from what happens and you turn it up and make it something better.
So many mentalities is something that is underrated because outside of sports it doesn't have the same urgency. You know, it doesn't have the same impact on people and everybody else because there's a lot of little things that can happen in a workspace early evening relationship at home where people don't have next play mentality and they hold on to their shift forever and it just destroys the process in which you were trying to carry out. So next man mentality is huge. Paying attention to the details is another thing.
In the game of football, the details matter so much because those are a few inches that can change the whole game, whether it be you know, be running towards the sideline, make sure you had a ball on the outside hand instead of the inside hand because he can get stripped. These people coming from inside and out in, you know, running mandatory releases.