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Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer: Must focus on having fun, just being QB

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer took it upon himself to address the Fighting Irish's 1-3 start Wednesday, shouldering much of the blame as one of the program's leaders.

"My mentality heading into the week is just to play free, have fun," Kizer said. "I get the opportunity to be the quarterback of University of Notre Dame. That is a privilege that people dream about, that I dreamed about, and I took the fun out of that.

"That's my biggest regret in the first four games is I had so much love for this position, love for this team, that I took on a lot more than I ever should, which put a lot of pressure on my back, and that's something that I'm going to have to remove and go back to just doing what I love and having a good time.

"When I'm doing that, that's when we're playing our best ball as a team. And I believe that our whole team is buying into that understanding and buying into that idea. And practice [Tuesday] was a blast. It was a good time to go out there and play football, to play free and have a good time. And today's practice will be the same. Saturday will be the same. And there will be a 'W' on that column when we go out there and we play the way we know how to."

Kizer agreed with coach Brian Kelly's assessment earlier in the week that the quarterback's play has been substandard. Kizer, a redshirt sophomore, has completed better than 62 percent of his passes for 1,096 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions, to go with 186 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He said his biggest personal room for improvement is in needing to play looser.

"At the quarterback position you naturally take on an extra dose of leadership, an extra dose of trying to take on everything that a coach should be taking on," Kizer said. "You go and you idolize guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and all the best who have ever done it and you see how they approach the media, you see how they approach the game, you see how they approach their team.

"And they're professionals. They get paid to do that. They're in completely different positions than I am. And therefore, they take on a little more responsibility than I do. But me being the kid that I am, I wanted to be like them. I wanted to come up here and talk to you guys as if I was the head coach of this team.

"But I'm just the quarterback. All I gotta do is go out and do whatever the guys upstairs are telling me to do and that's it. If Coach Kelly asked me to come do media, I do media. If Coach Kelly asks me to go throw a touchdown, I need to go out there and rip the ball and throw a touchdown. I don't need to do any more than that, and I think that was my biggest flaw in the beginning of the season is taking on too much. I just need to go out and play and have fun, challenge myself each day and just try to get better."

Kizer added that fellow quarterback Montgomery VanGorder is his best friend at Notre Dame and that VanGorder has handled the past three days well after the program fired his father, Brian VanGorder, as defensive coordinator on Sunday.

Senior linebacker and captain James Onwualu said he spoke with Brian VanGorder after the firing and thanked him for the opportunity to play for him. Onwualu had been a receiver as a freshman before moving to the defensive side of the ball when VanGorder came aboard in 2014.

"Everybody was talking about it -- even our student section seemed to have a strong stance on that," Onwualu said of the staff shakeup, which saw analyst Greg Hudson get promoted to defensive coordinator. "It was shocking to me. Obviously, this is the only defensive experience I've ever had. He's really all I knew defensively. So it's difficult for some older guys, you know, and me included to put that aside and just take the next step into something new.

"I'll continue my relationship with Coach VanGorder and possibly still learn things from him, but I'm on to the next step and excited for Coach Hudson to get us rolling."

Notre Dame plays 2-2 Syracuse on Saturday in East Rutherford, New Jersey.