SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Basketball nearly lured Everett Golson to North Carolina.
The dual-threat Notre Dame quarterback was almost a dual-sport athlete at UNC, the school he originally committed to while attending high school in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
''I kind of had to struggle with my first love being basketball and going to play football and things like that,'' Golson said. ''It was definitely hard going away from home, all those things you think about.''
Golson will feel at home when the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish (5-0) face the Tar Heels (2-3) Saturday. The 6-foot, 200-pound former point guard is 15-1 as a starter for the Irish, the best winning percentage for a starting quarterback at Notre Dame. His only loss came in the national title game against Alabama at the end of the 2012 season.
He still has a gleam in his eye when he talks basketball.
''I get hyped when I talk about basketball,'' he said.
Coach Brian Kelly said the coaching staff had a hard time keeping Golson away from basketball when he wasn't playing as a freshman.
''He'd be regularly over there playing some basketball and we'd have to scold him and tell him he couldn't play basketball. I think that he still has a love for the game. But I think that that now has changed because of his focus on being the quarterback here,'' he said.
Golson's focus this week is on not turning the ball over after throwing three interceptions and fumbling the ball away three times the past two games. That's especially important against a Tar Heels defense that has an interception in every game, eight overall, and also has recovered four fumbles. Golson has been working after practice with running backs on getting a firm grip on the ball.
''I think just naturally I carry the ball a little loose, but I definitely have been working in practice just to tuck the ball a little bit more,'' Golson said.
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said Golson will determine how far the Irish go this season.
''He can turn a very ordinary play into a great play and then he has a tremendous arm. He's throwing the ball all over the place,'' he said. ''He's what makes it tick.''
As for basketball, Golson said his only involvement these days is playing the arcade style pop-a-shot.
''That's like my thing to do,'' he said.
That, and winning football games.
Things to know about the North Carolina-Notre Dame game:
ACADEMIC BOWL: The game is a matchup of two schools involved in academic impropriety investigations. Notre Dame has withheld five players from games while it tries to determine whether they submitted papers and homework completed by others. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell disclosed on Instagram Friday that he won't play this season. The NCAA in June said it was reopening its 2011 investigation into academic misconduct at North Carolina. It sanctioned the football program in March 2012 by giving it a one-year postseason ban, a reduction of 15 scholarships over three years and three years of probation.
NO TRAP: Notre Dame players say they aren't worried about this being a trap game after beating No. 25 Stanford and a game next week against No. 1 Florida State. ''I haven't heard much talk about Florida State at all besides maybe ticket situations or whatever that people are trying to get taken care of,'' tailback Cam McDaniel said. ''But other than that, it's been straight North Carolina. I think it shows the maturity of our football team.''
SMALL MISTAKES: UNC has been plagued by a series of small mistakes such as presnap penalties and bad footwork, which are happening throughout the lineup. Fedora says the problems are correctable. ''We're a hair away,'' receiver Ryan Switzer said. ''If we could fix a mistake here or there, we could be really good.''
AGGRESSIVE DEFENSE: Notre Dame players love playing under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and were still laughing this week about his decision to blitz two linebackers and a safety against Stanford on first-and-10 from the 49-yard line with 11 seconds left rather than play it safe, resulting in an intentional grounding penalty and a runoff of the clock ending the game. ''It's fun and it brings a whole other dynamic to the game as far as opponents scouting us,'' defensive end Isaac Rochell said. ''It's been really enjoyable playing under his scheme.''
NO WINNER: North Carolina beat Notre Dame 29-24 in 2008, the last time the two teams met. The victory was later vacated by North Carolina as part of its self-imposed penalties of 16 vacated wins from 2008 and 2009 because of NCAA violations.
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, contributed to this report.