As two of the top quarterbacks in the 2012 recruiting class, J.T. Barrett and Malik Zaire struck up a friendship at the Elite 11 quarterback camp and have remained close since.
But while Barrett went on to become the all-time leading passer at Ohio State, Zaire was stuck in a backup role at Notre Dame, and the two never got to compete against each other.
Zaire, an Alter High School graduate, and Barrett were the only two quarterbacks invited to the annual Cincinnati Bengals local player workout at Paul Brown Stadium.
“The competitive spirit definitely comes out,” Zaire said after the workout. “He’s my guy. He was a great quarterback at Ohio State and a great, lifelong friend for me. It’s good to see him out there and good to compete one more time like the good old times just like our Elite 11 days back in high school.”
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Zaire and Barrett were among 35 invitees who were eligible to participate because they played their high school or college ball within 100 miles of Cincinnati.
“I was cheering on my guy,” Barrett said of Zaire. “I want him to do well. It wasn’t like ‘Man, I hope you miss it.’ I want my man to succeed as well. I think we both looked smooth out there and did well. I was happy for him.”
Zaire, who played his fourth season at Florida as a graduate transfer, did not receive an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, but he was able to throw for scouts and coaches at both the Notre Dame and Florida pro days and said he has made visits to a few other NFL teams.
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“Every workout is like a Super Bowl for me,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be at both Florida and Notre Dame, where all 32 teams were at our bowls. Along with doing these workouts, you couldn’t ask for a better opportunity going into the draft.
“This was my fourth workout,” he added. “I did Baltimore, Jacksonville and Tampa. This was my last one. It’s a really good opportunity to try to turn some heads and open some eyes.”
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Most analysts don’t project Zaire or Barrett to be drafted next weekend. But there should be opportunities for both to sign as undrafted free agents with a chance to make a mark during OTAs and training camp.
Earning a spot in the league is Zaire’s top priority, but he has a film and television degree from Notre Dame to fall back on.
“Right now it’s football, but I love being behind the camera and that kind of stuff,” he said. “Just trying to be as diverse as I can and be a renaissance man. There’s a lot to life. You just try to enjoy it as much as you can.”
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Tuesday’s chilly, 35-degree workout lasted 45 minutes with Zaire and Barrett throwing passes to other local prospects, including Miami receiver Jared Murphy.
Zaire said he was happy with how he performed.
“It was cold, but it went well,” he said. “I’ve been training really hard. This was a good opportunity to embrace the elements and throw in all weather conditions.
“I wanted to show that I can make all the throws,” he added. “Since there’s not any defense out there, you want to be able to complete all the passes and show the arm strength and accuracy and your footwork. I feel like that’s going to take you far.”
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While Zaire is hoping to begin an NFL career, another Alter graduate, Nick Mangold, announced his retirement Tuesday. Zaire said while he was playing at Alter, Mangold came back a couple of times and spoke with the team.
“Nick’s a great guy,” Zaire said. “I look up to him in terms of his path and what he did to continue his success for as long as he did in the league. That’s a great role model to have. Hopefully I can follow his 15-year long career. And make a movie about it. It all comes full circle.”