Jan 4, 2013, 10:11 AM EST
The seventh in a series on ten below-the-radar players whose performances helped key the Irish’s run to the national title game. Others include Zeke Motta, Danny Spond, TJ Jones, Prince Shembo, Theo Riddick and Kapron Lewis-Moore.
History will likely be very kind to Tommy Rees. But that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy year for Notre Dame’s junior quarterback. Between an embarrassing off-season arrest and losing his starting job to redshirt freshman Everett Golson, it’s been a trying few months for the junior quarterback. Yet that’s been life in South Bend for Rees, an interesting blend of success and failure, praise and blame that tends to find its way onto the shoulders of a guy not many expected to be a starting quarterback at Notre Dame.
From the moment Rees stepped onto Notre Dame’s campus — six months premature, thanks to enrolling early to give the Irish a scholarship quarterback that wasn’t rehabbing a major knee injury — Rees has been looked at under the lens of a very discriminating microscope, picked apart far more for the things he’s unable to do than lauded for the successes he’s had.
At a school that’s had movies made about scrappy underdogs and embraced the little engine that could more than just about any other, Notre Dame fans’ treatment of the junior quarterback from Lake Forest, Illinois is a peculiar case study that probably says more about fan expectations in a high-profile recruiting era than anything Rees has done on or off the field.
Rees was far from the prototype Notre Dame quarterback recruit. For the last decade, the Irish have brought in signal callers that may as well have come from central casting. In 2003, Tyrone Willingham inked Brady Quinn, who was already well on his way to a Myoplex commercial by the time he took over the starting job as a freshman. Quinn passed the torch to Jimmy Clausen, who was thought to be one of the most college ready quarterbacks to play on Saturdays in a long time. Following up Clausen’s signing was Dayne Crist’s commitment, another five-star prospect that looked even more impressive physically than his predecessors.
Even flops like Demetrius Jones or Zach Frazer came with a recruiting pedigree. While it didn’t mean they could hit the broad side of a barn throwing a football, it at least helped frame the conversation. In 2010, the list of quarterbacks Notre Dame recruited was prodigious. Top names like Blake Bell, Jake Heaps, Devin Gardner, Connor Wood and Nick Montana all had a shot to play for the Irish, yet all passed. But Charlie Weis eventually landed his blue-chip prospect, when a strong-armed, well-built quarterback with elite offers pledged for the Irish: Andrew Hendrix. Almost an afterthought a few weeks later, Tommy Rees committed, looking very much like a contingency plan at best.
Yet nobody told Rees that. The son of a long time college coach and NFL executive, Rees had spent more time around football than any player on the Irish roster. And when Brian Kelly was given the reins of the Irish football program and began installing his spread offense, it wasn’t surprising that Rees, perhaps the least physically talented of the quarterbacks on the Irish roster, began to emerge.
“He’s really savvy. He’s a smart kid. He has those intangibles of a quarterback relative to seeing things before they open up. He can anticipate very well. The ball comes out of his hand,” Kelly said back in August of 2010.
“He has a great head for the game. He understand was the offense very well… He showed us early on that he can run this offense.”
Rees’ freshman season included a solid relief performance after Crist lost another season to a serious knee injury. With the Irish needing wins to simply qualify for a bowl game, Rees led the Irish to a shocking four-game winning streak that included victories over a ranked Utah team and a streak-ending victory against USC in the Coliseum.
When 2011 opened up, Crist looked the part of a starting quarterback, but Rees also had winning on-field experience. While Kelly ultimately chose Crist to start the season opener against USF, it didn’t surprise many that watched the preseason competition when Kelly quickly turned to Rees to run the offense after Crist laid an egg in the first half against the Bulls.
In retrospect, the offense was hardly the problem for Notre Dame in 2011. The mistakes were. Rees will never be a dual-threat quarterback, but Kelly had won before with statuesque quarterbacks. But none made mistakes at the frequency of Rees and the 2011 offense. While he threw for 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns and completed over 65 percent of his throws, Rees’ 14 interceptions and five lost fumbles weighed heavily on the Irish, with turnovers and horrific luck submarining a team that was two full wins better than it’s final 8-5 record.
With Everett Golson learning throughout his redshirt season and a perfect fit for Kelly’s zone-read run game, many expected a good battle between the savvy veteran and the talented understudy. Nobody expected Rees to all but give the job away after a night that ended with a terrible decision.
With classes ending and a group of football players gathering on a beautiful spring night, Rees found himself the punch line of jokes all across the college football world when news trickled in about his arrest for underage drinking. Early rumors had Rees fighting a police officer. Others had him running for a taxi, only to be taken down from behind by an officer or thwarted by a cabbie, easy punch lines after watching Rees’ limited mobility all season.
While an early felony charge was dismissed and the plea agreement reflected quite a difference between the early reports and the facts of the evening, Rees was repentant and embarrassed after finding himself in the news for all the wrong reasons.
“I apologize to my family, friends, the Notre Dame community, Fighting Irish fans and the South Bend Police Department for my actions this spring,” Rees said in a statement in July. “I made a poor decision and I accept full responsibility. I learned a valuable lesson and witnessed first-hand that actions have consequences. This experience will make me a better person and I will focus on being a positive role model and citizen. To those who supported me during this difficult time, I offer my sincerest thanks. To the people I disappointed, I am dedicated to winning back your trust and confidence.”
The arrest all but opened the door for a coaching decision that would have likely been made even without the incident. And it thrust Rees into a difficult role he was unaccustomed to playing. He was now the understudy. He was now the beloved teammate that was playing behind a young quarterback learning on the job.
Yet Rees found a way to thrive as a quarterback stuck in uncertainty. Like a starting pitcher relegated to the bullpen, Rees turned out to be incredibly effective in short spurts — a situational reliever maybe better suited for one spin through the lineup.
Against Purdue, Rees entered the game to a cascade of boos yet exited after piloting the game-winning drive after sitting out the entire preseason and only practicing with the No. 1 offense for less than a week. Against Michigan, he came to steady the ship after Golson spun out of control and managed the football game, completing 8 of 11 throws, including the game-clincher to Tyler Eifert. Against Stanford, Rees closed the ballgame again, a clutch four of four including an overtime touchdown pass on an audible to TJ Jones.
Given his opportunity to potential wrestle the starting job away from Golson with a start against BYU, Rees won the game, but did so with his least effective performance of the year, limping past the Cougars stout defense and in many ways solving any controversy himself. From then on, the job seemed to feel more like Golson’s than ever before, with Rees still chipping in and helping, but finding his role as the relieve pitcher.
But the 2012 season doesn’t end in Miami without Tommy Rees. And the chemistry on this Irish football team, a group with tremendous unity and spirit, doesn’t exist without Rees playing the role of teammate and mentor. And if the crystal ball ends up in Brian Kelly’s hands Monday night, history will crown Everett Golson as the quarterback that brought the Irish back from obscurity.
But Tommy Rees will have played a gigantic role. And after an offseason where Irish fans thought any role played by Rees would be too much, the scrappy Irish quarterback might find his way back to being a fan favorite.
Dec 20, 2013, 9:09 PM EST
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Here’s hoping you’re all spending these next few days finishing up work and getting closer to friends and family. And as teased, we’re doing our first ever Holiday giveaway, thanks to LCP and Skybox Press. It’s the Official Illustrated History of Fighting Irish Football. The book features 20 essays from…
Dec 20, 2013, 2:17 PM EST
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced Notre Dame’s football schedule for the next three seasons, finally unveiling the changes that came with the Irish’s scheduling arrangement with the Atlantic Coast Conference. As Swarbrick promised, the Irish will play 15 ACC games in the next three seasons, though the 2014 schedule has just four games to accommodate…
Dec 19, 2013, 3:46 PM EST
Take the U.S. Postal Service, add to it Notre Dame football and the holiday season, and you expect a punchline. But this week, the Irish football program has received a lot of attention on the internet for its “Pot of Gold,” a recruiting tactic that has seen the Notre Dame football office presumably blow through…
Dec 19, 2013, 2:06 PM EST
Purdue confirmed this afternoon that their date with Notre Dame next year will in fact take place in Lucas Oil Stadium. Notre Dame will “host” the Boilermakers in their 2014 Shamrock Series game, an all Indiana affair. “We are excited to bring this great instate rivalry game to Indianapolis next season,” Purdue athletics director Morgan…
Dec 18, 2013, 8:56 PM EST
Ask your questions here. Or @KeithArnold on Twitter. Christmas giveaway details revealed tomorrow. But I promise, it’s a really good gift.
Dec 18, 2013, 6:00 PM EST
I’ve heard from a few people that they actually missed my UND.com practice video breakdowns. So let’s fire up the YouTube machine and over-analyze what’s going on being closed doors at Notre Dame’s practice! As usual, here is a time-coded, cheatsheet that’ll get you through an interesting practice report. 0:10 — It just feels like…
Dec 18, 2013, 3:55 PM EST
In case you missed it, former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco was a guest on Jim Rome’s radio show this afternoon. It was a terrific opportunity for the new head coach of the UConn football team to get a national platform, and Diaco dazzled Rome with some of the things that made him such…
Dec 17, 2013, 3:16 PM EST
While Notre Dame doesn’t comment on redshirts or eligibility, it appears that running back Greg Bryant‘s freshman season, where he participated in three early games, will not start his eligibility clock. The running back from Delray Beach, Florida confirmed as much on his Twitter account yesterday afternoon. While the news feels a bit like minutiae for…
Dec 16, 2013, 11:40 AM EST
Blue chip tight end Tyler Luatua committed to Notre Dame Monday morning, continuing a whirlwind of action on the recruiting front for the Irish. Luatua, from La Mirada, California, picked Notre Dame over Alabama, where his brother plays football. Other schools that offered the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder include Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State,…
Dec 16, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
If there was any question how Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame program would address the departures of coordinators Bob Diaco and Chuck Martin, the opening statements from master of ceremonies Jack Nolan at the team banquet answered that question. Within the first two minutes of the show, Nolan delivered a statement to players, families…
Dec 15, 2013, 7:19 PM EST
The weekend continues to be kind to Notre Dame. In a matter of 24 hours, a linebacking corps that looked thin continues to be bolstered. A big part of that is the commitment of Texas linebacker Kolin Hill, who returned home from his official visit Sunday and called the Irish coaching staff to commit, joining…
Dec 15, 2013, 2:08 PM EST
Notre Dame’s annual award show netted more than a few trophies. The Irish football team walked away with a commitment from inside linebacker prospect Nile Sykes. Multiple outlets are reporting that the Chicagoland recruit, who was on his official visit this weekend, gave the Irish a key player at a position of need. Sykes was…
Dec 13, 2013, 7:30 PM EST
After a semester in purgatory, Everett Golson has been readmitted to Notre Dame, clearing his return to the football program. Golson received the rubber stamp today, made official by Paul Brown, Notre Dame’s vice president for public affairs and communications. “Everett Golson was readmitted this afternoon to the University of Notre Dame,” the one-line statement…
Dec 13, 2013, 10:10 AM EST
An early Brian Kelly quote that’s followed the head coach from the moment he uttered it keeps bubbling back to the surface. “Get used to it.” That’s the first thing that comes to mind when you watch Irish assistants head out the door for head coaching jobs. First, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin left South Bend…
Dec 11, 2013, 10:25 PM EST
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has accepted the head coaching position at UConn. NBC Sports has confirmed the news that was first reported by CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman. The 2012 Broyles Award winner leaves another huge hole in Brian Kelly’s staff, with both Diaco and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin taking head coaching jobs in…
Dec 11, 2013, 5:30 PM EST
As Notre Dame prepares for the Pinstripe Bowl, defensive end Stephon Tuitt is likely preparing to make his own big decision. The junior defensive end is eligible to enter the NFL Draft, and depending on what you hear from various experts in the media, Tuitt will likely be a first round pick whenever he decides…
Dec 10, 2013, 8:39 AM EST
Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick will be in wintery New York today, for a press conference with Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood and his athletic director Julie Hermann. It’ll be another opportunity for us to hear from the Irish head coach, who has a busy week with recruiting, visiting Everett Golson, and preparing his football…
Dec 9, 2013, 12:59 PM EST
The Irish practiced yesterday, with Brian Kelly meeting with the local media to discuss preparation for the Pinstripe Bowl. Notre Dame will practice ten times between now and the 28th, with the Irish spending Christmas in New York, leaving South Bend on the 23rd. While other bowls were discussed, and for a time the Poinsettia…
Dec 8, 2013, 10:42 PM EST
A day after accepting a bid to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood fired three assistants. The second-year head coach fired defensive coordinator Dave Cohen, quarterbacks coach Rob Spence and offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski. Those changes go into effect immediately, meaning Flood will likely be short-handed in the Pinstripe Bowl.…
Dec 8, 2013, 10:21 AM EST
After visiting Notre Dame multiple times, 2015 offensive lineman Tristen Hoge gave his commitment to the Irish coaching staff over the weekend, adding another key building block for the future. The six-foot-4, 285-pound Idaho native chose Notre Dame over an elite set of early offers, giving Harry Hiestand another top lineman prospect. Hoge already had…
- It’s official: Golson returns to Notre Dame 59
- Bob Diaco accepts the UConn head coaching job 117
- Stay or go? Stephon Tuitt has a big decision to make 40
- It’s official: Chuck Martin the new head coach at Miami (OH) 96
- The good, the bad and the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Stanford 79
- Five things we learned: Stanford 27, Notre Dame 20 140
- Bryant’s redshirt freshman season appears official (117)
- Postseason Mailbag: Now Open (Christmas giveaway bonus!) (91)
- Recruiting bonanza continues with TE Tyler Luatua commitment (90)
- Pot of Gold pushes Notre Dame recruiting to the forefront (34)
- Elston pledges return as Irish program moves forward (28)