Same Man In

Senior quarterback Tommy Rees will again be called upon to fill a void for the Irish…with plenty of help from his friends.

Its more than a three-word slogan that coincidentally fits well on a t-shirt.

Its a phrase that, unfortunate for many of his players present and former, aptly defined the first three years of the Brian Kelly era in South Bend. Three words that have repeatedly served as a rallying cry for a program that at one point has lost its starting quarterback (twice), wide receiver (multiple), running back (thrice), center, tight end, nose guard, defensive end(s) safeties, cornerbacks, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, and even kicker to season-ending injuries or disciplinary suspensions.

"Next Man In."

Its a phrase that again becomes relevant before Memorial Day -- summer season is suspension season, after all -- and a phrase that again applies to the twice beaten-out senior signal-caller with alligator blood, the two-time winner of the post-season Irish award by the same name.

Tommy Rees.

Next Men In

Woody Allen once mused that "80 percent of success is just showing up."

The ubiquitous Rees knows well that hard work, dedication to one's craft, and focused resolve populates most of the remaining 20 percent. Natural talent -- as everyone at the top of their profession has learned -- is perhaps the least relevant aspect of continued success.

Over his first three springs and three seasons in South Bend, Rees has battled a former walk-on (Nate Montana), two former five-star prospects (Dayne Crist and Gunner Kiel), a much more athletic classmate (Andrew Hendrix), and a preternaturally talented redshirt-freshman who later helped guide Notre Dame to the precipice of a national championship, since-expelled starter Everett Golson.

Of the quintet above, only Hendrix followed Rees' lead and continued to show up: Montana, Crist, and Kiel transferred while Golson earned a semester at home to brush up on the University's honor code.

Rees never officially emerged the winner from those practice-field battles. He regardless has started just one fewer Saturday than the lot combined.

Rees will likely earn the right for an opening-game start (his career first) in 2013. And there's only one quarterback on the Irish roster fans should want under center, under the lights in the Big House for Game Two. But over the course of games that follow, Rees will likely need plenty of help, not only from 21 other positions and one of the nation's best coaching staffs, but under center.

Rees' pedestrian arm and student-athlete-level legs can't alone get Notre Dame back to the BCS championship game. Remember though, similar deficiencies held true for last year's starter Golson, who's level of experience and acumen in the offense held back the proceedings.

But Rees' game management, short-range accuracy, and battle-tested leadership is invaluable to a position group that otherwise boasts a level of athleticism that far outweighs passing accuracy and understanding.

Hendrix's straight-line speed and power should be utilized in spots even if his rocket arm continues to misfire. Malik Zaire has the quickness, moxie, and, according to Kelly, an advanced understanding of the offense's concepts that belies his years. Passing accuracy someday to follow.

Combined, the trio would make a heck of a fantasy Heisman-winning quarterback. Together in reality, they need to limit mistakes, make big plays as they present, and again allow the defense -- the program's best in 20 years -- do the heavy lifting.

Notre Dame's 2013 fortunes doubtless took a hit when Golson let the team down in the spring classroom. Rees knows well that feeling, suspended following an arrest 12 months ago.

Rees though, like Golson should in 2014, stayed the course and returned triumphantly.

Now the kid with alligator blood is back to lead an Irish huddle one last time.

Like Golson last fall, he'll have plenty of help.


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