Rees Has Them Ready

Tommy Rees has intermittently played the role of leader -- both on and off the field -- during his three years under the Dome. Entering his final season, that status is unquestioned.

Regarding Tommy Rees: you've said it; he's heard it.

The senior quarterback doubtless ranks as Notre Dame's most oft-discussed, lamented, and grudgingly praised player of the Brian Kelly era in South Bend.

Criticism is part of the job description for the starting quarterback of the world's most famous football team. Rees has received more than most over his first three seasons, and it drives him.

Not what you or I say, mind you, but rather what Rees hears every day when he flicks off the lights and turns on the game film.

"I'm the toughest critic of myself," said Rees prior to his team's departure for training camp. "You guys can write whatever you want, but I promise you I'm harder on myself. Go in the film room and learn from the mistake, don't repeat it. You have to look at (self-evaluation) from an unbiased view."

The self-analytical Rees sees a mixed bag when he looks at his greatest hits and misses from 2010, '11, and '12. He sees too many turnovers, but also more touchdown passes than all but five players in the history of the Notre Dame football program. (And that number might be four by the time the Irish head to the post-game showers August 31.)

Battle-scarred, proven, productive, and not close to perfect, Rees enters 2013 under unique circumstances: the chosen starter. He welcomes the status because he can finally let loose and do what he does best: lead the troops.

"From a leadership aspect, you don't have to worry about over-stepping," he said in comparison to previous seasons as a backup. "I can go in there and just be myself. Go into practice No. 1 ready to go. Being the guy that everyone is looking to to be the leader and step up, I'm really excited about that opportunity. Its a little different feel but its one I accept with great appreciation."

A year ago today, Rees was the lone ranger among Kelly's four triggermen. That is, he watched while others competed, his one-game suspension for an off-season arrest keeping him from any meaningful training camp reps.

Since, every rep has been made meaningful, especially those completed in the dog days of summer.

"Even when there's no defense, you're working on your timing," Rees said of off-season "voluntary" practices. "I've been with this offense for four years now, I know a lot about it and I can help the receivers with running routes -- and Andrew (Hendrix) can do the same. Different ways to run them depending on the coverages. When we're out there we try to be an extension of the coaching staff: our timing, how we want it to be run, and doing it the right way.

"When we go (7-on-7) with the defense it's the same as in practice: no balls on the ground, defense doesn't touch it, run everything out. We had a good group of guys, high-intensity, trying to get better."

Without the likes of Tyler Eifert, Theo Riddick, Manti Te'o, Zeke Motta, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and unexpectedly, Everett Golson, many will have to do just that if the Irish are to improve upon their 2012 finish.

"You never want something like that to happen," said Rees of Golson's expulsion. " Our relationship grew a lot last year. I have a lot of respect for him and how he handled it. I'm excited for his future." Having teammates and guys reaching out and being supportive (following Golson's dismissal) ws great. But I expected that. That's the type of team we have, but to hear it was great. Now its all about football and that's all behind us."

Golson's absence is still felt by fans. It will be foremost in their minds when Rees makes his first costly mistake. But the senior's off-season focus was mitigating those under the watchful, critical eye of the team's unofficial 10th assistant coach: Rees himself.

"It's important (in the summer) to have a similar atmosphere of practice. I was never too mean to them, but I would yell and get them back when I needed them to. I guess its a personality you guys probably haven't seen, but I have a lot more fire to me than most people think. Just showing that when the time is right, the guys responded great to me trying to coach everyone to do things the right way. We don't want to take a step back."

A step forward would mean the program reaches its ultimate goal -- 25 years after it last climbed to the top of the college football mountain.


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