NOTRE DAME — Tommy Rees didn’t need to do a lot of soul-searching to decide if he should stay at Notre Dame or not.
Despite all signs pointing to him playing second-fiddle to budding star Everett Golson again in 2013, Rees never considered transferring to play out his senior season somewhere else.
“I signed my letter of intent to come here for four years,” Rees said. “I love my teammates. I love the school. I wanted to finish my career where it started.”
Up until this point, Rees has had a roller-coaster on-field relationship with Notre Dame.
In 2010, he was thrust into the spotlight as a freshman after starter Dayne Crist got hurt. With Rees at the helm, the Irish won their last four games of the season, including a bowl game.
In 2011, he replaced Crist again and led Notre Dame to a mediocre 8-5 season. Rees held on to his starting spot but fell from the fandom’s collective good graces.
In 2012, he was arrested in the off-season and replaced by Golson, who led Notre Dame to its first undefeated regular season in 25 years. Rees served as a back-up throughout the year, bailing the Irish out of a close fourth quarter on a few occasions.
Now, following Golson’s suspension in May, Rees enters pre-season camp as the undisputed starter for the first time.
“It’s a little different knowing and to be quite honest, it’s a good feeling,” Rees said about knowing he’s the starter. “You can do everything you want to and not have to worry about competition.”
Rees believes that his unique path with Notre Dame has given him a better-rounded look at the game.
“I’ve learned how to be a backup, I’ve learned how to be a starter,” he said. “A lot of the prep is the same. It’s just a matter of when you’re going to play.
“Not playing every snap, you take a different look at things. You learn a lot about football, a lot of about defenses. I think I got a better grasp of the whole picture. I plan to use some of those things I learned this year.”
Rees isn’t the player he was in 2011. The brief glimpses fans got of him last season should make that clear. Instead, he’s a four-year veteran quarterback who has grown alongside the program he loves.
“I’m not 19 anymore,” he said. “I’ve grown up a lot the past couple of years. I’ve dealt with some adversity, learned a lot about the game, and learned a lot about this place.”
Rees, who has 18 career starts with the Irish and has thrown for 4,413 yards and 34 touchdowns, will be tasked with leading the Irish to another march to a BCS game. His coaches and teammates have faith in him, and that’s all that seems to matter.
He doesn’t pay attention to the media or the naysayers, he said, quickly adding “no offense.”
TJ Jones, Rees’ classmate and the top receiver heading into the season, has seen a change in the quarterback as well.
“He’s always been mature, but there’s just a different kind of vibe around him,” Jones said. “The way he carries himself, the way he’s trying to lead the offense. He’s a lot more vocal now than he was a couple years ago.
“I think that has to do with him not only maturing but also being thrown into the role the way he has been and knowing the responsibility he has now.”