Despite a winning percentage greater than any starting quarterback for Notre Dame since Kevin McDougal went 11-1 in 1993, junior Tommy Rees has been arguably the most heavily-criticized player to come through South Bend.
Rees appeared to have the magic touch in 2010, leading the Irish to wins in his first four starts, including wins against longtime rivals Miami (FL) and USC. That changed in 2011, when Rees committed 19 turnovers, many inside the red zone, as the Irish sputtered to a disappointing 8-5 season.
An offseason arrest and subsequent one-game suspension could mean the Chicago native will never take another meaningful snap for the Irish, as the more talented Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson appear poised to take control of the position.
However, Hendrix and Golson would be wise to learn from Rees, both on and off the field. Here are five lessons Notre Dame's young quarterbacks can take from the much-maligned Rees.
Rees has thrived on handling the spotlight well. His first three starts occurred in three of the more legendary sports venues in the country—Notre Dame Stadium, Yankee Stadium and the Los Angeles Coliseum. Rees won all three.
Even in a rocky 2011 season, Rees led the Irish on a go-ahead touchdown drive in the final minute against Michigan in front of the largest crowd to ever witness a college football game. Two weeks later in Pittsburgh, Rees rallied Notre Dame to a 15-12 win after struggling against Pitt's defense for most of the day.
The pressure of big moments never seemed to bother Rees. Yes, he turned the ball over too much, but Rees was rarely overwhelmed by the bright lights with his calm, cool demeanor.
Few players in college football have the season will present more matchup problems than Eifert. The tight end's size is too much for most defensive backs to handle, and his speed causes most linebackers to struggle to keep up with him down the field.
Eifert caught 63 passes last season, most of which came from Rees, including all five of his touchdowns. The senior was instrumental in helping Notre Dame escape Heinz Field with a win last year against Pittsburgh, catching eight passes for 75 yards, including a go-ahead touchdown and two-point conversion.
Whoever is under center this season would be wise to always look for Eifert, a consensus preseason All-American. With his strength and height, even when he's covered, he can still often be considered open.
While Rees made plenty of mistakes during plays last year, head coach Brian Kelly was comforted by his ability to check out of plays based on defensive alignments. The son of a coach, Rees' recognition of a blitz or double coverage helped the Irish check into an ultimately successful running play quite often last season.
What has held both Hendrix and Golson have been their struggles grasping play calls and what to look for from a defense at the line of scrimmage. A quarterback's job begins well before the ball is snapped, an area in which Rees excelled.
Hendrix and Golson have superior talent, but the mental qualities that Rees brought kept him a step ahead for all of the 2011 season.
With a normal amount of turnovers, Notre Dame wins 10 or 11 games last season. Neither happened, thanks in large part to Rees' mistakes, many at the most inopportune of times.
Incomplete passes are not always bad things, and the Irish quarterbacks must learn to accept a failed play or great coverage and cut their losses. Instead of forcing a pass, throw the ball out of bounds in the vicinity of the Notre Dame Marching Band.
Allow yourself another play. Rees, with little ability to make things happens with his legs, frequently would try and squeeze a throw into a hole that didn't exist. How a quarterback handles a broken play goes a long way towards both his personal and the team's success.
Perhaps no position in sports is more prestigious than the Notre Dame quarterback. The names are legendary—Hornung, Theismann, Montana, Rice and Quinn. During an unfortunate incident last May at an off-campus party, Rees temporarily forgot his stature.
He attempted to make a bad situation worse, and it has cost him a chance to be the opening day starter, and maybe more. Whoever comes out on top of the quarterback derby must be aware that his every decision will be scrutinized and every error will be magnified.
There are perks that come with being a quarterback at a major university, but there are also added rules that don't apply to every other college student. Rees had a regretful lapse in judgment for which he is now paying the price.
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