Lazerus: As QB spot slips away, Tommy Rees still a team guy
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or email@example.com August 8, 2012 11:12PM
FILE - This Oct. 22, 2011 file photo shows Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees walking off the field after being injured in an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind. Rees has been arrested and jailed on a preliminary felony charge following a confrontation with officers early Thursday, May 3, 2012, in South Bend, Ind., police said. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond, File)
Updated: September 10, 2012 1:39PM
SOUTH BEND — Tommy Rees could be bitter. Angry. He could stand there at camp in his red jersey, arms crossed, scowl on his face, watching all these younger quarterbacks take all the snaps, and he could just sulk.
Everett Golson wouldn’t blame him if he did. Because if Golson were in the same situation, he just might.
“It is awkward,” said Golson, Rees’ roommate and one of his competitors for Notre Dame’s starting quarterback job. “I have to praise Tommy. I don’t know if I could really do that.”
“That” is being just as engaged in every practice as if he were getting reps with the first team. “That” is offering constructive criticism after every series. “That” is doing everything he can to improve the skills, smarts and savvy of the guys desperately trying to take his job from him.
“That,” it appears, is Tommy Rees, a guy who apparently doesn’t want his lasting legacy at Notre Dame to be his arrest last May after fleeing police from an off-campus party, and his subsequent suspension for the season opener against Navy in Dublin, Ireland.
Rees hasn’t spoken to the media since issuing an apology for his actions last month. But his actions on the field during the first week of training camp have spoken volumes.
And so have his teammates.
“Tommy’s a great guy, man,” Golson said. “Going through what he had to go through. … Many times, we’ll be talking in the room and he’s like, ‘If you need anything, I’m here for you.’”
Andrew Hendrix, who’s competing with Golson for the start against Navy — and likely beyond — said the concept of “Coach Rees” is nothing new.
“Tommy’s been awesome — it’s the same Tommy,” Hendrix said. “When Tommy was in and repping (last year), he’d come out, Dayne (Crist) would go in and Tommy would be coaching me up. If I ever have a question, Tommy would be there for me. Now, Tommy’s back there every time. I never stop asking him questions. He’s been such a positive influence on all three of the younger guys. Having Tommy back there at all times is really an invaluable resource that we have.”
Freshman Gunner Kiel has been picking Rees’ brain, too. Not surprisingly, Kiel said Rees told him he wants to be a college football coach someday.
“He knows so much about the game,” Kiel said. “He definitely has the ability and the mind for it. It’s great to have him there to teach us all the things he knows.”
To be fair, Rees’ arrest didn’t cost him his starting job. The competition was opened after an up-and-down sophomore season last year, long before Rees made a few terrible, immature decisions on May 3. For all the good Rees did on the field — throwing seven touchdowns with no interceptions in a two-week span against Purdue and Air Force, for example — he had just as many troubling outings, throwing two interceptions four times, and 14 overall. He was pulled in favor of Hendrix at Stanford in the regular-season finale, but returned to play the bulk of the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State, a loss in which he was 16-of-27 for 163 yards, one touchdown and two more interceptions.
So Rees was no lock to enter 2012 as the Irish’s starting quarterback before his arrest.
“I thought it would be a battle for all four of us,” Golson said.
Instead, it’s just three. Two, really, since Kiel is still just getting his feet wet in Brian Kelly’s offense. The suspension — certainly a valid punishment for such a blatant lapse of judgment by Rees —not only costs the junior a trip to Ireland, it could cost him a chance to ever again compete for the starting job. Golson and Hendrix are getting all the reps in camp, and if one of them seizes the job, fares well early on and stays healthy, Rees might not get another legitimate crack at it.
But if he’s angry about it, he’s not letting it show. That ability to handle adversity is one of those qualities that made him a solid quarterback in the first place.
“He knows that being a quarterback, you can’t really show that you’re really down,” Golson said. “That’s what he did this whole time, stay level-headed. When (the suspension) came out, it came out. But he was still the same Tommy, being the helping hand for us.”
Said Kelly: “It just reaffirms the kind of kid he is.”
Rees did a stupid thing. And he’s being rightly punished for it. But give the man credit for this much — instead of becoming bitter, he’s trying to make everybody around him better.