South Bend, Ind. - Turns out Tommy Rees is more than just a safety net. After Saturday's stunning news that incumbent Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has been dismissed from school for academic reasons, Rees is back at the top of the depth chart once again.
When asked Sunday morning what steps Golson might have to take to be reinstated at Notre Dame in the future, Notre Dame Senior Associate Athletics Director John Heisler's reply was an essential "no comment".
Rees, who started 16 games during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, served as Golson's backup for much of the 12-1 2012 season. He started twice last year and came off the bench 10 other times and left spring camp at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Golson.
"You've just gotta make the most of the reps that you do get," Rees said at the end of the spring of his focus last season. "(You have to) prepare off the practice field and in the film room and see all the looks that you could potentially be faced with but might not necessarily see during practice. I think it takes a lot of film study and a lot of focus and determination throughout practice."
Rees passed for 436 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions last season. His biggest efforts came in relief in wins against Purdue, Michigan and Stanford. He made a cameo start in Chicago against Miami, but helped the Irish to a 17-14 win over BYU after Golson had been knocked out of the overtime win over the Cardinal a week prior.
Rees knew his spot on the depth chart at the end of the spring, but he bristled at questions that suggested he had completely accepted his spot as a backup quarterback.
"I'm not complacent," Rees said. "You go out there to compete and you're not ok with where you're at if you're not the starter. I understand how things work, but I'm still going to go out there and if there's a time where I'm needed (I will) just be prepared."
"I just come out here and compete and try to get better as an individual," he continued. "If I did that I probably put myself in a good position."
The physical comparison between Rees and Golson was never close. Rees is nowhere nearly as athletic as Golson, and the younger quarterback has a much stronger arm, but Rees' experience made him effective in his stints on the field last season. He never had the same amount of practice repetitions as Golson during the week, but he always kept himself prepare for when his opportunities came.
"The preparation doesn't really change all that much," said Rees. "Obviously you're not getting as many reps throughout the week preparing for a game, so you've kind of got to do a little extra to familiarize yourself. You might not do a lot during practice, but you could be."
Rees very well may have still been in a backup role had sophomore to be Gunner Kiel not decided to transfer just before spring camp began. Kiel enrolled early at Notre Dame a year ago after first decommitting from Indiana and then LSU. He will play the next part of his collegiate career at Cincinnati.
"For Gunner it was whatever he felt was best for him," said Rees. "He felt like he wanted an opportunity to play somewhere else and he's got an opportunity down the road."
Rees could easily have packed his own bags and headed for greener pastures after the BCS Championship Game. Golson still has three full seasons of eligibility remaining and that prospect scared Kiel off campus. Rees has proven to be the level-headed team-first guy and has remained with the Irish through thick and thin.
"Year to year you learn a lot of new things," Rees said of his maturation process. "You understand how football works and as a senior you've gotta kind of take a step back for your own personal things and be a team-first guy. This team needed a leader to step up and that was what I wanted to do this spring."
Golson's departure moves Rees to number one, with Andrew Hendrix, who was part of the four-man quarterback derby just a year ago, to number two. This year's early enrollee, Malik Zaire, is number three, but he could now be pressed into his own cameo appearances sooner than expected. This summer is suddenly much more critical for Rees as he works toward fall camp and the 2013 season opener against Temple on August 31.
"(I am) still limiting mistakes and still just learning more about...defenses in general," said Rees. "I'm growing into that next step in the offense and trying to get better. I feel like I've gotten stronger and better with my feet this offseason. I feel the best I have since I've been here, so I'm excited with my progress and I'm excited to keep moving forward."