SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Tommy Rees would rather enter his final year at Notre Dame with regular playing time ahead of him. It may be the senior-to-be's final season of organized football, and his farewell tour will be one marked by sporadic playing time.
"You go out there and compete, and you're not okay with where you're at if you're not the starter," Rees said. "I understand how things work, but I'm still going to go out there and compete and if there's a time when I'm needed, just be prepared."
Rees' legacy at Notre Dame is a complicated one. In his freshman year, Rees helped push the Irish to eight wins -- a nice sign of progress in Brian Kelly's first season. But in his sophomore year, Rees' struggles played a large part in holding Notre Dame back in an 8-5 campaign.
Following the 2011 season, Rees was arrested at an off-campus party and eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor resisting law enforcement and illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor. In the incident, Rees was pepper-sprayed and kneed a police officer in the stomach.
He was suspended for Notre Dame's season opener last September against Navy, and lost the No. 1 quarterback job to up-and-comer Everett Golson. But Rees had the trust of his teammates -- something Golson didn't completely have in the early going -- and wound up coming off the bench to lead Notre Dame to wins over Purdue and Michigan.
Despite Golson's improvements as the 2012 season moved on, Rees continued to play a role in Notre Dame's offense. He quarterbacked the final minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime after Golson sustained a concussion in Notre Dame's dramatic win over Stanford on Oct. 13, then started for the Irish the next week against BYU.
Two weeks later, Rees subbed in for a struggling Golson in Notre Dame's contest against Pittsburgh, although a bad interception led to Golson's re-insertion into another dramatic Irish win.
"Year to year, you learn a lot of new things, you understand how football works and as a senior, you kinda gotta take a step back for your own personal things and be a team-first guy," Rees said.
Few teams in college football can feature a backup quarterback with the knowledge and experience of Rees. For most upper-echelon schools, the backup quarterback job is generally filled by a talented-yet-inexperienced underclassman, the heir apparent to the No. 1 job once the incumbent starter leaves.
That guy for Notre Dame in 2013 could've been Gunner Kiel, who may have bumped Rees down the depth chart with solid showings in spring and fall camp. Kiel, though, transferred from Notre Dame before spring practice began, meaning the Irish will enter 2013 with Rees once again playing the role as Golson's backup.
"I don't know if surprised is the right word. For Gunner, it was whatever he felt was best for him," Rees said. "He felt like he wanted an opportunity to play somewhere else, and we wish him the best moving forward. He's got a great opportunity to be a good player somewhere down the road."
Rees' opportunities to play in 2013 will still be curtailed, though, unless Golson takes a step back from where he ended the 2012 season. But while he may not be getting many reps in practice or snaps in games, Rees has carved out a niche as a go-to guy on the sidelines whenever a player has a question.
"Tommy's constantly teaching people, he's teaching receivers, teaching quarterbacks throughout practice," wide receiver T.J. Jones said. "And he's just being that accountable guy. If you have a question about anything, you can go to Tommy and he'll nine times out of 10 have an answer."
It's not a secret among those around Rees that the quarterback is eyeing a career in coaching. He's already doing some of that at Notre Dame, and said his role has consisted of being a "good buffer between the players and coaches."
Rees' father, Bill, spent 15 years as an assistant coach at UCLA before moving on to a scouting career. While Rees hasn't thought about life after Notre Dame football just yet, he does have a rough idea of what his career path may be.
"That's a pretty big question for me," Rees said. "I've thought about it, I have a couple ideas floating up. I've thought about going into coaching, thought about some of those things. I'm just going to take it one day at a time and see where I'm at after the season."
Perhaps being a backup has helped Rees prepare for that potential role after he graduates. With fewer practice reps, Rees said he's had to do more to familiarize himself with defenses, identifying them from a different point of view than under center or out of the shotgun.
A pro career likely isn't in the cards for Rees. He maybe could play for a few years in a lower-level professional league, but it'd be a surprise if he wound up on an NFL practice squad, let alone a 53-man roster. That's the reality for Rees, one he'll have to face when the clock strikes zero in Notre Dame's final game this season.
If Rees wants to continue his career in football, coaching appears to be the logical route. He already has the support of his teammates if he hopes to go down that path.
"Tommy's a student of the game," Jones said. "Tommy knows everything there is to know about being a quarterback, being a receiver and knowing the protections. Tommy's as smart as it comes.
"So being a coach, he may not be the most vocal -- he's not going to be, he may develop it -- but right off the bat he's going to know what to teach those quarterbacks and the techniques and schemes that he needs to show them to be great."