Tommy Rees leaves Notre Dame with head held high

Tommy Rees leaves Notre Dame with head held high
December 28, 2013, 5:15 pm
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NEW YORK -- Tommy Rees hasn't been able to tune out the noise over his four years at Notre Dame. It would've been impossible to ignore the articles and tweets.

But while Rees saw the criticism, he found a way to not be bothered by it. And with his college career now in the rear view mirror following Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl, Rees leaves Notre Dame as arguably the most well-respected member player to come through South Bend in the last four years.

"I don't know if there's another guy on the team that could've taken what he took over the last four years and keep coming back and getting better," offensive lineman Zack Martin said.

"There's no quit in him," linebacker Dan Fox said. "He gets all the scrutiny from all those people and just brushes it off and goes out and plays a great game. I just admire him for that tenacity that he has."

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Rees' career ended with 27 completions on 49 attempts for 317 yards and no interceptions in a 29-16 win over Rutgers, though he didn't throw a touchdown and saw an avalanche of red zone drives stall under his watch. But that's been the story of his career: Some good, some bad, and often times a result that's in the middle of two extremes.

His 37 interceptions over four years fueled plenty of vitriol, though his 61 touchdowns led to plenty of praise. He won four games in 2010, eight in 2011 and now nine in 2013. But those around the program will be quick to point out Notre Dame doesn't go 12-0 in the 2012 regular season without Rees, who served as a safety net for an inexperienced Everett Golson.

No moment offered a more stark contrast than the 2012 Purdue game. Rees entered with the score tied at 17 late in the fourth quarter to a chorus of boos, then led the Irish on a game-winning scoring drive.

Notre Dame certainly could've done worse than Rees -- 2013's USC game proved that -- but the Irish could've done better, too. In a number of high-profile games, Rees didn't make enough plays for Notre Dame to win. Those eight- and nine-win seasons under his watch don't lie.

Rees, though, isn't concerned about his legacy outside the program. He realizes the opinions of him that are out there, but -- like Martin and Fox said -- brushes them off.

"As long as I got the respect and commitment of my teammates and coaches, that's all that's ever mattered to me," Rees said. "… I love the game of football, it's pretty special to start at quarterback at Notre Dame and that's something I'll hold with me the rest of my life. I can leave here with my head held high and I'm happy with the way things have gone."

Rees hasn't made any far-reaching decisions about his future, though he's locked in to play in the East-West Shrine Game next month in St. Petersburg, Fla. He admitted he'll likely wind up coaching at some point in his life -- anyone who's played with him says Rees is the best football mind he's been around.

But coach Brian Kelly doesn't expect Rees to trade in his cleats for a clipboard just yet.

"I'm a Tommy Rees fan for life. … He'll keep trying to play the game as long as he can," Kelly said. "But I told him, he's got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly anytime."