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November 14, 2013

Rees: I won't give up the fight

Imagine being the guy who threw the two interceptions in the fourth quarter with a BCS bid hanging in the balance.

Imagine being the guy who has heard and read so much criticism in the past that he can’t take part in social media like the rest of his friends.

Imagine what it must be like to be Tommy Rees.

It’s not the most pleasant existence, especially during a bye week following Notre Dame’s 28-21 loss to Pittsburgh, which ended the program’s dream of a second straight BCS bid.

What would you do? Who would you turn to? How would you deal with the venom thrown in your direction?

“Rely on the people that care about you,” said Rees earlier this week when asked about dealing with the fallout of Notre Dame’s third loss of the season. “Find a good nucleus and find people that you know have your best interest in mind, and rely on those people when things are not going your way. When things are going your way, remember those people.

“For me, that’s what it’s always been about. It’s been about people that I hold close to my heart -- my family, friends, teammates, coaches…To really have a strong support system makes a difference.”

Rees turned to long-time offensive mates Zack Martin, Chris Watt and TJ Jones as the Irish picked up the pieces from the second-half collapse against the Panthers in which the home team scored 21 second-half points to Notre Dame’s seven.

"My dad always said you can like football, you can love it, or you can live it. For me, it's been about living it and committing myself fully to the game. I love football, and I love it for the tough times and I love it for the great times."
-- Tommy Rees

But after a week of licking their wounds with an off-weekend on tap, Rees expects the best effort and another victory when BYU rolls into town for a Nov. 23 date in Notre Dame Stadium as the Irish seniors take to the home turf for the final time.

“We all spoke and we all understand how important this BYU game is and how important these next two weeks are to stay focused and bring everyone in tight,” said Rees, whose record as a starter dropped to 21-7.

“Obviously, there are two plays in the fourth quarter that I really want back. You can’t dwell on them; you can’t let them beat you up over it. It’s a team game, but as a quarterback, you feel accountable. I talked to the guys and I’ll put that one on my shoulders.”

With Rees, it’s difficult to tell from the outside looking in when he’s down and when life is treating him well. He’s not one to show his emotions, whether it’s on the football field or in the interview room. He’s learned to deal with the downs of the business, dating back to childhood when his father, Bill Rees, chose a life in football.

“I’ve been around the game my whole life. I know how it works,” Rees said. “My dad always said you can like football, you can love it, or you can live it. For me, it’s been about living it and committing myself fully to the game. I love football, and I love it for the tough times and I love it for the great times.”
But loving the game can be difficult after a tough loss and the typical fallout from a two-interception fourth quarter that led to defeat. Rees has learned how to block out “the noise.”

“Don’t Google it, don’t look at your Twitter, don’t go on social media, don’t read the articles that a lot of people write,” summarized Rees of his method for avoiding the criticism. “You just block all that stuff out.

“I’ve learned over four years the outside noise isn’t what matters. I’ve learned how to deal with it and how not to pay attention to it. So for me, you go through your normal routine and avoid a couple extra things that are being said on the outside.”

It’s been a trial-and-error process since 2011 when Rees, after leading the Irish to four straight victories the year before as a freshman, struggled at times during an 8-5 season.

“It’s something you learn how to do,” said Rees of dealing with the criticism. “You let it get to you a little more when you’re younger and you’re a little more worried about that sort of thing. But I’m at a place now where I know what matters and I know what doesn’t. For me, anything anyone can write isn’t nearly as tough as how I grade myself. It doesn’t really faze me anymore.”

That’s part of the reason Rees is confident that he and his teammates will bounce back against BYU.

“The kind of guys we have in that locker room, those aren’t the kind of guys who are going to lose focus and throw in the towel,” Rees said. “So for us, we’re going to have great weeks of preparation and execute (next) Saturday.”

With just three games left in a Notre Dame uniform, one can’t help but wonder if Rees ever looks at what’s left on his plate with relief that the burden of being the Notre Dame quarterback is almost over.

“At times, people get down on (football) after losses,” Rees said. “But you think about not sharing those moments with your teammates and you think about not putting on that helmet. There are people that would give a lot to feel that bad after a game, to even play the game. You’ve got to be grateful and you have to put it in perspective. It’s never about doubting the game.

“I’ve never thought, ‘I’m looking forward to when this is over.’ For me, it’s always been making the most of every opportunity I get on the practice field, in meetings, the weight room and then game day. It’s never come down to that for me.”

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