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2012 Football Awards - Images by Matt Cashore
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- The most common sight was that of Tommy Rees scrambling back by the bench area, grabbing his helmet and running onto the field for a snap. It seemed to happen just about every game.
But when the junior signalcaller who started 16 games in 2010-11 wasn’t filling in for Everett Golson because of the newly-instituted helmet rule, he was playing a much more significant role, particularly early in the season as Golson adapted to life as a starter.
It was Rees’ winning performances and positive attitude after losing his starting job to Golson that made him a logical choice for Notre Dame’s Next Man In Award presented Friday night at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the third annual Notre Dame Football Awards Show.
“For our players, it’s something that is built from within on a day-to-day basis that you must be at the ready, you must prepare yourself that when you’re called on to perform at the highest level,” said Brian Kelly, who presented Rees with the award. “That takes an incredible commitment on your part, that when you’re not getting the reps or the work, you’re still preparing yourself, and that’s difficult to do.
“But I think it happens because everybody in our program knows that when your number is called, you better be ready. You’re not going to let down your team, and this young man not only didn’t let down his team down, he led his team to victories.”
After serving a one-game suspension for his involvement in a skirmish with local authorities at an off-campus party, Rees assumed the No. 2 role at quarterback behind Golson. Almost on a weekly basis through the first half of the season, Rees was counted on not only to fill in for Golson but, in several instances, lead the Irish to victory.
In the 20-17 victory over Purdue in Week Two, Rees led Notre Dame’s two-minute offense to the game-winning field-goal drive.
Two weeks later, Rees replaced a struggling Golson and played the final two-and-a-half quarters. He scored the first rushing touchdown of his career in Notre Dame’s 13-7 victory.
After Golson took a blow to the head in the fourth quarter of the Stanford game, Rees threw the game-winning toss to TJ Jones in Notre Dame’s 20-13 overtime victory over the Cardinal.
Rees stepped into the starting lineup for the second time in the 17-14 victory over Brigham Young. He passed for a modest 117 yards (the Irish rushed for 270) and threw a touchdown pass to Tyler Eifert.
With Golson struggling early on, Rees stepped into the lineup and completed 6-of-11 passes against Pittsburgh while leading the Irish to a late first-half field goal.
“Coming into the season and having to deal with the adversity that he had to deal with, he just kept doing his job, practicing hard and preparing for the opportunity to help our football team win,” Kelly said.
Following Friday’s event, Rees refused to dwell on the individual negatives during his junior season.
“Not a tough year. It’s been a very, very enjoyable year,” Rees said. “Yeah, my role was a little different than it has been. But if we win 12 games and go undefeated, I’m happy with that and happy with how I can contribute to this team throughout the year.
“To finally meet that goal - we’re not there yet - but to have a season like this and with this group of guys and everything we’ve gone through, it’s been great.”
Rees credited his parents, his friends on the team, and the coaches for helping him through the disappointment of losing his starting job to Golson.
“The people that are a part of this university have shown why this university is what it is,” Rees said.
Now it’s on to South Beach where the storybook season continues.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this team,” Rees said. “Any way I could help. It’s been a little different from the role I’ve been in. But going 12-0 and helping this team win games and having my teammates count on me like that is pretty rewarding.”