Football still in former Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees' blood

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

It’s been only a little over eight months since Tommy Rees threw his last pass for the Notre Dame football team, but a lot has happened since that Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers.

Rees graduated. He was signed by the Washington Redskins but was a quick cut in training camp. He’s moved into the working world. Where he goes longterm — i.e. coaching — hasn’t come entirely into focus.

But in the short term — the immediate short term — Rees has plans for this weekend, and it includes a visit to Notre Dame Stadium, where for the first time in a long time, he’ll be a spectator, sans shoulder pads and a helmet.

“It’s going to be tough, no doubt about that,” Rees said this week. “I can’t imagine what it’s like going into Notre Dame Stadium and being around those guys. It’s definitely going to be tough, but I really enjoyed my four years at Notre Dame and I couldn’t have asked for much more from the university and the program and the fan base.

“I’m happy, it’s time to move on from that. I’m happy for the guys that are playing. I’m extremely close with a lot of them still so I definitely have a little bit of mixed emotions, but it’ll be exciting to be back.”

The Lake Forest, Ill., native is living in the Chicago area and is now working at Orion Vacation Club, a startup company run by 1990 ND grad Pete Walsh.

“I’m enjoying what I’m doing,” Rees said. “I felt like it was too soon to kind of rush back into coaching but I definitely think I see that in my future.”

Despite his playing career hitting an end, the game still occupies a big slice of Rees’ heart. He watched last Saturday’s 48-17 season-opening victory over Rice on TV, but his knowledge of the Irish offense and personnel in particular was evident.

On the play of the team and in particular Everett Golson, who Rees replaced as the starter last year while Golson served an academic suspension: “I saw kind of a rejuvenated team. I thought they looked great and I thought Everett played extremely well. I saw a lot of growth from him, not just the spectacular plays that you saw, but the times where he was playing within the offense and the rhythm of the game, that’s what I was most impressed with.

“He’s always been able to make those special plays, but the way he was able to stand tall in the pocket, deliver accurate passes on time and in rhythm, I was extremely impressed. I was really happy for him. I knew he had a lot of pressure on him coming back. You know, it could not have gone much better and I was really happy for him and his family.”

On how Golson played within the rhythm of the offense: “That’s something he wasn’t always as comfortable doing. He always had that ability to get out of the pocket and make things happen when a play breaks down. He’s got a really good arm and he’s able to throw the ball downfield well but he threw a couple of really nice balls within the structure of the play, which he could do but he didn’t always do that a couple years ago.

“I was really impressed how well he looked like he was understanding what they were doing, understanding where his throws were — not that he didn’t before — but I thought that’s what I was most impressed with. People are going to get carried away with the spectacular plays, but if you kind of break it down and look at him as a player and looking at where he looked like he was a little more polished in the pocket, really going with the gameplan.”

On running backs Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant: “I though they all played well. They all kind of have their own little skill set that’s a little bit different. Cam is a guy that’s proven he can play, proven that he deserves carries and obviously he has the respect of the coaches and teammates and earned his captainship. He’s someone that can get tough yards for you but I really think he’s more than that. People always try to get into that he’s just your third-and-short guy or finish-the-game guy, but he has carried us through many games where he’s broken off long runs and put us in good positions.

“Obviously Tarean, a guy that once he got going last year and got a lot of carries, he made some things happen and you saw his potential. He didn’t get as many carries on Saturday but when he did he looked just like he always has, being elusive and making good plays.

“And then you saw G.B. who didn’t play hardly at all last year and you saw him on punt return, and after Malik (Zaire) went in there and broke a longer run, and (Bryant’s) ability to kind of add that big-play threat (Bryant scored on a 17-yard touchdown run after a long Zaire run).

On wide receivers Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and Chris Brown: “The first thing that stands out with Will is he’s extremely fast. You can’t coach that, you can’t teach that, it’s always been his greatest asset. Last year he was kind of a one-trick pony, he was kind of our guy if we needed a deep ball, he was our fastest guy, we’d get him out there open. You saw that on the touchdown, he ran right by the Rice corner, which was what he can do to a lot of DBs. I think he’s a guy that works extremely hard, he’s a really good kid, better hands than people probably think. He’s a guy that could develop as a receiver that you can get the ball to and make things happen after the catch and not just be a deep ball threat.

“And then you have guys like Corey who catches everything ... is great for a quarterback, and great for certain situations. Broken finger or not, he’s not dropping the ball.

“And then guys like Chris Brown who have been in the program, it’s his third year now and has always kind of had a backseat role but definitely is guy out on the perimeter that you can hopefully see take that next step.”

On tight end Ben Koyack: “He really came around for us last year and I really think that helped a lot with his development as a player. Getting the confidence in him with getting some catches, scoring some touchdowns and really having a role in the offense helped him as a football player because he sat behind a couple of really good tight ends his first couple of years and having that confidence in him and finding that passion and that understanding of the game, I think he’s an extremely talented player that’s been underrated in his career at Notre Dame.

“He catches the ball well. He really understands the game of football well. He’s a lot like Robby Toma, not in their playing styles or anything like that, but they understand the game, they understand spacing and how to get open and all that. He’s a smart player, so I think he’ll be a great tool for the offense. He’s a big target. I think he can carry on the Notre Dame tight end tradition.”

On how the offense looks compared to last season: “I think with coach (Brian) Kelly and (offensive coordinator Mike) Denbrock kind of taking over after coach (Chuck) Martin left, the offense is a little more high-tempo. I don’t think I saw them go under center at all. That’s something we did quite a bit last year. They ran the ball the well, they had three backs back there that all can play. I thought they threw a more quick game, more quick completions to guys than we did a year ago probably. Those are all things that coach Kelly are kind of staples of his offense.”

Rees also has thoughts on his future. There’s no fine point right now on where life will lead him, but coaching is part of the thought process.

“I’m just trying to figure out where I’m at with everything and weigh all the options,” Rees said. “I think it was too soon to jump right back into it this season. I don’t know when that’s going to be. I think eventually, whether it be in January or whatever, I see that at some point happening.”

Former Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees is now working in the Chicago area, but he is not ruling out a return to football in a coaching role. (SBT File Photo)