Rees Embraces Expectations of Role

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reesusfthrow.jpg South Bend Tribune - Leaders don't come along by accident.

Tommy Rees didn't just happen to be a guy who could emerge from obscurity to supply a spark for the Notre Dame football team.

He's been that sort of quarterback for several years. Chuck Spagnoli swears by it.

About five years ago, Rees was a fuzzy-faced 15-year-old quarterback at Lake Forest (Ill.) High School. Spagnoli, the Scouts' head coach - then and now - couldn't avoid inserting Rees as the starter ahead of a senior four games into the season.

"It was obvious (Rees) deserved to play," Spagnoli said.

It took Rees until later that season to solidify the situation. Spagnoli said Lake Forest hadn't beaten Libertyville High in more than a decade. The opportunity was there. Tie game. The Scouts had just recovered a fumble - 1:20 to play, 70 yards to go.

"I saw Tommy take control right then," Spagnoli said. "He became the leader everybody wanted him to be."

After engineering the drive, Rees threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to win the game.

Spagnoli wasn't surprised.

"Tommy didn't just hope he did well," his old coach said. "He made sure he did the work and the studying it took to be prepared. That's when you know you've got someone special.

"It wasn't overwhelming to him. That's part of his mental makeup. He didn't feel it was a major transition. He did the work and he was ready."

"As a quarterback, you have to be a leader," Rees said. "I've always prepared myself as a leader. I think that comes naturally to some guys. The best way to get the respect of your teammates is to go out there and play well. They have to know they can count on you. As long as you can do that, you'll gain their respect."

Rees went on to throw for more than 4,700 yards in his last two years at Lake Forest.

Maybe it was his background that allowed Rees to gravitate so easily into such high-stress situations. His father has been in the football business - on the college and professional level - since Tommy was born. His brother Danny was a punter and holder at UCLA.

"That's just the way it's always been," Rees said of his football family. "I don't know anything else."

"He had an unusual grasp of the situation," Spagnoli said. "He doesn't try to do too much. His philosophy is: Keep your own house clean. And, on top of that, he's not afraid of a challenge."

What made Rees a significant part of the Lake Forest offense at such a tender age is what gave Irish coach Brian Kelly the confidence to make the move from Dayne Crist to Rees for Saturday's game at Michigan.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound sophomore is poised. He's prepared. And the good things he accomplished in the second half of last week's loss to South Florida (24 of 34 passing, 296 yards, 2 TDs) outweighed the bad (two interceptions, one in the red zone) more than Crist's (7 of 15, 95 yards, 0 TDs) , one interception in the red zone.

"Everyone understands what went wrong Saturday," Rees said. "No one's blaming anybody. We're a team. We're sticking together. Everyone has so much confidence in one another. No one's doubting anyone; no one's hanging their head."

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