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    Rees Has Feel for the Game

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    Air Force 4.jpgOrange County Register - We don't know yet if Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees will become iconic.

    We do know that on this particular Saturday, he'll be ironic.

    Rees was born a Bruin. His brother, Danny, was UCLA's holder for kicks. His dad, Bill, was Terry Donahue's recruiter in those misty, black-and-white days when UCLA actually walked the college football earth.

    And Rees could have played for Lane Kiffin. When he went to Tennessee's camp, during Kiffin's fingersnap tenure in Knoxville, he was voted offensive MVP.

    Kiffin recruited Rees, as did Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, but Rees committed to Charlie Weis and Notre Dame. When Brian Kelly replaced Weis, Rees never budged. So far, Notre Dame is where he belongs.

    "Maybe he didn't look as big and strong as other quarterbacks," said Chuck Spagnoli, Rees' coach at Lake Forest High in the north Chicago suburbs. "But every time he went to a camp, that school recruited him, at least everybody but Northwestern."

    On Saturday, Notre Dame plays USC. Rees is already 1-0 against USC. He is 8-1 as a starter. He took Notre Dame to a Sun Bowl victory season, in which a Miami player dislocated one of Rees' kneecaps - not that it knocked Rees out of the game or anything.

    He had to beat out Dayne Crist this year and he is trying to hold off Andrew Hendrix, who might play a series or two Saturday, but Rees has apparently won the locker room referendum. He has a way of winning.

    "He was just that guy who could always come through in the clutch," Danny Rees said. "When my dad was working for the 49ers, we were on the practice field one day and somebody wanted to see if Tommy could throw it through the goalposts from 40 yards. He did."

    Rees was 11 at the time. As a 15-year-old sophomore, he took Lake Forest down the field for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie Libertyville, a rival that the Scouts had not beaten in a decade, and then won with another TD drive in overtime.

    Last season, Crist got hurt in the midst of a loss to Tulsa and Rees came in. He didn't win, but he upset Utah the next week. Then he won games in Yankee Stadium (Army) and the L.A. Coliseum (USC).

    This year, Crist had problems against South Florida and Rees relieved him. It was a loss, as was a turnover-laden game at Michigan the next week. Since then Rees has beaten Michigan State, Pitt, Purdue and Air Force.

    "You can make a highlight tape out of him and also a blooper tape," Coach Brian Kelly said at one point.

    "It would be selfish to say I own the job," Rees said last week. "But I think I bring some leadership. I have a calmness on the field."

    Osmosis helps. Bill Rees left UCLA when Tommy was 3 to become a scout for the Kansas City Chiefs, and then the Chicago Bears, where the family took root, and where the kids were ballboys at practices and games.

    Bill now is a scout for Tampa Bay but spent the past two seasons at Northwestern, close to home.

    "He underplays what he's meant to Tommy but he was always teaching him," Danny Rees said. "He had a whiteboard down in the basement and he'd draw up Cover-4s, Cover-2s and ask Tommy what he'd do if somebody blitzed. Then they would watch tape of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, everybody.

    "At practice he'd stand right behind the Bears quarterbacks. So Tommy had all that going for him when he got into high school."

    Said Spagnoli: "Tommy was just one of those special guys. We'd run a high-low route down the middle and even though he knew the linebacker was getting ready to pop him, he'd hang in and hit the deep guy. He'd get hit and always get up."

    Four Notre Dame quarterbacks have won Heisman Trophies but none since John Huarte (1964). Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen were first-round draft picks, as was Rick Mirer, but none of them could really fulfill the yearning for a savior under center.

    When the Irish signed Ron Powlus in 1994, ABC's Beano Cook predicted Powlus would win two Heisman Trophies. He was off by two, although Powlus did set 20 school passing record

    The Irish used to bring Terry Hanratty, Joe Theismann, Joe Montana and Tony Rice into the Coliseum. No one could have imagined USC would become the superior breeding ground for quarterbacks.

    Eventually it will be demanded that Rees bring back BCS bowls, championships, long-lost glories to South Bend. But what he brings Notre Dame today is what it needs most: a sign of peace.

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