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Notre Dame Football

Rees praises QB room, leans on own experiences for QB battle

July 25, 2021

From his freshman year to his farewell campaign, Tommy Rees started some games as Notre Dame's quarterback in each of those seasons.

Rees, however, never really had to peer over his shoulder to feel others breathing down his neck to be the Fighting Irish's signal-caller.

He wound up appearing in 45 games, 30 of them starts, and once again finds himself in the somewhat familiar position as a focal point in a quarterback battle at Notre Dame.

The Irish are replacing record-setting signal-caller Ian Book after Book's dominant three seasons helming first Chip Long's and last year's Rees' offense. Wisconsin graduate-transfer Jack Coan is viewed as the presumptive starter, but he's being pushed by redshirt-freshman Drew Pyne, midyear enrollee Tyler Buchner and, once healthy, Brendon Clark also factors into the Irish equation.

“I went through a lot of them, so I'm familiar,” Rees told IrishSportsDaily. “I just think the room starts, and I'm very fortunate right now because having the right culture in the room matters. Having guys that are selfless and that care for one another and help one another matters.

“Because at the end of the day, one guy is going to play and so if you have the right people in the room that can build kind of a family atmosphere, where everyone is supportive, that matters.”

Though in a Badgers uniform – the team Notre Dame faces Sept. 25 at Chicago's Soldier Field – and not an Irish one, Coan is the most experienced among the combatants. The 6-foot-3-.25-inch Coan, who's added muscle mass since his South Bend arrival, appeared in 25 games for Wisconsin and compiled a 12-6 mark as starter.

A former Under Armour All-American, Pyne appeared in mop-up duty behind Book in four games along Notre Dame's 2020 march to the College Football Playoffs semifinals.

Buchner arrived after not having a senior high school season because California did not allow its prep programs to compete in the fall; the third-year-sophomore Clark has been recovering from injury and appeared in just one game last season.

For Rees, handling the room and the impending month of preseason camp extends far beyond pass skeleton and practice field scripts.

“Certainly my own experiences of just, and it's not from like an Xs and Os standpoint but more like, 'Hey, I understand what it feels like. I know what you guys are going through,'” said Rees, whose inaugural offense under his tutelage ranked top-eight nationally in first downs, third-down conversions and time of possession. “It probably allows me to connect with them on a more personal level. And there are days where they might make a decision or their mood when they walk in is a certain way, and I feel like I've got a pretty good pulse on it because I've probably been in that same situation.

“My career wasn't perfect here, there are things that I regret and there are things that I feel very strongly that I did very well. Just having that wide range of experiences here allows me to kind of connect regardless of what they're going through. It wasn't all roses for here, so I understand what the other side looks like. And it wasn't all bad for me here, so I can understand kind of how, 'Hey, when things are going really well, how do we come back to center?' So that's part of the relationship that I feel like I can kind of feel it out and I'm still young enough where I can remember that and look back on those times to make sure that I'm handling it the right way.”

College football arguably never has been more about quarterback and production from that position; the last three national-title-winning signal-callers – Trevor Lawrence (No. 1, 2021), Joe Burrows (No. 1, 2020) and Mac Jones (No. 15, 2021) – all were top-15 NFL Draft selections.

Ian Book, who guided the Irish to a 33-5 mark from 2018-2020, was likewise selected in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

“I don't know if it's gotten more, I think it's always been the component. When you have a great quarterback, usually you're going to have a chance to win a lot of games,” Rees said. “I think we saw that over the last three years with Ian. We were able to win a lot of games because we had a really good quarterback.

“I feel like we have a really strong group right now. The critical side of it, I think that's probably the same that it was. I just feel like, look, you're always going to be put under a microscope, especially at this school. Having a guy that has the mentality to handle that is extremely important.”

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