SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Tommy Rees believes he's ready to make the most of his second chance as Notre Dame's starting quarterback.
Rees doesn't like the fact it took Everett Golson, who helped the Fighting Irish get to the national championship game a year ago, being suspended by the university for a semester for him to get the job. But the senior from Lake Forest, Ill., wants to take advantage of this opportunity, something he did last season when he played key roles in four victories when Golson either struggled or was injured during a 12-0 regular season.
Rees said he's always had the same mindset.
"Whenever my time came, I wanted to be ready to make the most of it. I never really anticipated things working out like this," he said Sunday, speaking with the media for the first time since Golson's suspension was made public in late May. "But I'm definitely excited."
While Rees has started 18 games for the Irish over the past three seasons, including all but the opener in 2011, he heads into the opening practice Monday knowing he will be the opening day starter for the first time in his career. He didn't even have a shot at that last year because he was suspended for the opener by coach Brian Kelly after being arrested on an underage drinking charge.
"It's a pretty good feeling. You can do exactly what you want to and you don't have to worry about competition or what's going on," he said.
Kelly said Friday that he has confidence in Rees, but said he named him the starter only for the opener against Temple on Aug. 31. Kelly said naming Rees the starter was an easy decision because he's a senior, has the most experience and he's popular among his teammates.
As the Irish prepared Sunday to travel to Marion, a central Indiana city about 100 miles southeast of the Notre Dame campus, for the first four days of practices, several teammates said they were disappointed that Golson can't play this season, but they are pleased to see Rees get to play.
"Lucky for us we have Tommy Rees," said tackle Zack Martin, a captain last season. "Everyone is excited he's there right now. He's been an unbelievable leader, and the transition has been so smooth this summer. We're all excited to see him play. .... He's the leader of the offense right now."
Kelly said the Irish are "very fortunate to have a returning starter at quarterback when you lose your starter from the national championship game."
Rees is 403-of-634 passing in his career for 4,413 yards in 33 games, with 34 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions. He isn't a great fit for Kelly's offense, though, because he doesn't run well. He's rushed the ball only 47 times for a loss of 71 yards and his longest career run is 12 yards.
There had been some speculation about whether Rees would come back for his senior year, knowing he would be playing behind Golson. But Rees said he never thought about transferring.
"I signed my letter of intent to come here four years. I love my teammates. I love the school. I've got great relationships with the coaches. It really wasn't a tough decision for me. I wanted to be here. I wanted to finish my career where I started," he said. "I played last year. I figured I'd go in there, compete, see what happens. I guess sticking around was the right decision."