MIAMI (AP) — Tommy Rees started 16 games at quarterback in his first two seasons at Notre Dame, before being beaten out for the job this season and turning into one of the best relief pitchers in the country.
Gunner Kiel, after some flip-flopping, arrived at Notre Dame early for his freshman season with much fanfare. He was given a shot to win the starting quarterback job, but ended up being just a spectator as the Fighting Irish put together their best season in more than two decades.
If all goes well for the top-ranked Fighting Irish, Rees and Kiel will be watching Everett Golson lead Notre Dame past No. 2 Alabama in the BCS championship Monday night.
Rees and Kiel were probably the two most famous quarterbacks on the Notre Dame roster heading into the season, but now they are both sitting Golson, a redshirt freshman who looks as if he could be keeping the job for a while.
Golson won the starting job after what started as a four-way competition in spring practice with Rees and Kiel that also included Andrew Hendrix.
It hasn’t been an easy year for Rees.
He and linebacker Carlo Calabrese were both suspended for the first game of the season after their May 3 arrests outside an off-campus party. Rees pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegal alcohol consumption and resisting law enforcement. He was sentenced to 50 hours of community service and 11 months of probation. A monthlong jail term was suspended.
When he returned, it seemed as if coach Brian Kelly might have a quarterback controversy on their hands. In the second game of the season against Purdue, Rees was called on late and guided the Irish to a game-winning field goal.
Rees went back to the bench the next week against Michigan State. Then came off again to play fairly well in relief against Michigan.
He started against Miami — Golson was in hot water with Kelly — but Golson played most of that game. Rees came off the bench again against Stanford and threw the game-winning TD pass, started against BYU when Golson was hurt, and then relieved again for a chunk of the Pittsburgh game. On the season, Rees has thrown for 436 yards with two touchdown passes and two interceptions.
“It’s been a long year, there’s been a lot of changes made,” Rees said. “I support Ev, supported the coaches’ decision. There’s been moments where it’s been tough. But I’ve definitely learned my role and taken my role and made the most of my opportunities.”
Winning has helped him accept it, though being a mentor to a younger player is not exactly what a junior quarterback who is seventh in school history with 34 touchdown passes signs up for.
“I feel like I’ve been a good help to Ev in different aspects of his game,” Rees said. “Watching him grow. On and off the field it’s been pretty rewarding for me because I got to help him every day.”
Kiel, from Columbus, Ind., was one of the most heralded quarterback recruits in the country last year. He had a hard time deciding where he wanted to go to school — to say the least.
First he verbally committed to Indiana. Then he de-committed. Then he verbally committed to LSU. Then at the last moment, he decided to go to Notre Dame.
As far as recruiting news goes, Kiel’s indecision was big news and his choosing Notre Dame was considered a huge score for Kelly.
“I think I put more pressure on myself because I overanalyzed a lot of things,” Kiel said. “If I could do it all over again I would probably go back and enjoy the recruiting process and enjoy my senior year and enjoy the people around me and just have a fun with it instead of making it seem like a job. And putting so much stress, so much on myself it buried me.
“I wanted to please everyone. I wanted to make everyone happy. I also couldn’t make up my mind either. That’s why I committed so many places and de-committed to so many places.”
Kiel said that while he wanted to play and wanted to compete for the job, he realized from the start that it was going to be a tough task to accomplish. Even though he hasn’t played, he said with a big smile and nothing but sincerity in his voice that it’s been a great season.
“Going to the national championship and being on a 12-0 team is definitely something special,” he said. “Having an opportunity to be around the guys and travel, just to be a part of the team has been great for me.”
But when a player of Kiel’s caliber seemingly gets stuck behind another player, the question of whether he will look to transfer inevitably comes up. He said he hasn’t even thought about it, but he also said he’s ready to play.
If he were to transfer, he’d have to sit out a year, per NCAA rules, but he’d still have three years of eligibility left.
“Right now I’m enjoying what’s going one,” he said. “I’m being patient. I’m just waiting for my moment. I’m just waiting for everything to play out.”
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