Rees and McDaniel step up from sidelines to push Irish to victory
by Ben Brockman
With the score tied at 17-17 late in the fourth quarter against Purdue last season, junior quarterback Tommy Rees entered the game to a booing home crowd.
Disappointed with Rees’ past play, Notre Dame fans were ready for a change, and freshman quarterback Everett Golson seemed to be exactly what fans were looking for in a future playmaker under center. Golson didn’t disappoint, leading the Irish to an undefeated season and moving the team back into the national spotlight. With expectations for Golson and the offense after the 2012 season sky high, Rees had become nearly obsolete. The quarterback competition was all but closed, and no one expected Rees to start in 2013.
Then, on May 28, the university announced that it would suspend Golson for the following fall semester and 2013 football season. Gunner Kiel transferred, and Rees was once again placed in the starting role. Rees stepped up in a big way, leading the team to a nine-win season, averaging 50 more yards per game in 2013 than Golson did in 2012, throwing 15 more touchdowns and averaging a higher quarterback rating.
“I have learned a lot in my time here,” Rees says. “I have been around. I took it upon myself as a senior leader to give it everything that I could and everything that I had and just continue to be the best quarterback that I can.”
Teammates and coaches realize that the transition from starter in 2011 to backup in 2012 and back into the starting role would be difficult for any player. With continuous doubt surrounding his play and no expectation for Rees to start at the end of the 2012 season, teammates understand the impact that Rees had on the 2013 offense.
“For [Rees] to arrive at this moment with all the adversity and all the mistakes, everything that he has gone through, to come out and be one of the leaders this year, and help this football team [succeed] … is just awesome,” junior running back Cam McDaniel says.
McDaniel is another player who stepped up to be a premier player in the 2013 season. After carrying the ball only 23 times for 125 yards in three games in 2012, he developed as a leader for the Irish. Along with the loss of Golson at quarterback, the Irish lost 67 percent of their 2012 rushing production with the moves of senior running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick to the National Football League.
Most fans expected junior running back and 2012 third stringer George Atkinson III to take over the bulk of the carries in the new season. McDaniel, however, played in all 13 games this season — leading the team with 705 yards, 152 carries and three touchdowns — contributing much more to the 2013 attack than anyone expected at the end of the 2012 season.
McDaniel says he knows his success didn’t come easy and realizes how much hard work it took for him to succeed this season.
“When it comes down to it, it is all just … training in such a way that you know that you are training harder than any of your opponents or anybody that is potentially in front of you,” McDaniel says. “It is just being ruthless to anything that is going to stand between you and where you want to be.”
Both Rees and McDaniel had to deal with adversity during their careers, whether it was McDaniel receiving limited carries in his first two seasons or Rees being benched his junior season for a freshman replacement. With low expectations for both players coming into the season, Rees and McDaniel say that it was important to be confident when faced with doubt in order to succeed when they had opportunities to get on the field.
“I think other people doubting my ability has never gotten in my way. Actually, that kind of feeds me,” McDaniel says. “To be able to make yourself confident in your abilities, I believe, is a key factor in knowing that you can [succeed] here.”
“Just playing confidently is a huge thing. I think that is the best [attribute] of a quarterback,” Rees says. “As long as you are confident in what you are doing and your ability, then you can be dangerous.”
This article appeared in print in the Jan. 23, 2014 issue of Scholastic. Pick up a copy around campus or subscribe today!