- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Tommy Rees has control over Notre Dame's destiny for yet another season. And yes, the same was true last season, when he started just twice and made a handful of cameos despite relinquishing full-time No. 1 duties to Everett Golson.
"He was a backup quarterback, he was an assistant coach and kind of made everything go," Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. "If he would've taken a different stance, the whole season's probably completely different. I mean, he could've easily ruined the whole deal for everybody."
And he could have done the same after the season, with Golson deemed the quarterback of the future and with playing time looking more scarce for the ever-reliable next-man-in.
How things have played out since then illustrates just how beneficial it has been for the Irish to have a signal caller like Rees, whose contingent got its wish when he replaced Dayne Crist in the 2011 home opener, only to turn on him when he replaced Golson late in the 2012 home opener.
"When you win 12, they don't remember what happened the second game of the year," Martin said. "You guys do, we do, but a lot of the fans don't. They forgot that they were booing him. They forgot that it's hard to lead a two-minute drive at home when you're getting booed off the field."
Rest assured, Rees will be a major factor in another Notre Dame Stadium opener this Saturday against Temple, after Golson was hit with a semester suspension from school in May for academic misconduct.
And Notre Dame hopes the lessons Rees learned from a 12-month period that began with a suspension of his own and culminated with the senior in command of the offense once more can help serve a program looking to turn last year's meteoric rise into something resembling the norm.
"I probably should give a lot of credit to my parents, the way I was raised," Rees said of the way he's handled his career. "I love my teammates. I love the guys that I'm out there with every day, so for me there's not really another option. You've just got to stay prepared, and when the moment comes for you, you've got to be ready for those guys, because you count on them, they count on you, and that's really what our team's been built on. People say it's a family all the time, but until you're a part of it and until you feel how close this group is, it's kind of hard to explain."
Perhaps tellingly enough, not a single question among the 42 asked during head coach Brian Kelly's 42-minute Tuesday press conference was about Rees.
For once, the closest thing to a quarterback drama comes from the visiting sideline, where Connor Reilly will start for Temple, winning over new coach Matt Rhule after entering the spring at No. 4 on the depth chart.
Interestingly enough, Reilly's father, Lt. Col. Neil Reilly, grew up in Rees' hometown of Lake Bluff, Ill. The connection between the two quarterbacks has led some in the 5,000-person community to label Saturday's tilt as the "Lake Bluff Bowl."
More importantly, Neil Reilly recently served with the Army in Afghanistan, and he flew a Temple flag over his battalion while deployed.
Connor Reilly repays the gesture by running onto the field before each game waving the same U.S. flag that his father flew as a squadron commander in the Army on several missions in Afghanistan.
"It's a really cool honor to do that for my dad, because I know he does that and serves and honors and protects my country," Connor Reilly said.