Brian Kelly has avoided questions about the legacy of Tommy Rees over the last several months but many times that's because he's been asked right after a game--in the heat of the moment.
In a more relaxed setting, Kelly opened up on Tuesday afternoon at his weekly press conference on his thoughts on the Irish starting quarterback who threw for a career high five touchdown passes Saturday against Air Force.
"He just keeps coming," Kelly said when asked to describe Rees. "He just shows up every day and keeps working and sometimes it doesn't look the greatest but he keeps playing and keeps persevering. When it's all said and done, he represents all the things that we like. He's a great teammate."
"You love his competitiveness. Cares about the right things. So I guess that's how without having a chance to really formulate anything, he's just Fighting Irish."
Rees resumed his role as the Irish starting quarterback this season with 2012 starter Everett Golson sitting out with a semester long suspension from the university. Rees has been a starter each of his four seasons at Notre Dame.
His first emergence came as a freshman in 2010 during Brian Kelly's first season when Dayne Crist was injured in the battle against Tulsa. The Irish lost the game but Rees threw for four touchdowns and held his own until a late interception cost Notre Dame a chance for the win.
"I love the ability for a freshman to go in there and in the moment be not too big," Kelly says looking back. "Certainly you're the starting quarterback at Notre Dame, it's a big moment. But it didn't seem to really overwhelm him and certainly that was the first thing that struck me is that this kid loves to compete, loves the moment, and being the quarterback at Notre Dame, I don't think it's going to be too much for him."
Kelly did not recruit Rees to Notre Dame, he inherited him from the Charlie Weis era. Rees was part of the left over class that was in place and needed to be held together when Kelly arrived.
"I loved him when I met him in person," Kelly explains. "He's a great kid and that was kind of enough for me."
"Honestly I didn't know much about him out of high school. I don't even know if I watched any high school film. I was on a mission to kind of hold the class together more so. And I kind of just took it on faith that, hey, these are the guys that have been offered, let's just keep the class together."
Kelly knows him well now and its hard to imagine that the ride is almost over for Rees, who has just four regular season games and one bowl game left in his career.
Notre Dame hosts Navy Saturday at 3:30 at Notre Dame Stadium. Countdown to Kickoff gets you started at 2:30 on WNDU-TV.