After starting 15 of the previous 16 football games and playing through the ups and downs, Tommy Rees was uncomfortable on the sideline in the second half of the Stanford game as he watched fellow sophomore Andrew Hendrix take all the snaps.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a tough situation to be in," said Rees Saturday in his first meeting with the media since Stanford's 28-14 victory over the Irish.
"But I'm team-first, and I was there to support Andrew. I thought I did a good job helping him along the way, and with Dayne (Crist) and I both there for him, (Hendrix) did a great job responding and getting ready to play."
Rees continued to help Hendrix and freshman Everett Golson this past week as the Irish began preparations for Florida State.
Rees was reinstated as the starter for the Champs Sports Bowl by head coach Brian Kelly within a week after his benching and Hendrix's encouraging performance against the Cardinal.
"We just sat down and he instilled his trust in me and wanted to discuss some things that happened," said Rees of Kelly's conversation with him before naming him the starter for the bowl game. "It was definitely a good conversation and one that I took the advice strongly.
"Coach has done a great job of handling a bunch of situations since he's been here. He definitely knows what he's doing, and I thought it was good for him to let us know beforehand so we knew what to expect."
Although Rees will start the Florida State game, Hendrix is expected to play a prominent role after sparking the Irish offense and leading it to a pair of touchdown drives in the second half versus Stanford.
"I'm not in the business of trying to prove things," said Rees when asked if that was his motivation against Florida State. "I just want to be the best quarterback I can be for the team and just play better than I did against Stanford. That's the bottom line. I need to do a better job of leading this team and preparing us to win."
That means working with Hendrix and Golson, particularly now that it appears Crist will play no role in the Champs Sports Bowl.
"Andrew and I came in together, and we've been close through everything," Rees said. "Right now, I'm just trying to help him through stuff and make sure things are going smoothly for him. Everett is getting some work and I'm trying to help him as well."
Crist missed both practices last week as he seeks a destination for his fifth year of eligibility.
"He's been such a mentor for me and such a person I looked up to," said Rees of Crist. "It's definitely a little different. But I wish him the best and we continue to talk. Whatever decision he makes, I'm happy for him."
Florida State's defense is not an ideal match-up for most offenses, particularly one with a quarterback who is as athletically challenged as Rees. The Seminoles have 36 sacks in 12 games and figure to give Rees and the offensive line trouble come Dec. 29.
"A lot of athleticism. They're a good team. They're really good on defense," Rees summarized. "They have a lot of good players. They have speed on defense. We've faced a number of good defenses, but from a pure athleticism (standpoint), they're definitely up there."
It's imperative that Rees uses the time between the Stanford game and the bowl game as well as he did the time between the USC game and the Sun Bowl against Miami last year.
"Stanford is definitely a learning experience for me, similar to USC last year," Rees said. "We've got another big match up against another good team, and we have about a month here to kind of turn things around after Stanford and get back to playing the football we know we can play. As an individual, I'm ready to keep getting better and keep building off Stanford."
Lesson No. 1: Get his offensive line in the pass protections needed to stem the tide of Florida State's pass rush.
"There were a number of things from that game to take back," said Rees of the Stanford game. "Protections and seeing what a team is trying to do…It's another thing to learn from and another game to have experience."
Now that he's been named the starter for the bowl game, Rees is intent on getting back to the things that allowed him to have success and direct the Irish to 12 victories in his first 14 starts.
"I didn't really have too much thought about it," said Rees of Kelly's decision to name him the starter. "I was ready to come work, and whatever the decision was, I was going to be happy with it and support it.
"I didn't really know what to expect, but I wouldn't say I was necessarily surprised. But I was definitely glad. I'm just ready to get back to work."
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