NEW YORK — The last time Tommy Rees played at Yankee Stadium, he got to use Derek Jeter’s locker and led Notre Dame to a victory against Army.
That was 2010 and Rees was a freshman.
Since then he’s been beaten out, benched, booed and suspended. He’s also been called on repeatedly to bail out the Fighting Irish when they have been in a jam, and come through more often than not.
Rees returns to Yankee Stadium on Saturday to play his final game for No. 25 Notre Dame (8-4) against Rutgers (6-6) in the Pinstripe Bowl.
“I’ve had a unique four years, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything,” Rees said. “The relationships I’ve built, the memories I have and some of the things I have been able to do, I’ll definitely look back at that. It’s been a very humbling experience.”
Rees wasn’t supposed to be the starter for Notre Dame this season, but when Everett Golson was suspended from school for academic issues the senior quarterback was again there to patch the leak.
“It takes an incredible amount of confidence in one’s own ability when you’re under such scrutiny when it comes to your play,” coach Brian Kelly said Friday. “He’s going to obviously be remembered as somebody that has persevered and overcome some highs and some lows.”
Rees passed for 2,938 yards with 27 touchdowns (highs) this season. He has also thrown 13 interceptions and completed 53.7 percent of his passes (lows).
“I’m not in the business of rating myself,” he said. “As long as I have the confidence of my teammates that’s really at the end of the day what I care most about.”
Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd has had a Rees-like career for the Scarlet Knights. He shared the No. 1 quarterback job in 2011, helping Rutgers win two games at Yankee Stadium — against Army in the regular season and the Pinstripe Bowl against Iowa State.
Dodd hardly played last year as Gary Nova’s backup. This season Nova struggled mightily and Rutgers turned to Dodd late in the season. He was 19 for 24 for 179 yards and two TD passes in a 31-6 victory against USF in the season finale.
“I was prepared and I was ready when my number was called,” Dodd said.
As for the locker room setup, Rees won’t find out until Saturday if he draws Jeter’s again.
“I definitely wouldn’t be disappointed to get it again,” he said.
Five things to know about the Pinstripe Bowl:
1) PAUL JAMES IS HEALTHY.
The former walk-on tailback for Rutgers was one of the breakout stars of the early season before a leg injury sidelined. Finally, against USF, he looked like the player he was in the first four games, running for 113 yards and two touchdowns. He needs 167 yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
“He’s been a difference maker for us on offense,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “He opens up all the play-action game in every game plan regardless of who we’re playing against.”
2) RESUME TAPE.
Notre Dame is playing with two interim coordinators. Mike Denbrock runs the offense after Chuck Martin left for Miami, Ohio. Kerry Cooks took over the defense after Bob Diaco became head coach at UConn. Denbrock has a long history with coach Brian Kelly and the conventional wisdom is that if Notre Dame promotes one of the two interim coordinators to full time it would be Denbrock.
Notre Dame is a 14-point favorite, which is among the biggest for any of this season’s bowl games. The Fighting Irish are a legitimate Top 25 team, with victories against No. 4 Michigan State and No. 16 Arizona State. Rutgers did not beat an FBS team that was bowl-eligible.
Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt is a possible first-round draft pick, though his production fell off this season and he received a second-round grade from the NFL evaluation committee. Tuitt has said he’ll decide after the game whether to skip his senior season.
5) LOOKING AHEAD.
This is the final season of the Pinstripe Bowls’ affiliation with the Big 12 and American Athletic Conference (the former Big East). Next season contracts with the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference kick in. Notre Dame, which will have access to the ACC’s bowl lineup starting next season, took the spot the Big 12 could not fill this year. Rutgers is joining the Big Ten next year.