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Eric Sondheimer

Crist is defined by more than football

November 07, 2007|Eric Sondheimer

Coach Kevin Rooney held a meeting with his Sherman Oaks Notre Dame football team on Halloween, and he found that keeping a straight face was extremely difficult. Linebacker Anthony McDonald showed up as Dog the Bounty Hunter. A teammate was Scooby-Doo and another was dressed as Superman.

Then there was 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback Dayne Crist, set to join Coach Charlie Weis next fall at the University of Notre Dame. Wearing a green top hat, green coat, green tie, green scarf and socks up to his knees, Crist turned himself into a giant leprechaun.

"It was a little snug, but it was fun," he said of his outfit.

Leprechauns are part of Irish mythology. They bury their treasure in secret places. But Crist's pot of gold is visible for all to see. It's his engaging, incorruptible personality and his unwavering commitment to succeed.

"Football is not who you are, it's what you do," Principal Stephanie Connelly tells Crist. "There's so much more to Dayne."

Crist, the quarterback, is quite good though. He has passed for 2,119 yards and 16 touchdowns in helping Notre Dame to an 8-1 record entering its Friday night Serra League title decider against visiting Encino Crespi. He has developed a strong arm and excellent mobility. He also makes wise decisions, as demonstrated by having only one pass intercepted this season.

Rooney, in his 28th season, has said that Garrett Green was his best quarterback all-time. Green, now at USC, was someone who could take off and run for an 80-yard touchdown at a moment's notice because of his exceptional speed. Though not as fast, Crist has become equally adept at guiding Notre Dame's offense, and he had a 70-yard touchdown run last week against La Puente Bishop Amat.

"He's throwing the ball extremely well and making great decisions," Rooney said.

But Crist's intangibles are what leave no doubt about his future success.

Whether standing in a huddle, walking around campus or sitting at a lunch table, Crist is a leader. People don't simply follow him because of what he says, they place their trust in him because of the way he treats others.

"Kids will run through a wall for that guy," said Dana Potter, who coached Crist in youth football. "They know he's the type of kid who'd do anything for them."

Said Crist: "When I meet someone, I try to earn their respect. The definition of leadership for me is making other people around you better."

Football is a game of emotion, and people expect the quarterback to be vocal and animated. Crist can give an inspirational halftime talk, but he's usually the calmest player on the field. He doesn't use profanity as a way to fire up a teammate and won't resort to a disingenuous dressing down of someone to get their attention.

"It goes back to that underlining theme, show people respect," he said.

When Crist speaks, people listen because they know what he says comes from his heart. When he acts decisively, people pay attention because they know it's a genuine, selfless moment.

Once a week, Crist speaks with Weis on the phone. The conversations usually last 15 to 30 minutes. They also communicate by e-mail. Crist has sensed Weis' emotional ups and downs this season as Notre Dame struggles with a 1-8 record, but he enjoys learning from his future coach.

"It's a real comfortable relationship," he said. "We talk about what's going on with their week and game plan and he's interested in knowing what we're doing. He's a very emotional person. It's tough to talk to him on the phone because you can't get facial reactions. I love his personality."

Crist loves competition, and that's why he didn't shy away from choosing a college that signed Jimmy Clausen, the most highly recruited quarterback in the nation last year. Interestingly, they both attended the same middle school for one year in Chatsworth.

"That was one of the things that excited me most about Notre Dame," Crist said. "I think I play my best football when the most pressure is put on me. I love competing. I need someone to push me."

Through the years, Crist has learned plenty from his parents, coaches, friends and teachers. Last summer, he participated in a four-day immersion program in San Jose, staying four days at a homeless shelter to learn, first-hand, about poverty and the impact charity work can have on others. What he saw and the people he met made for a "life-changing experience."

"It felt so good to serve other people and help," he said.

Connelly, Notre Dame's principal, said, "When Dayne came back and spoke to the faculty and student body, it was so inspiring because he was so humble and so real."

Crist has become a national figure at age 18, his face plastered around the Internet, with the hopes of Notre Dame's once-fabled college football program perhaps one day falling on his shoulders.

Whatever happens, he intends to follow his moral compass, and that revolves around being "a good person." That's his treasure, and no one is going to take it away.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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