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Notre Dame's Dayne Crist graduates to a new job — as Kansas QB

A former Irish quarterback acclimates to the Jayhawks, now led by Charlie Weis, for whom Crist played at South Bend and whose complex offense he knows. He has eligibility after getting his diploma.

June 10, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Quarterback Dayne Crist attempts a pass during Kansas' spring game.
Quarterback Dayne Crist attempts a pass during Kansas' spring game. (Jim Barcus / Associated…)

Dead last on the list of things Dayne Crist expected coming out of high school was walking through 2012 graduation ceremonies at Notre Dame as the starting quarterback for the Kansas Jayhawks.

Craziness abounds in a world of ups, downs, caps and gowns.

Crist turned a business degree tassel over in the shadow of Rockne last month as he mulled his sports management, postgraduate major at Rock Chalk.

"It was kind of surreal, a little bit weird being out there," Crist said during a recent phone interview from his new football home in Lawrence, Kan. "More than anything, though, it gave me closure to that chapter in my life."

Book-slamming the Irish was not in the fathomable future when he left Notre Dame — the high school in Sherman Oaks — for Notre Dame in South Bend.

It was like the Boston Red Sox calling up a prospect from Pawtucket. Until "pinch me" turned into "help me."

Crist's Notre Dame football experience wasn't "Rudy," it was "Chucky." Everything that could go wrong toppled over Niagara Falls in a leaky barrel.

Crist might have overcome blowing out both knees — his right in 2009, his left in 2010 — had the coach who nurtured him, Charlie Weis, not been blown out in '09 and been replaced by Brian Kelly.

Crist, the air-it-out apparent to Jimmy Clausen, worked himself all the way back to Irish starter for last year's opener against South Florida — only to be benched at the half and replaced by Tommy Rees.

Kelly's official explanation was lack of production. And anyone who reads lips knows what Kelly thinks of non-productive passers.

Having quickly become the forgotten benchwarmer, Crist was thrust into an October game against USC after a knee injury to Rees. Crist maneuvered the offense to within half-a-leprechaun of tying the score, 17-17, when a botched snap sent a USC safety 80 yards in the other direction for a touchdown.

It was a fitting punctuation to Crist's calamitous karma.

He describes last season as his "lowest point" for "every reason."

"It was one of the most traumatic experiences I've dealt with," he said of the South Florida benching. "I tried not to deal with it.… It was that and how the rest of the season transpired. It was frustrating. Every negative emotion you could feel, I dealt with."

Crist's parachute came in the form of an NCAA rule that allows athletes with eligibility to transfer without sitting out a year so long as they have graduated.

The provision allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to move from North Carolina State to Wisconsin, where he capped his final year with a run to the Rose Bowl.

Oregon's Jeremy Masoli, who once led the Ducks to Pasadena before running afoul, sought last-chance refuge at Mississippi.

"I'm very thankful for the rule and the way it was put in place," Crist said. "It led to some success with other guys. I'm very fortunate I did things academically at Notre Dame that ultimately allowed me to leave at the semester."

Kelly thanked Crist for stopping by and Crist thanked Notre Dame for thickening his skin — "I would say it's pretty thick," he said.

Notre Dame would "always hold a special place in my heart," Crist said months after Notre Dame, sort of, broke it.

He drew up a list of 10 to 12 schools that might consider a 6-foot-4 former five-star recruit who had one year left on his college odometer. At first, replacing Wilson at Wisconsin seemed the most likely option.

In early December, though, Kansas hired Weis as head coach. "It definitely shortened the list after that," Crist joked.

Crist enrolled in graduate school at Kansas and — shocker! — was named Kansas' starting quarterback during spring practice. A little later, his new teammates voted him one of three team captains.

"I never thought four or five years ago I'd be playing in Kansas for the same coach who recruited me for Notre Dame," Crist said. "It's remarkable when you think about it, how everything transpired."

This isn't a success story yet. Kansas went 2-10 last year. Crist has started 10 games in his career. Weis, an accomplished play-caller in the NFL, went 35-27 at Notre Dame before being shown the golden door.

Crist's body, and psyche, took a beating at Notre Dame. Does he have anything left?

"I don't think you can look at anything that has happened with Dayne Crist in the last two years, as far as I'm concerned," Weis said. "It's null and void. I knew what I had two years ago when I left there and I'm fired up to have him right now."

Having Crist in the huddle gives Weis a huge advantage in implementing his complicated offense. The most important person in the equation, the quarterback, already knows the playbook.

"We have a quarterback who knows our situation very, very well," Weis said. "It's an unusual situation."

Crist said it felt strange walking around Kansas at first — sort of the "what am I doing here?" reverse of Dorothy in Oz — but he's acclimated quickly.

Joe Montana? Kansas produced John Hadl.

What does Notre Dame's Rocket (Ismail) have on Kansas' Comet, Gale Sayers?

National titles ... tradition ... Four Horsemen?

OK, let's stop there.

"I believe everything happens for a reason," Crist said. "There's no more telling scenario than what I'm experiencing here.''

It's going to be strange seeing two Notre Dame alums — Weis is class of 1978 — trying to shake down the thunder on not-so-fertile football plains.

Crist's trip to South Bend in May — as much as a graduation walk — was one last stroll down memory lane.

"Part of it is you're feeling a little nostalgic," he said. "It's ending college education, the turning point where you're at. It's ending time with your best friends. There's nostalgia going on."

However, Crist's football sentiments are not divided.

His postgraduate work starts Sept. 1 in Lawrence against South Dakota State.

Crist was a Fighting Irish. He is a Kansas Jayhawk.

"One hundred percent," he said.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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