It's obvious that Dayne Crist will be the leader of the Notre Dame football team one day, the only real question is when. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound quarterback entered fall camp with all of the accolades of a top-flight quarterback.
As a senior at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Crist threw for 2,178 yards and had a 16-to-1 interception-to-touchdown ratio as he and classmate Anthony McDonald led the Knights to an 8-2 record.
Crist received numerous All-American honors and was ranked by Scout.com as the third-best quarterback prospect in the entire country. But when Crist arrived at Notre Dame he found himself regarded as the third-best quarterback on the Irish roster and playing time as a freshman seems unlikely. But that is not going to discourage Crist.
"At this stage right now, there's a wide separation between Evan and Dayne," Weis said. "Evan's closer to Jimmy than he is to Dayne."
That quote seems to indicate that Weis does not intend to play Crist in 2008, which would give him time to learn the offense better and give him another year of eligibility at the end of his career. Sharpley is a senior who could apply for a fifth year of eligibility in 2009, but led the Notre Dame baseball team with 13 home runs and a .691 slugging percentage in 2008 and could choose to pursue a career professionally instead of another year backing up Clausen.
If Sharpley were to decide against returning for a fifth year, Crist would be the clear number two quarterback and would probably be given a chance to compete with Clausen for the starting job as early as next year. If he were to sit out 2008 and even if he never passed Clausen on the depth chart, Crist would still be eligible to play in 2011 and 2012 after the exhaustion of Clausen's eligibility.
The confident, but not cocky California native is clearly mature enough to understand the situation as well as anyone, but that does not mean that he is going to just sit and wait three years for his time to come.
"I want to learn this offense as well as possible. You're going to get a competitive nature from me everyday I step on the field, that's not going to cease regardless of what I do this year," he says. "Ultimately, I want to make the team better, whether that's with the offense or making the defense better on scout. Whatever Coach Weis needs me to do, that's what I'm here to do. Obviously you want to get better as an individual, but in doing so I think you make the team better."
Crist and Clausen have known each other since middle school and Crist has given Clausen credit for helping to recruit him to Notre Dame. Crist says that he is trying to compete with the sophomore starter while at the same time trying to learn as much as he can from him.
"I'm definitely trying to do both. We're both very competitive people. We both definitely learn from each other, even the time that we've spent here it seems like it's only been a matter of months, but we both learn from each other greatly," says Crist. "I think we push each other in practice. Myself, Evan, Nate (Montana), Jimmy, everybody we're a very tight-knit group as quarterbacks. I think we're all trying to make each other better and I think we legitimately have good relationships with each other off the field. I think that kind of chemistry makes things a lot easier to do on the field."
Crist admits that the first couple of weeks were frustrating as he was overwhelmed with the offense, but Weis pulled him aside to tell him to relax and give it time.
"At times you feel like you're playing catch up. It definitely gets frustrating especially with all of us, we're all very competitive people," he says. "I'm just trying to go out there and compete and all that. It's a little frustrating at first, but I think things are definitely starting to slow down and now it's just a matter of trying to play catch up and learn everything.
"The biggest transition from high school to college is making that mental transition and trying to catch up to the mental aspect of everything. Throughout camp I've just been working real hard to learn everything. I think we're kind of past that point right now. Things are definitely starting to slow down a little bit. I'm just trying to work as hard as I can to close that mental gap a little bit and in doing so everything else just seems to slow down and it's becoming a lot easier. But obviously, it's got to be a point of emphasis for me throughout the year."
Crist understands that the advanced offense that Notre Dame runs would be hard for any freshman to grasp immediately and offered one aspect of which he is trying to work on.
"Understanding defenses is one of the most important things to do. This is an NFL offense, you're not going to come in and learn that in a day. It takes times and you really need to take time to go home and study your playbook," he says. "In high school things come pretty easily. Just the natural transition from high school to college terminology gets different, concepts are different and you're just expected to do a lot more. You've just got to go out there and practice and really, really study yourself pretty hard."
The California native says that he understands the offense, but that the hardest thing is being able to take what he learns in the meeting room and applying it to the fast-paced action on the practice field.
"You're able to grasp everything, it's just a matter of doing it quickly and being comfortable with it and then being able to translate that into making your reads, going through your progressions and what not," he says. "It's just a matter of being able to do it quickly in a matter of seconds."
Crist was instrumental in putting together – and keeping together – Notre Dame's latest recruiting class and although he may not see the field as early as some of his classmates, Crist's leadership qualities figure to be on display even if he is on the sidelines.
"I think all of us are working real hard just trying to compete. Obviously we've got a lot to prove as freshman," he said. "We just want to display our skills and do whatever it takes to make the team better.
"This team is definitely on the rise, we're all working hard to just have a great year this year. I see no reason why we shouldn't be competing with some of the best teams in the nation this year. Everyone is on the same page, we all have the same mindset and everyone is just trying to get on board and do some special things out here."