The powerhouse programs reload rather than rebuild. The 2006 season was evidence of as much at Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame High School, where the quarterback position was handed over to a green junior after Garrett Green graduated and took his game to USC. The Knights could scarcely have handed a taller test to 6'5" junior slinger Dayne Crist in the season opener, when Notre Dame battled against Canyon Country (Calif.) Canyon High School - ranked at that time #2 in the state and three months later crowned the state champions.
On the first offensive snap of this first 2006 game for Crist and Notre Dame, disaster struck.
"I came down and landed awkwardly on my head, which inadvertently compressed two vertebrae. I had a compression fracture in two different vertebrae," he describes. "I finished that game, and that game was actually the most exciting game of the season. We were down 17-3 at halftime and came back and won, 18-17, on a game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion."
Crist inexplicably played the remainder of the game despite a serious back injury, which subsequently held him out half of the season. He next played in late October. Crist played a critical role in Notre Dame's comeback against Canyon, bad back and all. He ran for the Knights' first touchdown, closing the margin to seven points. Then with 63 seconds left in the game, Crist threw a 30-yard touchdown to pull his team within a point. He next threw the two-point conversion for the upset victory.
"I guess I just didn't know what it was," Crist explains how he played with the injury through four quarters. "To be perfectly honest, it hurt. When you're put into that situation - the game was on TV, and there was a lot of adrenaline going. We just had to tough it out and get a W."
At 6'5" and 225 pounds, Crist has the prototypical size and rocket arm of a premier college quarterback. His toughness and competitiveness, however, may be his defining characteristics.
"He's ridiculously tough," says Scout.com West recruiting analyst Brandon Huffman. "At one point it looked like his career might have been over, but he came back and played with the same toughness he exhibited before. He's a warrior."
"I think that the greatest facets of my game aren't measured by stats. I think that my competitiveness is drawing a lot of people's attention," Crist offers. "I'll do whatever it takes to win, whether it means making plays with my arm or making plays with my feet or just controlling the game. Whatever it takes to win, that's what I want to do. And that's going to be different on any given night. You tell me whatever it takes to win, and that's what I'm going to go out and do."
Crist did many things to help his team win this past fall. Notre Dame lost early in the playoffs in a difficult defeat to Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, but their 11-1 season still ranked them as one of the best in Southern California. Crist played in seven of the 12 games, including the final six. He threw for 1,270 yards and 17 touchdowns in that abbreviated season, with only three interceptions. Two of those picks came in the Canyon game where he was debilitated. Crist also rushed for another 230 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
"What makes Crist so effective is that he's got a strong arm, throws the ball really well, but can also tuck the ball and run. He's very athletic, especially for his size, and he's not afraid to take a hit," Huffman says. "And it wasn't just as a junior that he stood out. When he was a sophomore, he spelled Garrett Green when Green was injured and managed the offense as well as a sophomore could."
Already the owner of nine major scholarship offers and the billing as one of the nation's elite quarterbacks in the Class of 2008, Crist still sees room to improve.
"You can ask any quarterback this, and we've always had this established as an understanding between me and my coach. No quarterback can ever work enough on accuracy," the junior judges. "You can never improve too much on accuracy. Unless you are 100 percent for every game the entire season, you are not accurate enough. As a quarterback, you need to be a perfectionist, and I think accuracy goes hand-in-hand with that."
The SoCal standout is also improving his speed and athleticism by running track this spring. His best time in the 100m thus far is an 11.9, coming in the first week of the young season.
"This is obviously for football. I'm not a track star, by any means," he laughs. "Our defensive coordinator is our head track coach, so he has us running and competing in events to get faster."
Faster still has been the pace of his college recruitment. Despite a serious back injury that cost him half of his junior season, Crist picked up his first scholarship offer three weeks ago. He today lists offers from Minnesota, Duke, LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon, Arizona, Iowa, Nebraska and Stanford.
"I definitely didn't anticipate it to be what it is," Crist comments on recruiting. "I have been briefed a little bit by guys on our team who have been recruited the year before. They gave me a rundown of what it was, but none of it could have been explained to me to the extent of what this is. It's been crazy, but it's a good problem to have."
The ninth and most recent offer came from the Cardinal. Area recruiter Tim Drevno sent a text message to Crist late Monday to call for some good news.
"I had actually had a good heart-to-hear with Coach Drevno about a week ago. He asked me to be patient and explained how Stanford was not going to rush their evaluations, especially at quarterback," the recruit recalls. "The timing actually was what surprised me the most. From when we had talked, they always had seemed very interested. Every conversation I had with the coaches at Stanford was very positive. I received cards from virtually every coach on the staff - handwritten stuff. I had the feeling that they were very interested. I wasn't expecting an offer because obviously this is a business, and you can't expect a whole lot. But I thought I had a good chance to get an offer from them. I just didn't think it was going to come this soon. I was kind of surprised."
"I was flattered. Stanford is a school I have always liked and respected," Crist adds. "I really like the coaches from the brief conversations we have had. I was really excited. It brought a smile to my face."
Drevno then set up a phone call Tuesday for Crist to speak with head coach Jim Harbaugh.
"He told me to keep working hard in the classroom," the recruit reports. "He let me know how excited he was, and hopefully I felt the same way. We tried to organize a time for me to come up there and settled on Junior Day. Also seeing how each other was doing and had going on, and some small talk after that."
Crist says he is scheduled to come to the Cardinal campus in two and half weeks for Stanford's Junior Day on March 31. He has seen the school before, but the stakes and context have obviously changed.
Harbaugh also asked his new quarterback offeree of his reaction to the offer and where Stanford's chances stand in his heated recruitment.
"Like I told him, I was excited when I talked with Coach Drevno last night," Crist recalls. "I definitely feel that Stanford is a great school, and that the prestige academically is second to none. I was definitely really interested and obviously very excited."
Another question is how Crist reacted to the timing of Stanford's offer. His relationship with the Cardinal extended many months ago, including the previous coaching staff. Crist admits that he was anxious for an offer from The Farm in recent weeks.
"A little bit, but it was definitely worth the wait," he maintains. "It's still early. As impatient as I was being, I finally realized that it still was early and there is a while to go. I'm not going to say it was only a matter of time, but they told me to just be patient. I did that, and it worked out for the best."
Nevertheless, there is an 'early mover' advantage that could put suitors like LSU and Notre Dame into a position of strength, pulling the trigger before Stanford.
"I wouldn't say 'ahead.' They're all different," Crist comments. "I think it's still early. Even to this point, I think with the offers I have now, those coaches took the time to invest in me early. I still consider this really early. But the very first few offers, yeah, I'm sure they will stick with me as my first ones. I'm still very open, and by no means do those lock up my decision at any point."
"It's definitely going to be tough," he continues. "It's going to be a wide range of schools, and they all have something to offer. I'm definitely going to visit the majority of the schools who have offered. It's going to come down to what is ultimately best, with the total package. What's best for me and my family, and we have to sit down and talk about that because there are a lot of variables that go into that."
Before Crist makes the trip up I-5 for Stanford's Junior Day, he will fly to Baton Rouge on March 23 and take in LSU's spring game. He also has plans to visit Notre Dame unofficially April 11-14. He and his family have an aim of wrapping his college recruitment sooner rather than later.
"We're going to try to commit by the summertime and before my season, definitely. We're going to try and do it by June, at the latest," Crist declares.
Though that commitment horizon could be less than three months away, the acclaimed quarterback recruit maintains that he has little defined in terms of favorites.
"Honestly, at this point, I'm pretty wide open," he charges. "I think Stanford is up there. LSU is up there. Notre Dame is up there. Oregon is up there. Cal is up there, and USC is up there."
Those last two schools are on Crist's mind, though they have yet to tender their respective scholarship offers.
"They've acknowledged that they're very close to it, and to remain patient," he says. "I've had good conversations with them and good interactions with them, as well. We have a good relationship going so far."
Crist also has a good academic record to date, holding down a cumulative 3.66 GPA at Notre Dame High School. He is taking six core courses as a junior and sat down for the SAT on Saturday for the first time.
"I'm shooting for at least an 1800," he shares. "It was long and exhausting, but I was pretty confident in how I did."
Those three hours may pale in comparison to the length and exhaustion that his heated college recruitment will hold in the coming months. Stay tuned for all the latest on Dayne Crist as his options and scholarship offers pile up, while he tries to visit campuses and narrow them down.
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