For most of the recruits on campus Saturday at Stanford's Junior Day, it was their first chance to see The Farm. For Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame High School junior quarterback Dayne Crist, it was an anniversary return. He unofficially visited Stanford a year ago at this same time, which made his 2007 return more directed in its focus.
"I got a chance to check out the facilities in more depth," Crist says of his Saturday visit. "Last time I was on campus, I walked around the outskirts. I saw a little bit more of the academic life this time. Obviously, I was able to see inside a lot of the facilities."
The top Class of 2008 recruit also had his first chance to see the new Stanford Stadium. Construction was just underway at this time a year ago, with piles of earth being moved and reshaped.
"That was really cool. I liked the stadium a lot," Crist comments. "It's not huge, but I like how it's condensed. They can fit a good group of people in there, and I like how they are right on top of the field. Everything is really close."
Showing off one's proud facilities is commonplace for unofficial visits and Junior Days, and Crist will see some of the best as he visits the powerhouse programs who are his remaining favorites. What he said he most wanted out of this Stanford trip was a chance to build his personal relationship with the Cardinal coaches who would be closest to him on the offensive side of the ball.
"That was definitely big. The whole day I was either with Coach [Jim] Harbaugh, Coach [David] Shaw or Coach [Mike] Sanford," Crist reports. "I was with one of them the entire day, and I had a great interaction with them."
Harbaugh is not only Stanford's head coach but also coaches the Cardinal's quarterbacks. Shaw is the offensive coordinator and Harbaugh's righthand man on that side of the ball. Saturday marked the first in-person interactions Crist had enjoyed with either man.
"I was very impressed with both of them - just the confidence that both of them possessed, which is really admirable," the recruit relates. "They were so confident, that it rubbed off on you. They were so excited that you were there. It really made me believe that they are going to turn the program around. It was something really special to be around."
Though he praises the campus and was wowed by the information he and his parents learned about the academics and support offered by the school, Crist says that it was his time with the coaches that made the biggest splash on this visit.
"It's being with Coach Harbaugh and Coach Shaw and being their first guy," he explains. "With this being their first recruiting class, they have trademarked me and some other recruits as being their own. This is the first class they get. The time they devoted to me and just the way they made me feel as a player and their plan for me as a player was really impressive. I really liked those coaches a lot."
Crist also enjoyed the player panel, when Stanford's coaches left the room and left the recruits and their families alone with a handful of Stanford's players. It so happened that one of them was a fellow son of Southern California, whose paths crossed with Crist 16 months earlier on the football field in the CIF Southern Section Division III championship game.
"They had four guys come in and speak to us and introduce themselves," Crist says of the player panel. "One of them was Richard Sherman, and I actually know him because I played against him back down in Southern California. His team actually kicked our butt my sophomore year in the championship. I brought that up to him, and we had a good laugh. But I got a chance to talk to him and see what Stanford is like - how he acclimated to everything and how he is enjoying it."
"They were in there with just us and the parents. The coaches weren't in there," Crist continues. "One of the questions asked was about how they have all gone through a coaching change and what do they feel about the new staff. They were just very enthused. They really bought into the belief that is in the program right now. There is going to be a change in the program, and they're going to get this thing done. It was a big relief to see the players' confidence and their confidence in the program, which is night and day when you compare where Stanford Football was a year to a year and a half ago to what it is today."
Another football foe was in attendance, though as a fellow Class of '08 recruit. Notre Dame battled and beat Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite High School in November, when Crist threw 8-of-11 for 136 yards and rushed for a touchdown in the 21-3 victory. On the other side of the ball, Crespi tight end Joseph Fauria had his best receiving game of the season, hauling in six passes for 89 yards. Fauria on Saturday found himself pulling in a big catch once again, this time netting a Stanford scholarship offer.
"Joe Fauria, the tight end from Crespi - they offered him. We talked about that, and he was really excited," Crist shares. "He said that Stanford was definitely among his top schools. We had a good conversation about it. I have known him since we were really little. We actually played on the same traveling basketball team together and played on the AAU circuit and in the Nationals. We actually go pretty far back. It was cool to be up at Stanford and be on a recruiting trip together and catch up again. We live close, too, and stay in contact. I spent most of the day with him and Kevin Prince, who is the quarterback over there."
It was a celebratory day for Fauria, who also chirped in Crist's ear about the offensive performance he demonstrated when they faced each other in November. Crist says he was forced to remind his jumbo and jovial friend of the 21-3 score at that game's end.
"I brought that up just when he got out of line and started bragging. I had to throw that out there a couple times," Crist laughs. "He had a touchdown that was called back in that game, so he was claiming that it should have been 21-10. I said, 'A loss is a loss buddy.'"
This was the second of three big trips Crist has planned in the span of a month. A week earlier he visited LSU for their spring game, and next week he will make his way to Notre Dame. With the aim of an early college decision, Crist is already making comparisons between his time in Baton Rouge and on The Farm.
"They're both completely different, and that's what makes it tough," he opines. "They're both great campuses. Stanford is a really beautiful campus, and I enjoyed the facilities there as well. I feel very comfortable. It's still in California, so it's not that different socially. It's a little closer to home, which is a difference from LSU. I enjoyed both campuses, but specifically on this day I really enjoyed Stanford's campus."
Another difference was that Crist was accompanied by the full breadth of his family this weekend. His mother, father and younger brother joined him for this trek to Stanford. The timing was a little dicey for the family, but the Cardinal did their best to compensate.
"It was actually my little brother's birthday today, and he took one for the team," Crist describes. "He came up with us, and he had a good time, too. They sang 'Happy Birthday' to him. When we had lunch, it was really funny because they brought out a cake and candles at the restaurant we ate it. Coach Harbaugh brought it out, and all of the other recruits started singing."
We have already heard plenty of ear-catching sound bites from Harbaugh in press conferences and interviews, but his singing voice had not yet gone public. Crist says that as a contestant on American Idol, the Cardinal coach would have his vote.
"You know, I would give him my pass to Hollywood," laughs the quarterback recruit.
"They really liked it," Crist says of his family's experience. "They got along with the coaches great. They liked the facilities a lot. Obviously, they were thrilled with the academic part of Stanford. My dad works with some guys who have graduated from Stanford, and he really enjoyed it as well."
The family afterward headed up to San Francisco for an evening celebration of the youngest Crist's birthday. The drive up Highway 101 allowed the SoCal quarterback to take stock of the day's events and his emotions. He had some expectations about what the Stanford visit would offer, but he admits to being surprised by what he saw, heard and learned at the Junior Day.
"It was kind of a shock to me," Crist offers. "I knew from what the coaches had been telling me through texts and calls that there was a change in the program and a turnaround, but I really got to see it firsthand. It was a breath of fresh air to see how devoted they are to turning this thing around and how committed they are to excellence. It was really cool to see. Just the confidence that they had was unbelievable. It was really cool to be around and really exciting feeling to be around."
With visits to Notre Dame and USC, and perhaps Michigan and Oregon, still to come, the success Stanford had with Dayne Crist is a long cry from winning the battle. But the Cardinal evidently scored on Saturday and made themselves a serious factor in the narrowing college recruitment of the acclaimed quarterback.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!