No. 16 Notre Dame will start Crist at QB

Dayne Crist has regained his role as Notre Dame’s starting

quarterback, surviving a second knee surgery, arduous rehab and a

strong challenge from teammate Tommy Rees during a close a

competition for one of college football’s marquee positions.

”Obviously incredibly happy to be named the starter, incredibly

relieved,” Crist said Tuesday, a day after coach Brian Kelly broke

the news to him and Rees.

”I can honestly say I think I’ve overcome a lot since I’ve been

here,” Crist said. ”One thing I think he (Kelly) knows about me

is that I’m a fighter.”

Kelly pointed to Crist’s maturation, ability to navigate through

two knee surgeries over the last two years and his overall

improvement as a player. He said he expects Crist to be the starter

for all 13 games beginning with the Sept. 3 opener against South

Florida.

And then Kelly put a little more pressure on Crist, too, in a

year where the 16th-ranked Irish are in the AP Top 25 poll for the

first time since early November 2009.

”We have great confidence in his ability to lead our football

team to a championship,” Kelly said.

Crist didn’t play as a freshman in 2008 and then tore the

anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the 2009 season

as a backup. He made it back through rehab, was able to practice in

Kelly’s first spring a year ago and emerged – as expected – as the

No. 1 quarterback.

Then, last Oct. 30 against Tulsa, Crist suffered a ruptured

patellar tendon in his left knee, creating a here-we-go-again

scenario for a quarterback who had made great strides in Kelly’s

new spread offense but was still trying to learn its intricacies

and avoid mistakes.

”Here’s a young man that overcame a serious knee injury to

start the season and then suffered another knee injury, a severe

knee injury which required incredible rehab, had an infection that

put him back ever further,” Kelly said.

Crist acknowledged that watching from the sidelines last year

after another injury was stressful.

”One of the most difficult times I’ve had to deal with,” he

said. But he added his family and friends kept his spirits up and

told him nothing worth doing is easy.

Crist didn’t have a great spring practice but improved during

summer workouts and then again in preseason camp.

”He is a much better football player, he is a much better

quarterback. And I would say quite frankly and honestly, he’s the

kind of guy I want to coach,” Kelly added.

”He’s tougher mentally. He handles himself in that leadership

position the way I want our quarterbacks to handle it. I didn’t

know Dayne very well last year. I can’t tell you that I felt the

same way about him last year. But I do now.”

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Crist has a stronger arm, but the

6-foot-2, 215-pound Rees has a nice touch and a quick release. The

two quickly emerged as the favorites over Andrew Hendrix and

freshman Everett Golson.

Crist started nine games last year before he was hurt. Rees,

then a freshman, led the Irish on a four-game winning streak to

close the season, including a Sun Bowl victory over Miami that gave

the Irish an 8-5 record.

Crist completed 59 percent of his passes with 15 TD passes and

seven interceptions a year ago. He hit 174 of 294 attempts for

2,033 yards. Rees was 100 of 164 (61 percent) for 1,106 yards with

12 TD throws and eight passes intercepted.

Crist said his relationship with Rees is as solid as ever, even

after Kelly met with them one-on-one Monday to reveal his

decision.

”I said, `You know I need you to keep pushing me. I think

you’ve honestly made me a better quarterback.’ We talked about our

relationship. We’re going to continue to be friends for as long as

football takes us and even after football,” Crist said.

Kelly said last week that a statistical breakdown between the

two was so close it made the decision even harder to make and he

would have to use some subjective criteria.

”They are both smart and are going to manage the game and

execute. I don’t know that one does something better than the

other,” Kelly said Tuesday. ”I’ve said all along this is a very

difficult decision, but one I’m excited to make because you know

you’ve got two very good quarterbacks.”

Rees, reared in a football family, has also showed great

improvement from last season but not enough to beat out Crist.

”Tommy had that going for him, being 4-0 as a starter, but it’s

more about he’s a better quarterback and made great progress,”

Kelly said. ”Just at this point Dayne is in that position to be

the starter.”

Rees wasn’t available for comment Tuesday, the first day of

classes on campus. Notre Dame gave its players a day off.

”Obviously the guy who doesn’t get the starting nod is

disappointed and I wouldn’t have wanted a response any other way

than disappointment,” Kelly said. ”Tommy knows what he is capable

of doing.”

Kelly said he hadn’t broken down who is third- or fourth team

between Hendrix and Golson but said all four quarterbacks would be

prepared to play.

Crist said his relationship with Kelly has grown and continues

to evolve. Last season, in their first year together, Kelly didn’t

hesitate to give Crist an earful. Now there’s more of an

understanding on how the other person reacts and thinks.

”It was overwhelming last year. We didn’t know what to expect,

a new coaching staff, my first real year of starting and things

like that,” Crist said. ”I was inexperienced and I’ll admit that.

But now coming back, I’m a different person, I’m a different

player. I’m more mature and my game is more mature.”

Kelly also announced that Chris Watt would start at left guard

over Andrew Nuss, Dan Fox got the nod over Carlo Calabrese at

inside linebacker and Jamoris Slaughter had the edge over Zeke

Motta at safety.