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August 16, 2012
Back with his former coach, the ex--Notre Damer is seeking to boost a struggling program and his NFL stock
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August 16, 2012

A Fortunate Fifth-year Reunion

Back with his former coach, the ex--Notre Damer is seeking to boost a struggling program and his NFL stock

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AS WITH SO MANY RECENT GRADUATES, DAYNE CRIST'S POSTCOLLEGE PLANS WERE uncertain. So he decided to go back to school. But where? Upon completing his degree in management-consulting from Notre Dame last December, the 6' 4", 235-pound former five-star quarterback recruit wanted to find a home. Quickly. "I went through the re-recruiting process, you could call it," Crist says. After four turbulent years (one as a redshirt) in South Bend, Crist requested permission to explore other options for his final year of eligibility. (NCAA rules allow graduate transfers with eligibility remaining to play immediately if they are pursuing graduate coursework not offered at their previous institutions.) He had interest in several schools. None were Kansas. And if initially it had been up to Charlie Weis, Crist might currently be a Wisconsin Badger. "Me and my big mouth," says Weis. "The toughest thing I had to do was to get him not to go there. They had more pieces in place, and they're more polished [than we are]."

You see, Weis had yet to sign on as Kansas's head coach, and having remained close with Crist since leaving Notre Dame in 2009, Weis suggested to Crist that he take a peek at Wisconsin, especially given its success last season with graduate transfer quarterback Russell Wilson. But after Weis was named the Jayhawks' coach on Dec. 8, Crist visited Delaware, Wisconsin—and Kansas. (Of the three, only KU had a losing record in '11.) He felt most comfortable with the Jayhawks' players and already had a familiarity with quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus, who helped recruit him to South Bend out of Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, Calif. "Everything about Kansas, I enjoyed," Crist says. "That, in conjunction with Coach Weis and his tutelage of young quarterbacks, was the most important thing." (Taking in a Kansas--Ohio State basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse during his visit didn't hurt.)

Once Crist, who in 2010 threw for 2,033 yards and 15 TDs over nine games in his only season as a full-time starter for the Irish, had announced his decision via (how else?) Twitter on Dec. 22, Kansas had nabbed two of college football's highest-profile names in less than two weeks. That's when the real work began. Crist's tasks were fourfold: 1) move to Lawrence, 2) dive into a graduate program, 3) acquaint himself with the rest of his new teammates and 4) relearn Weis's spread offense in a short amount of time. Crist had all but been named the starter, requiring him to balance the awkwardness of suddenly becoming a team leader with not overstepping his bounds as a newcomer. "Guys at this level can see through phoniness," says Crist, one of three players elected team captain in April. "If you're not yourself, it's pretty clear."

What's clear is that Crist is already lighting it up. He completed 11 of 19 passes for 156 yards in a 45--0 romp over the Kansas defense in the spring game. And he knows the playbook. Late in the third quarter he called an audible after noticing the middle linebacker was out of position. Crist then handed the ball off to tailback Tony Pierson, who ran up the middle for 88 yards and a score. What's not so clear is whether he's feeling any pressure. "He's handled everything so well," says Weis. "You expect it if you know the kid."

This fall Crist will work toward his master's degree in sports management as he guides a team with a new coach in need of a dramatic turnaround. "Those are the two most important things to me right now," he says—showing that he is a college graduate with a plan.