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Football: Crist Chosen

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Irish coach Brian Kelly removed any uncertainty regarding the quarterback position by naming senior Dayne Crist as the starter against South Florida in a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Crist battled sophomore Tommy Rees throughout training camp to earn the nod from Kelly as the starter.

“We named a starting quarterback, and that will be Dayne Crist, who will start for us against the University of South Florida,” Kelly said. “Both of those young men, Dayne and Tommy Rees, had a great battle for that starting position, but Dayne will be our starter, and I expect him to be our starter for 13 weeks.”

Crist returned to the field last spring following a patellar ligament injury to the knee in October against Tulsa. In his sophomore season, Crist tore his ACL as well.

“He has to play the game the way it comes to him,” Kelly said. “One of the things he did in camp was show great escapability. After two knee surgeries, he moved well, he was able to extend plays. We couldn’t have somebody that couldn’t extend plays in our offensive system, and he was able to do that.”

Kelly informed Crist and Rees of the decision during one-on-one meetings with each quarterback Monday. While physical attributes played a significant role in the decision, Kelly said subjective factors ultimately led him to choose Crist.

“I would say quite frankly and quite honestly, [Crist] is the kind of guy I want to coach,” Kelly said. “He’s tougher mentally. He handles himself in that leadership position in the way I want our quarterbacks to handle it. We have great confidence in his ability to lead our football team to a championship.”

In addition to recovering from multiple severe knee injuries, Kelly credits Crist for overcoming a spring season that neither coach nor quarterback were particularly pleased with. Crist finished five of 10 through the air for 34 passing yards in the annual Blue-Gold scrimmage April 16.

Nevertheless, the senior maintained a strong work ethic over the summer, allowing him to secure the starting job.

“I’ve always tried to keep a positive mindset, and I know I’m confident of my abilities, but at the same time I wasn’t the one making the decision. Coach Kelly is,” Crist said. “So until I heard it from his lips, there is always some level of uncertainty. I just tried to keep a positive mindset throughout the duration of camp, and throughout the competition.”

Neither quarterback emerged as a favorite heading into training camp, but Rees’ 4-0 campaign as a starter, including a 33-17 victory over Miami in the Sun Bowl, made him the unquestioned incumbent. Kelly said Rees’ improvement since the end of the 2010 season made the decision particularly difficult, but one the head coach looked forward to making.

“Tommy Rees will be prepared to step in if he’s called on,” Kelly said. “Obviously, the guy that doesn’t get the starting nod is disappointed, and [I] wouldn’t have wanted a response any other way. Tommy also knows what he’s capable of doing too. Tommy’s a much better quarterback than he was last year.”

Kelly reaffirmed that while Crist is the intended starter for each game of the season, certain packages will incorporate Rees, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and freshman Everett Golson.

Although relieved by a sense of security at his position, Crist said he will look to Rees to continue pushing him throughout the season.

“We talked pretty soon after [Kelly’s decision]. We all met at pretty similar times. I told him, ‘I need you to keep pushing me. I think honestly you have made me a better quarterback.'”

Crist threw for 2,033 yards and 15 touchdowns last season before rupturing his patella tendon. The senior said he doesn’t foresee any challenges leading the Irish offense, citing increased familiarity with Kelly and his system.

“It really just comes with experience,” Crist said. “Now, coming into year two, I understand how he likes to coach. He understands what gets me going, what pushes me, what doesn’t. That relationship is definitely growing, we’ve seen it grow together. Obviously, there is a ton more room for growth and [it] will continue to grow and evolve.”