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A Notre Dame man’

Douglas Farmer | Wednesday, December 21, 2011

UPDATE: Crist announced Thursday he would be attending Kansas next year to play under former Notre Dame coach and newly hired Kansas coach Charlie Weis. Weis recruited Crist to Notre Dame.

Former Irish quarterback Dayne Crist took a walk around campus Monday, climbed in his car and drove away. In the short term, he drove away to spend a few days with his girlfriend’s family in Michigan. In the long term, he drove away to Lawrence, Kan., where he will suit up for Kansas.

But don’t think it was Crist’s last time at Notre Dame, even if he has opted to complete his college eligibility elsewhere. Don’t think it was even his last time at Notre Dame this year. No, Crist will be back before he plays as much as one snap for the Jayhawks. He’ll be back for tangible evidence he is indeed, as he describes himself, “a Notre Dame man.”

“I’ll come back and walk in May because that will be important to me,” Crist told The Observer in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I want to do it, and I want to do it with the rest of my friends, so I’ll be back.

“I’ve already told the coaches at both places [to which he may transfer] that it is something that is important to me. I made it very clear.”

In retrospect, his Monday walk may end up just as important to Crist, as he made sure to walk by all the spots on campus which have become familiar to him the last four years.

“It was a little bit more surreal because it was empty because people had already gone home for break. It was just a really quiet time.”

Crist and his girlfriend lit candles at the Grotto, walked around one of the lakes, paused in the Basilica and checked in on his former dorms, Morrissey Manor and O’Neill Hall.

“It was very sentimental,” Crist said. “I think that specific time walking around campus will be one I remember for a very long time. It was a little saddening too. I’m going to miss this place.”

When Crist arrived at Notre Dame in August of 2008, it is safe to say he never imagined he would face the decision of picking another school. The No. 2-rated quarterback in his recruiting class — ranked behind the 10th pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, Blaine Gabbert — anticipated a far different ending to his Irish career.

“Listen, no one wanted to be successful at Notre Dame more than I did,” he said. “Sure, you wish for all the best and things like that, but at the end of the day, you have to deal with the experiences you have to go through. You have to deal with adversity, and do all these things. Sit and wonder ‘What if this?’ or ‘What if that?’ but that is not a world I want to live in.”

The world Crist lived in at Notre Dame may have been void of the records and accolades he once hoped for, but that was not the only surprise in store for him at the University. Oddly enough, the item which caught the California native most off-guard was the thing he heard the most about before arriving at Notre Dame.

“When you are being recruited by Notre Dame and looking into Notre Dame as a student, people always talk about this idea that the people are what make Notre Dame,” Crist said. “It is absolutely true.

“The way in which the students have been supportive through everything, the friends I have made, the networking that goes on in your time at Notre Dame, there is nothing like it. I was just overwhelmed by how much the teachers care, the administrators care, the students care.”

At this point, Crist turns into a typical University Admissions Office tour guide. He knows how corny he sounds, and he doesn’t care.

“It really does feel like a family,” he continued. “It sounds cliché, it sounds like lip-service, but at the end of the day, it’s the truth. It’s the God’s honest truth.”

As much as the familial atmosphere at Notre Dame shaped Crist’s first three-plus years of college, it has not influenced his decision-making process regarding the next year.

“Knowing you only have a year at a certain place, it kind of sets your priorities in terms of the criteria you look at in a school a little differently than you would in a four-year decision,” Crist said. “I think the way that fans and students interact with certain programs, that’s great, but I have to treat this as a business decision and weight certain factors which will take a little bit more precedence.”

Though this process is weeks-old by this point, Crist had not yet reached a decision as of Wednesday afternoon, preferring instead to consult those closest to him.

“I’m going to make the decision when it feels right,” he said. “That being said, I fly home Friday and will be able to really … sit down with [my parents] and bounce everything off them.

“I’ll sleep on it, and I’m really hoping to be able to make a decision by Friday or Saturday. But if it doesn’t feel right, I won’t. I’m not going to rush into this. It is, in essence, a lifelong decision.”

Online rumors, and a few words here and there over the last month from Crist himself, indicated his finalists to be Kansas and Wisconsin. Though he expressed  his excitement to be a Jayhawk, Crist will not forget Notre Dame. For that matter, neither will his family.

“Notre Dame will always hold a very special place in my heart, and that will be something I pass onto my kids and my grandkids.”

The degree he picks up in May will have significant figurative weight to it, as Crist has already graduated from the Mendoza College of Business with a degree in management consulting.

Yet, the walk across a stage in front of his classmates is not the final walk at Notre Dame which Crist looks toward.

“It was sad driving away, but I knew it wasn’t a goodbye forever thing,” he said. “I knew I’d be back, hopefully doing the same walk [around campus] with my kids someday.

“I’m always going to be a Notre Dame man. You’ll never be able to take that away from me.”