Sherman Oaks, Calif. quarterback Dayne Crist is known for making a big first impression.
“He was over 10 pounds,” said Crist’s mom, Karen, of her traumatic birth experience with her first son. “He was a big boy. They nicknamed him ‘Moose’ in the hospital because he was bigger than any baby in the hospital. I had a horrific labor with him. I was in labor for 36 hours. We had a great C section with that kid. I said, ‘I’m never doing that again.’ By the time we got home, he was probably close to 13 pounds.”
And Dayne kept growing and growing. As a player who hasn’t even started his senior season in high school, the Notre Dame high school star already stands 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds.
“He started playing football when he was six,” said Tim Crist, Dayne’s father. “He was a quarterback at six years old and he was always off the charts size-wise. He was always just a natural athlete. He’s very good in basketball. He runs track. He’s always been into sports.
“He would be the first to practice, and he’d pushing us to make sure he got there first. He very self-driven. It’s actually kind of remarkable to see someone his age be that way.”
Not only was Dayne an elite athlete, but he also possessed something very valuable on the football field at a very early age.
“He was always sociable. You could put Dayne in the middle of a group of kids he’s never met before, and before you know it, they’re all best friends,” said Karen. “He has a tremendous way of talking to people, befriending them, and making them feel comfortable. He’s just an easy-going kid.”
“He’s got this internal drive and desire,” Tim explained. “I think he surprises a lot of people with how he acts, not just on the football field but off the football field. He can walk into a room and he has this ability to be friends with everyone. He’s a natural born leader. I don’t know where he got it, but it’s there. He’s a quiet leader, but he’s definitely a leader. He ‘s been that way since he was little.”
“We’ve always tried to put him in positions to do things on his own and succeed, and he’s always been more than happy to do that,’ Tim continued. “I remember him being six years old and standing at the door of the convenience store and telling him to go buy his own lemonade. He’d go up there and pay for it himself and he’d get excited because he did it on his own. I think that’s why he’s so confident in himself. He’s always just done things on his own, and I think that comes out in his personality.”
That athletic talent and leadership ability landed him the starting quarterback position last season for Notre Dame high school in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Tim joked that sending him to Notre Dame high school was somewhat hard for the old man to stomach.
“I’ve always been a football fan. I never played football,” he explained. “I was a basketball player in high school and college, but I’ve always been a big fan. It’s kind of ironic because we’re die-hard USC fans. It was tough just to send him to Notre Dame high school.”
Crist immediately made an impact for his high school team last season, but he also suffered a major setback early in the season when he was hit with a potential life-threatening injury.
“Dayne has never had a horrible injury until last year,” Karen explained. “To be honest with you, when we saw it happen, we never thought he was that hurt because he got right back up and never showed any idea he was hurt like that.
“We didn’t really know how serious the injury was, and we were getting all kinds of different opinions from doctors. We finally went to a specialist who just deals in spinal cord injuries. He said he just didn’t feel comfortable letting him play until he was sure he was fully healed.
“It was tough because you knew he wanted to play, and he was devastated. He waited a long time to start. He really felt like he let the team down. The hard part for him was he never felt any pain. It didn’t bother him at all, so it was hard for him to sit there and watch. I think it matured him more than anything.”
The decision to resume Dayne’s football career wasn’t a difficult one.
“Not really because this is what he loves to do,” Karen said when asked if she had second thoughts about letting Dayne return to the football field after his injury. “You just pray he has a good line out there. I have all the confidence in him. I couldn’t take that away from him. This is what he truly loves to do.”
When Crist did return he put on a show. Despite missing five games, Crist managed to throw for 1,270 yards and 17 touchdowns in just seven games. He also picked up another 400 yards rushing on the ground. His junior highlights were impressive enough to grab the attention of Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis.
“He’s very cut and dried like I am,” Tim said of Weis. “He just basically laid it all out there for us. He told Dayne the situation. He told him how he’d fit into their offense. He basically presented what Notre Dame had to offer and said he’d love to have him at Notre Dame, but if this didn’t sound great, he didn’t have to come to ND. I really liked that. I don’t like all the fluff you get from some coaches when they try to sell these kids.
“You get all kinds of different answers to questions you ask. Charlie Weis was very frank. He basically said: ‘We want you. You’re the only guy we’re going to offer. If we don’t get you we’re not going to offer anyone else.’ You could tell he liked that upfront conversation with him.”
Weis wasn’t the only coach to take notice. LSU, Michigan, Florida State, Stanford, USC, Oregon and a host of others offered the high school senior-to-be, but the Irish seemed to be the team that stuck out from the very beginning.
“Flying into Chicago, we kind of talked on the plane and I kind of knew that’s where he’d be going,” Tim said of Dayne’s unofficial visit to Notre Dame in April. “He hadn’t even seen it yet, but you could tell. I think he wanted to go there. Once he got on campus and saw it for the first time and talked to the coaches, it was a done deal. It was over.”
“I just thought, ‘what a phenomenal opportunity.’ Just to see your son get this kind of opportunity is pretty overwhelming,” Karen said.
“He came back from the visit and he said ‘I can’t really explain it, but there’s something magical out there. I can’t explain it, but it’s just a magical place. I can’t wait for you to see it’” Karen continued. “I told him that I wanted him to be happy and to do whatever he wanted. With that, he got up and picked up the phone and called coach Weis and said, ‘I’m coming.’ It was so emotional for me because I was so happy for him and so proud of him.”
While Tim was able to experience Notre Dame while accompanying Dayne on his unofficial visit, Karen has yet to visit Notre Dame. That will change in early August as both she and Dayne will be back on Notre Dame’s campus for a few days to watch the Irish practice during fall camp.
“I can’t wait to see it,” she said. “I’m excited to see the campus. Everyone says there’s something mystical about the place. I really want to get that feeling. I’m just excited to get there and see what it’s all about it and meet some the coaches.”
Both say they’ve already experienced some of the magic about Notre Dame while talking with the many fans who have since introduced themselves and wished Dayne well.
“We’ve run into a lot of ND fans this summer and they’ve all been great people,” Tim said. “They’ve come out to see Dayne and (fellow teammate and Notre Dame commitment) Anthony (McDonald) in these 7-on-7 passing leagues and they’ve been fantastic in their support. It’s been exciting to see that.”
“People come up to me and say; ‘You’re so lucky to have your son go to Notre Dame.’ I just tell them that he’s the lucky one and he’s earned it,” Karen said.
Both parents are obviously very proud of Dayne, and they were never more sure of Dayne’s decision than last week when their son received a text message to call one of Notre Dame’s coaches before he attended the Elite 11 camp.
“He actually got a text from coach Powlus right before he left and spoke with him and it was a pretty cool thing,” Karen explained. “Coach Powlus told him good luck at the Elite 11 camp, and to remember that he was their No. 1 quarterback and that’s all that matters. He really liked hearing that.”
Football is obviously the skill that landed Dayne the scholarship to Notre Dame, but education is a big priority in the Crist family, and the ND education is the real prize according to his parents.
“It’s all about education for us,” Tim said. “We want him to get his degree and be successful. It’s all about academics. Whatever happens with football, happens, but we’re looking at the academic part of it.”
With a 3.6 grade point average, and a score of 1710 on his SAT, Crist is already an outstanding student, and both parents admit they’re excited to see their son play for the Irish.
“We’re already the biggest ND fans,” Karen said. “Everything people buy me now is Notre Dame. I even have the fight song as my ringtone on my cell phone. People say; “wait until you go to a game.’ I can’t wait to go.”
“I think it’s going to be exciting,” Tim said. “I’m just real happy for him. It will be a challenge for us to get there all the time, but it will be worth it for him. This is the best opportunity he could’ve ever asked for.”