No one would have blamed Dayne Crist if he had thought his star-crossed college football career was coming to a close.
After suffering a torn ACL in his right knee on Halloween Day in 2009, Crist rehabilitated and prepared himself to be the starter for Brian Kelly’s debut as head coach of the Fighting Irish in 2010.
Less than two months later – also on Halloween weekend (Oct. 30) – Crist suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee.
Now, less than 48 hours before the start of the 2011 season, Crist is healthy and ready to lead the Fighting Irish once again.
“It may sound clich?but the love of the game,” said Crist of his reasons for battling back from his second serious knee injury. “I can’t tell you how much football means to me and what a big part of my life football has been since I can remember, (dating back to) when I was six-years old playing Pop Warner.
“It means so much to me, this team means so much to me, and this university means so much to me. If it wasn’t just my sheer love of the game, it was all these other people that I wanted to go out and compete with and help be successful.”
Only Crist knows the agony that he had to endure to bounce back from not one but two knee injuries, and then hold off the challenge of sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees, who helped lead the Irish into post-season contention and a Sun Bowl victory over Miami.
“Sure, rehab is tough,” Crist said. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. There were some dark times. If you don’t love it, it’s pretty easy to quit and give in. That never really crossed my mind because of how much I love football and how much I love this university.”
Crist said he drew motivation from former Oklahoma quarterback Jason White, who also suffered two major knee injuries, only to come back and claim the 2003 Heisman Trophy.
“A close friend of mine texted me after I got hurt and reminded me of that, and he’s actually an Oklahoma fan,” Crist said. “Just hearing that and seeing evidence that it could be done was nice.
“I had a pretty strong internal motivation to get back. But seeing concrete examples of guys bouncing back and being successful was definitely a positive for me, and I think I needed that. More than anything, it was wanting to be back and with my teammates and just wishing that I could be competing with those guys.”
Since being named Notre Dame’s starting quarterback two weeks before the opener against South Florida, Crist has maintained his determination to improve and hold on to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
“The biggest thing is not showing any complacency,” Crist said. “I understand what it means and what a privilege it is to be the quarterback at Notre Dame. I also understand the expectations that are there and what needs to get done and the production level (necessary) every week. I’ve just been trying to improve every day and not just settle for what we’ve done and accomplished. I’m trying to get better and make this team as good as we can possibly be.”
Crist treated every practice since the first week of August as if his football career depended upon it, which, realistically, it did.
“I worked as hard as I possibly could and left the field with no regrets,” Crist said. “There wasn’t a day when I said, ‘Man, I wish I could have this day back.’ I understood how important each day in camp was. I knew that I couldn’t leave anything on the field. That’s got to be my mindset for as long as I’m here.”
Crist knows that if he impresses his harshest critic, he’ll provide his teammates with the leadership they need to be successful in 2011.
“I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone but myself,” Crist said. “I’m fortunate to be out there playing again, being with my best friends, and playing the game that I love.
“That’s the only thing that matters to me. I can speak for the whole team when I say we want nothing but success for this team, and we’ll do everything we can to compete for every minute of the game that we’re out there.”