South Florida v Notre Dame

Crist moving on to Kansas, but forever a Notre Dame man

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There was no hat picking or press conference. The process was condensed into three short weeks, a far cry from the recruitment of one of the nation’s top prospects back when he was a highly-touted prep quarterback in Sherman Oaks, California with offers to play football from just about every major program in the country. But after some soul searching and discussion with his family, Dayne Crist announced he’ll spend his final year of collegiate eligibility with the man he originally entrusted with his football career.

Crist took to Twitter Thursday afternoon to announce he’ll be rejoining Charlie Weis at Kansas, all but assured a starting job for one season and the ability to reclaim a career that seemed destined for the NFL when he walked onto Notre Dame’s campus four years ago.

“After a long and difficult decision making process, I’m incredibly excited to join the Kansas football team. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!” Crist announced.

There’s been thousands of words dedicated to the star-crossed career Crist has had so far. After following in the footsteps of fellow Californian Jimmy Clausen, Crist was a good soldier, waiting his turn to run Weis’ pro-style offensive attack, even filling in admirably during Clausen’s junior season when he injured his foot. But during mop-up time in the Irish’s blow-out victory over Washington State, Crist scrambled and injured his knee on a fluke play, tearing his ACL and suffering the first of two injuries that would take his career off course. The second came nine games into Crist’s first season as the starting quarterback, rupturing his patella tendon against Tulsa and handing the offense over to freshman Tommy Rees.

Crist’s career at Notre Dame will never be remembered for his achievements on the field. Crist’s last meaningful snaps as a starting quarterback came against South Florida, with the Irish offense stuck in neutral and scoreless, down 16 points at halftime. Crist was replaced by Tommy Rees and never reclaimed the starting job. He had one last shot at redemption against USC, but Crist’s impressive drive down the field against the Trojans defense ended when he fumbled a snap under center, which was recovered and returned for a back-breaking touchdown by USC safety Jawanza Starling.

Interestingly enough, Crist’s detour from South Bend to Lawrence, Kansas will be a more straight-forward route than his former coach’s, who after being fired from Notre Dame left to coordinate the Kansas City Chiefs offense before heading to the Florida Gators to run Will Muschamp’s offense. The season in Gainesville took some shine off Weis’ resume, but it also opened up the opportunity for Weis and Crist to reunite.

Crist’s modest career numbers might not endear him to the Notre Dame faithful, but his ability to handle the adversity in his career should be embraced by all. Crist kept the frustration he had after losing his job private, and continued being the team leader the Irish needed even after losing his job, mentoring Rees and Andrew Hendrix even with the writing on the wall that his opportunities at Notre Dame were over.

In a wonderful interview with The Observer’s Douglas Farmer, Crist talked about the challenges of this season and the career he’s had for the Irish.

“Listen, no one wanted to be successful at Notre Dame more than I did,” Crist told The Observer. “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.”

Instead, Crist spent Monday walking around campus, soaking in the familiar sights and sounds one last time before moving forward with the job ahead. The football program at Notre Dame has ground up and spit out many players and coaches that didn’t reach the success expected from them by a demanding fan base, but to Crist’s credit, he’s been able to separate the experience he’s had off the field from the misfortune he’s had on it.

“It was sad driving away, but I knew it wasn’t a goodbye forever thing,” Crist told The Observer. “I knew I’d be back, hopefully doing the same walk 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.”

Crist will finalize that status in May, when he returns to campus to walk with his graduating class. An accomplishment all the more impressive when you consider the road he traveled to get there.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.