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.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.