LAWRENCE — Dayne Crist took the field at practice with a play in mind, then at the last second had to change his plan. He called an audible the team had heard but never practiced.
Crist and coach Charlie Weis crafted the play three years ago and had not touched it since, but Weis recognized it almost immediately. The play resulted in a 30-yard run down the left side, the kind of success that surprised everyone but Weis.
The Jayhawks’ new coach called that kind of play an “’Atta boy.” When it works out, Crist gets praised. When it doesn’t, Weis asks, “What are you doing?” The fact that Crist even has the gumption to call such a play is what makes Weis beam whenever he talks about him.
“I’m flattered that I have the ability to have an arsenal,” Crist said, “but I think it goes back to the relationship that we have with each other.”
Weis recruited Crist to Notre Dame, and the oft-described quarterback guru mentored him for two years. But Weis was fired and things soured quickly for Crist under a new coaching regime, and he began to look elsewhere to play.
After two season-ending knee injuries at Notre Dame, Crist decided to follow Weis to Kansas, where they’re hoping to rebuild a program not long removed from the Orange Bowl, but more recently has been of the 2-10, bottom-of-the-Big 12 variety.
Both of them will get their first chance to show whether progress has been made on Saturday night against South Dakota State.
Weis has no doubt that Crist is the man for the job. He talks about his leadership ability and raw talent, not to mention the convenience of someone who knows his system.
“Great quarterback, great leadership,” said sophomore running back Tony Pierson, who is expected to start behind Crist on Saturday. “He brings experience.”
Pierson is just one of the many options Crist will have on offense, including a couple who are familiar. Tight end Mike Ragone, his former teammate at Notre Dame, took advantage of the same fifth-year transfer rule to enroll at Kansas and join the program immediately.
Crist had little trouble connecting with the rest of his teammates, the holdovers from last year and the freshman class that Weis had to pull together in short order after Turner Gill was fired. That was evident when Crist was voted captain despite only being with the team for a semester.
“It was a great honor and it’s very flattering that my teammates felt that way, but at the same time it is a great deal of responsibility and it’s something that I really want to relish,” Crist said. “I want to serve this team and do everything I can for this team.”
This season does not come without pressure. Crist has yet to finish a collegiate season without an injury, and after graduating in December with a degree in management-consulting, this season represents what could be the lasting memory of his college experience.
“This being my last year, no matter what, I think that you’ve got a different sense of urgency,” Crist said. “You realize that this is all you have left. You cherish this time.”
Weis has likened his connection with Crist to that of his own son, and his dedication to Crist’s success is telling of their relationship. Weis wants the Jayhawks to be successful not only for the school or himself, but also for his quarterback.
“This could be a wonderful story and I’d like to be writing it,” Weis said. “I’m a very, very big fan of the young man.”