NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly announced on Tuesday that his starting quarterback for the 2011 season will be senior Dayne Crist.
“Tomorrow we will start our preparation for South Florida,” began Kelly. “In that preparation we named a starting quarterback and that will Dayne Crist. He will start for us against the University of South Florida. Both of those young men, I mean Dayne and Tommy Rees, had a great battle for that starting position, but Dayne will be our starter. I expect him to be our starter for 13 weeks.”
Crist has been battling with sophomore Tommy Rees for the starting position so far this fall. Crist was the starter for the Irish at the beginning of last season as well, but gained his critics as the team got off to a slow start. Rees took over for an injured Crist – when he suffered a torn patella against Tulsa on Oct. 30 – and helped lead the Irish on a four-game winning streak to end the season.
“We’ve got great confidence (in him) to lead our football team to a championship,” said Kelly of Crist.
“When you talk about Dayne, you have to look at the entire year,” Kelly noted. “Let’s look at Dayne on a time line. Here’s a young man that overcame a serious knee injury to start the season. Then suffered another knee injury, which required incredible rehab. Had an infection that put him back even further. (He) Was able to get himself ready for the spring. Didn’t have a great spring, but fought through that as well. Then to have the kind of summer and preseason camp, I think puts it into perspective as to where Dayne Crist is now this year compared to last year.
“He is a much better football player. He is a much better quarterback. I would say quite frankly and honestly, he’s the kind of guy I want to coach.
“He’s tougher mentally. He handles himself in that leadership position the way I want our quarterbacks to handle it. I didn’t know Dayne very well last year. I can’t tell you that I felt the same way about him last year, but I do now.”
Kelly went on to discuss if he will have to take precautions with Crist to protect his knees, and whether the senior will still ‘cut it loose.’
“He has to....he can’t play any other way,” said Kelly. “He has to play the game the way it comes to him. One of the things that he did in camp was he showed great escapability. After two knee surgeries, he moved well. He was able to extend plays and that was obviously part of the overall decision making process.
“I think Tommy and Dayne have an offensive system in place that both can handle and extenuates what they do. So clearly, the offensive structure and system is more geared towards what they’re good at doing. They are both smart. They’re going to manage the game, and they’re going to execute.
“I don’t know that one does something better than the other, I think that’s why I’ve said all along, this is very difficult decision, and one that I’m excited to make because you know you’ve got two very good quarterbacks.”
Kelly also said that the decision was more about what he has come to know of Crist’s resolve and less about his physical abilities, which the coach said repeatedly were never in question.
“I think his development, overall, not just in accuracy, but just in his demeanor as a quarterback,” Kelly observed. “I haven’t focused on specifically, ‘listen, you have to be more accurate in those throws.’ This has been his development as a quarterback that I want to coach.
“I don’t know that it was specifically one day that we found how to communicate. I think it was Dayne’s development, and his maturity, and understanding of what my expectations are of him. I think a lot of that had to do with the mental toughness aspect of the position, and the leadership end of the position. I don’t think anybody would debate whether he has a strong enough arm, or the physical tools necessary to be a BCS quarterback. I think it was those other things.”
Kelly told both Crist and Rees of his decision in individual meetings on Monday.
“We just had one-on-one meetings,” he said. “I met we each one of them individually and discussed the decision. The guy that doesn’t get the starting nod is disappointed. (I) wouldn’t have wanted the response any other way.”
Kelly has been adamant about the progress of both quarterbacks throughout the fall, and is very pleased with Rees growth from last year.
“He had things that, as a true freshman, he had to get better at---- and he did,” said Kelly. “Tommy is a much better quarterback than he was last year. That’s why, although it was a difficult decision, its one I like to make when you have guys that are developing. They’re both getting better as quarterbacks.
“Tommy also knows what he’s capable of doing too.”
As far as the other 21 positions that make up a football team, Kelly highlighted the teams overall health and mental focus as positives coming out of fall camp.
“We feel really good about the health of our football team,” he said. “I think that’s every coach’s concern as they go through double-sessions and a number of practice opportunities. Obviously, Eilar Hardy is out for the season. Other than that, we do not have anybody that we will lose for the entire season.
“I think you look at where you team is at mentally. They have approached this season and preseason camp in a manner that I have been very pleased with because their focus has been outstanding. Now, as we move towards South Florida, we have our starting quarterback in place. We have the health of our football team, and I think we have a great mindset as we enter the 2011 football season.”
The coach also commented on other position battles that have been going on throughout the fall. Chris Watt and Andrew Nuss have been battling at left guard. Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese have been battling at the Will outside linebacker, as well as Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter at field safety.
“Chris Watt will start,” said Kelly. “Dan Fox will start at the Will (inside linebacker). Both of those guys are going to play. I think I’ve made that pretty clear, just like Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke (Motta). Jamoris is going to start, but that’s a fifty-fifty deal. It will be the same with Watt and Nuss, and it will be the same thing with Fox and Calabrese. I am very pleased that we have that kind of depth at those positions.”
Kelly also discussed Jonas Gray and his role in the running game this season.
“(He) and Cierre are obviously going to take a bulk of the work,” he said. “Cierre will be our starter. Jonas will play in times when we believe Cierre needs a blow. Cierre’s our featured guy, Jonas has a role. I think that role expands based upon his production. I think he’s going to have to take advantage of his opportunities when he gets them. I think that he gets more reps and more playing time as he produces.”
Kelly feels he and the coaching staff have answered a lot of the questions they had coming into this season. The focus now will be on training his players to execute, and gain the mental fortitude to withstand the long, demanding season ahead.
“It would be a pretty easy profession if they all were ready-made,” joked Kelly. “In most case you have to draw that out of the individual, and show them how it’s going to help them be a better football player. It’s a game of collisions. It’s a game, as I’ve said many times, of being hurt and being injured. Your going to get hurt in this game. All of those come to the kind of player we’re trying to develop. One that’s tough-minded and physical, and that takes time in developing in most young men.
“You get what you demand. If you demand toughness and you don’t get it, then that young man is going to know. I generally win when it comes to getting what I want.”
Being demanding of his players and winning are both traits that Kelly has been known for throughout his 29 years of coaching collegiate football. Notre Dame fans now look to see if he and Crist can lead the Irish back to prominence in 2011.