Dayne Crist’s dream since childhood was to play in the NFL, so the former Notre Dame quarterback wrestled with balancing reality with ambition during the lead-up to the 2013 draft.
“I was a late-round projection at best,” Crist said Tuesday from his Los Angeles office. “You kind of cynically play the game like, ‘Oh, you know. It’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen,’ to not get your hopes up. But at the same time, I mean, you’re really hoping your name gets called, and that’s everybody’s dream.”
Crist knew so many variables outside his control would ultimately decide his fate.
So from Dec. 1 – the day of his final collegiate game – to draft day in late April, Crist’s focus was on readying himself for any opportunity.
“Your agent is the number one guy that you need to secure. Because without him, none of the other stuff is an even important conversation,” said Crist. “Get into OTAs (off-season training sessions for NFL teams), get into camp. Sign your contract and then kind of get a sense of where you are.”
Crist picked Joe Linta, but not because he negotiated the richest contract in NFL history for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Instead, the former five-star standout from Sherman Oaks chose Linta because of his pedigree as a former coach and a student of the game.
“He wouldn’t sign a guy unless he had kind of watched film on them personally, which I thought was kind of cool, because it was very much kind of that player/coach relationship,” said Crist. “I loved that and (that) he was a straight shooter.”
Crist wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, but he didn’t lack opportunity to attract attention.
The quarterback, who played his final season at Kansas, impressed scouts enough at the Casino Del Sol Senior Bowl practices to earn an invitation to a second game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Los Angeles.
“It’s high stress, right? Because everyone’s trying to put on the best possible showing for all the scouts and teams that are there and GMs that are there,” he said. “But, at the same time, it was just so fun.”
Crist earned MVP honors in the NFLPA bowl after running for a touchdown and throwing for another in a 34-0 victory.
“I didn’t know if I was going to have another opportunity to put on pads and go play,” he said. “So, for me, I really treated this as my last opportunity to play football. It’s a really liberating feeling, just going out there and just enjoying that experience.”
Notre Dame had 10 players invited to the NFL Combine, but at least 17 former players with higher aspirations who participated in the school’s recent Pro Day evaluation. Players such as linebacker Jarrett Grace, wide receiver Amir Carlisle, safety Eilar Hardy, defensive end Ishaq Williams and quarterback Everett Golson are expected to be either taken late or go entirely undrafted during the three-day NFL event, April 28-30, in Chicago.
“My advice for those (late-round) guys that may never have an opportunity to play again, is absolutely enjoy every second,” he said. “There’s going to come a time when you just can’t do it anymore, and you’re going to really hope that you really had as much fun you possibly did.”
Crist added: “I can fondly look back and say, yeah, I had a blast during that period, and I was lucky that someone set parameters for me and told me to do that going in, because it would be a lot harder as far as the transition is concerned to kind of walk away without having that full closure.”
The former quarterback also suggests that late-round or undrafted guys take all feedback with a grain of salt.
“There’s just so many moving parts, so I don’t think that any of the conversations or suggestions of me being taken were done with any form of like malice or intentional deception,” he said. “A lot of teams will tell you, ‘Look, this is what we have in mind going into the draft,’ but anybody that watching the draft knows how much that changes on a pick-to-pick basis.”
This is where an aggressive, talented agent can be indispensable.
Crist estimates there was nine teams that “had really solid interest” in offering him a rookie minicamp invite and a chance at a roster spot. Within 10 minutes of the draft closing, he had accepted an offer from the Kansas City Chiefs.
While the Chiefs didn’t work out, Crist played with the Ravens on and off for about four months before the start of the 2013 NFL season.
“Again, it’s about controlling what you can control,” he said. “I could control the reps that I got in camp, the reps that I got in OTAs, how I prepared, how I took care of my body, so for me it was just doing the same things that I had always done, and not really reading too much into, ‘Oh, I only got … I got eight reps all practice.’ You can’t think about those things, because you’ll drive yourself nuts.”
Crist had gotten his shot at the NFL. And when it didn’t result in a steady job, he held no regrets.
“I was excited about what was going on in my life personally with my fiancée, Hilary,” said Crist, who is getting married May 21 at Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart. “I was excited about being able to kind of walk away from the game on my own terms and pursue my professional passions, and put the Notre Dame degree to work and really kind of enjoy and experience a different side of life, that I just hadn’t had the opportunity to enjoy before.”