SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist doesn't want to let his teammates down.
That's what he's thinking every night when he opens his playbook to study. It's what he's thinking when he works to rehab the anterior cruciate ligament he tore in his right knee against Washington State last Halloween. It's what he's thinking when coaches are yelling at him at spring practices.
Crist knows the success of the spread offense new coach Brian Kelly is installing depends on how much the quarterback can handle. And he knows the Irish are counting on him to master it.
"Some people see it as a challenge. I try to embrace it. I like having that control," said Crist, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound sophomore. "But it's definitely pressure on me to make sure I'm studying as hard as I can and putting in more hours than anybody else. Because at the end of the day if I'm not doing that, then I'm letting the rest of my teammates down. That's something I'm never going to do."
Crist, who has three years of eligibility left, is trying to walk a fine line during spring practice. He's trying to be a leader while not acting as if he is the heir apparent to NFL-bound Jimmy Clausen.
Kelly wants to push competition at every position and is doing his best to make it look like the quarterback job is up for grabs. Kelly was critical of Crist after practice on Wednesday, saying he has sloppy fundamentals and needs to work on his footwork and in finding his receivers.
Yet Kelly has also said that Crist has many of the intangible qualities coaches want in a quarterback: intelligence, leadership and charisma, though it takes more than that to with championships.
"You've got to be able to produce on the field. You've got to be able to get your players around you to obviously make plays. So he's got a lot of work to do," Kelly said.
Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said it's hard to fully evaluate Crist because he is limited by what he can do as he recovers from his knee surgery. Crist can run, but not at full speed and isn't being hit during spring practice.
"We'd like to see our quarterback run more and he really can't. I'd like to see him involved in some contact drills," Molnar said. "It certainly makes it difficult to see where he's at."
Teammates say Crist, who was credited with helping to keep together his recruiting class when the Irish went 3-9, has taken on a bigger leadership role.
"He's stepped up calling meetings or out on the field being vocal. He's got control of the total offense. I like how he's stepped up and been a vocal leader," tackle Matt Romine said. "He's the starting quarterback so you've got to recognize him as the guy to go to."
Crist is confident in his ability. He was a five-star recruit coming out of Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and committed to Notre Dame knowing he might be playing behind Clausen for three seasons, but has been working to be the starter since he arrived.
He knows he still has a lot to learn, and not a lot of time to do it.
"As frustrating as it gets at times, I know it's a process and there's more to come," Crist said. "I've just got to keep working and getting better."
Notre Dame doesn't have many options. Kelly doesn't have a depth chart, but the quarterback running No. 2 right now is walk-on Nate Montana, son of former Irish standout Joe Montana. Montana was a reserve quarterback in high school and had unspectacular statistics playing backup last season at Pasadena City (Calif.) College, completing 31-of-88 passes with five interceptions and two touchdowns.
Next is freshman Tommy Rees, one of five early enrollees Kelly describes as "drinking out of a fire hose right now" as the try to learn everything. Two more freshmen, Andrew Hendrix and Luka Massa, will arrive this summer.
The Irish haven't had a lot of luck with freshmen quarterbacks, going 3-9 behind Clausen in 2007 and 5-7 behind Brady Quinn in 2003.
So Crist, who played in four games last season, completing 10 of 20 passes with one interception and one touchdown, appears to be the likely starter. Still, he isn't taking anything for granted.
"I would never come in and just expect something to just be handed to me. That's never been my style," crist said. "I'm not big on sense of entitlement."