ALISO VIEJO, Calif. -- The perfectly manicured grounds of Soka University in Orange County are 2,100 miles away from South Bend, Ind., but on Monday night this place seemed to be glowing with such Notre Dame luster it would've made any Domer a little teary-eyed.
Right in the heart of USC Trojan country, at the end of the first day of the EA Sports Elite 11 QB camp, Notre Dame's past and its future were firing passes at stationary targets in an impromptu quarterback competition as 17-year-old Dayne Crist (Scouts, Inc. No. 3 quarterback, No. 14 overall), Charlie Weis' latest recruiting coup, just so happened to be following up one of the older gunslingers, Irish legend Joe Montana, who was visiting the camp with his wife and son, Nicholas, a promising sophomore quarterback from the Bay Area.
Crist didn't appear too flustered by the moment, although it was obvious he knew he was following up arguably the greatest QB to ever get behind center. Then again, the dimple-cheeked Crist doesn't seem to get intimidated by much. In fact, the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder from Southern California shocked a lot of folks -- especially here on the West Coast -- when he committed to the Irish in April, picking ND over LSU and USC, the team he grew up supporting.
It was a pretty bold move considering just last season Notre Dame signed another decorated California QB, Jimmy Clausen, who is now in a three-man race for the Irish starting job and a guy who some have touted as the top quarterback prospect to come into college in the last decade.
Heck, Clausen's personal QB coach, Steve Clarkson, once touted him as the "LeBron James of high school football." What makes this situation even more interesting is that Clarkson also happens to be Crist's private QB coach. Crist had been working with Clarkson since he was 11 and has had many sessions alongside Clausen. The two QBs even went to the same middle school and Crist says they are "pretty good friends."
"Most people might think Jimmy would be a guy discouraging me," Crist said, "but he was like 'Come visit. You're really gonna like it. It'll be fun.' And he was a big recruiter. It's probably totally opposite of what most people would think, but I stayed with him at his house up there and he talked to me about recruiting in general."
Crist and his teammate at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, linebacker Anthony McDonald (son of a former USC linebacker Mike), were so impressed by their visit to South Bend in April they wanted to commit right on the spot. McDonald actually did, but Crist's dad convinced him to take a week and give it more thought. The younger Crist did that, but still was convinced that ND is the ideal place for him.
He admits it was quite a change since he had visited LSU earlier in the offseason and really loved it there, but Weis' pitch ultimately won him over.
"His big selling point was his quarterback development and his tutelage of Tom Brady and Brady Quinn," Crist said of Weis. "Just being able to work with a guy like that drew me to Notre Dame. He said there is no one who is gonna make you a better player than I can. He was so confident.
"And, as coach Weis said, verbatim, 'I'm in love with nobody but my wife,' meaning there's always gonna be a chance. The best player is gonna play, and that was something that really stuck with me."
It didn't take being around Crist very long to get the sense he can't wait for the competition. Among all of the nation's top prep quarterbacks assembled in California this week, Crist more than looks the part. The ball zips out of his hand. His throws seem effortless. He moves well. He also has a presence. Everyone who talks to him raves about how sharp he is. He also doesn't appear to have any trace of ego or an over-inflated sense of entitlement. His high school coach, Kevin Rooney, says he knew from the time Crist was a sophomore that the QB had the makings of a blue-chipper. His high school's star QB at the time, Garrett Green (now a USC Trojan), got injured and was sidelined for three games. Crist calmly filled in and the team won all three.
"You could tell he had the poise and confidence to go a long way," Rooney said. "He really handled it well."
Rooney says he was surprised Crist chose the Irish over USC because he knew how much of a Trojan fan the kid was. He also knew that Clausen was being hailed as the Irish's newest hero. "But then [Dayne] explained his perspective on it to me and it sounded reasonable," Rooney said.
Crist still gets text messages from LSU, but says he's 100 percent set on going to Notre Dame.
"I am really comfortable with the situation," he said. "And really it doesn't matter when I play, but more that when I play, I wanna play great. And I wanna be as developed and prepared as I can be, so if that takes a couple of months or a couple of years I'll be happy."
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Meat Market: A Season Inside College Football's No. 1 Recruiting Machine," is on sale now.