- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 23, 2011

SOUTH BEND, IND. (AP) - Dayne Crist has regained his role as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, surviving a second knee surgery, arduous rehab and a strong challenge from teammate Tommy Rees during a close a competition for one of college football’s marquee positions.

“Obviously incredibly happy to be named the starter, incredibly relieved,” Crist said Tuesday, a day after coach Brian Kelly broke the news to him and Rees.

“I can honestly say I think I’ve overcome a lot since I’ve been here,” Crist said. “One thing I think he (Kelly) knows about me is that I’m a fighter.”

Kelly pointed to Crist’s maturation, ability to navigate through two knee surgeries over the last two years and his overall improvement as a player. He said he expects Crist to be the starter for all 13 games beginning with the Sept. 3 opener against South Florida.

And then Kelly put a little more pressure on Crist, too, in a year where the 16th-ranked Irish are in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since early November 2009.

“We have great confidence in his ability to lead our football team to a championship,” Kelly said.

Crist didn’t play as a freshman in 2008 and then tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the 2009 season as a backup. He made it back through rehab, was able to practice in Kelly’s first spring a year ago and emerged _ as expected _ as the No. 1 quarterback.

Then, last Oct. 30 against Tulsa, Crist suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee, creating a here-we-go-again scenario for a quarterback who had made great strides in Kelly’s new spread offense but was still trying to learn its intricacies and avoid mistakes.

“Here’s a young man that overcame a serious knee injury to start the season and then suffered another knee injury, a severe knee injury which required incredible rehab, had an infection that put him back ever further,” Kelly said.

Crist acknowledged that watching from the sidelines last year after another injury was stressful.

“One of the most difficult times I’ve had to deal with,” he said. But he added his family and friends kept his spirits up and told him nothing worth doing is easy.

Crist didn’t have a great spring practice but improved during summer workouts and then again in preseason camp.

“He is a much better football player, he is a much better quarterback. And I would say quite frankly and honestly, he’s the kind of guy I want to coach,” Kelly added.

“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.”

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Crist has a stronger arm, but the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Rees has a nice touch and a quick release. The two quickly emerged as the favorites over Andrew Hendrix and freshman Everett Golson.

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