One by one, they walked into Mrkonic Auditorium looking the part of proud, polished, prepared college football players.
In some ways they were newcomers to the Kansas University football program, names we’ve heard but skills we have yet to see. In other ways, they served as the new face for a program that spent the past two seasons desperately seeking an identity.
Whatever the case, it was clear that transfers Dayne Crist, Jake Heaps and Justin McCay, each of whom was introduced to the media at a news conference on Monday, were here for one reason — they believe in Kansas football and head coach Charlie Weis.
“None of us expected to be sitting here today in Kansas when we had all committed to different places,” said Heaps, a quarterback from BYU who will be eligible as a junior beginning in 2013. “You don’t go in expecting that it’s not going to work out. But at the end of the day, things happen for a reason. We’re all here and excited. In our minds, we couldn’t be in a better situation than with coach Weis and the rest of the staff.”
Each player chose to come to Kansas for a different reason. For Crist, a former Notre Dame quarterback who was recruited to South Bend, Ind., by Weis, the opportunity to play at KU represented one more shot to live up to the five-star billing he had in high school. It also offered one more opportunity to play for the man he believed could help him get to the NFL. That’s still the goal for Crist, a senior who has one season of eligibility remaining and likely will start the 2012 season at quarterback. But that’s far from the first thing on his mind.
“I’m a team guy first, that’s always going to be my M.O.,” Crist said. “I want nothing more than for this team to be successful.”
With Weis sitting in a wooden chair about a dozen feet away, Crist, Heaps and McCay took turns answering questions from reporters covering everything from why they chose KU and what they were most excited about, to their personal backgrounds. Their chemistry was evident. Although the trio has yet to play a down together, it was clear through their smiles, comfort and playful banter that they were ready to lead together.
“We haven’t practiced yet,” McCay said. “But Jake was my quarterback at the Army (high school all-star) game, and Dayne is my roommate now so we can get real familiar with each other pretty quickly. I like that.”
McCay, a wide receiver from Bishop Miege High who left Oklahoma with a hardship waiver, is still waiting word on his eligibility. There’s a chance he’ll be able to play right away and not have to sit out a season. Either way, McCay said he was happy to be at KU, a school he’s known about since his days playing youth football, a school he briefly visited as a senior at Miege.
“I wouldn’t call it a second chance, but more of an opportunity,” he said of coming to Kansas. “We all wanted the same thing. We probably didn’t talk to each other, but we knew what we wanted and why we came here. They have great coaches, as in coach Weis. We all know what he does and what we can do to try to help Kansas football.”
While McCay’s words spoke for all three players, he was off on one thing: Crist and Heaps actually spent a substantial amount of time talking about the idea of coming to KU together. No conversation they had was more entertaining than the one that took place on Dec. 22, when the two QBs committed to KU within a couple of hours of each other. At the time, many KU fans called it the biggest recruiting day in program history. They weren’t the only ones excited.
“When I knew that this was where I wanted to be and where my heart was, after calling coach Weis and some of the other coaches, (Heaps) was the next guy that I called,” Crist said. “I said, ‘Hey man, I committed. What are you waiting for?’ I put a little pressure on him. It was nice, though. It was an exciting day for both of us. I know what it was like for me, and I can only imagine what it was like for Jake, his wife and his whole family. It was something that I will always remember.”