10 things to know about JT Daniels, Georgia's possible starting quarterback in 2020
Jamie Newman’s decision to opt out and prepare for the NFL Draft shook up the quarterback room at Georgia. Then again, uncertainty in the quarterback room isn’t new in Athens, either.
And now JT Daniels or D’Wan Mathis will battle to get the nod on Sept. 26 at Arkansas. Daniels has the edge due to his experience, but that might depend on his continued recovery from an ACL tear a year ago. He reportedly has been practicing but has yet to be cleared for contact.
Here are 10 things you should know about JT Daniels:
1. He’s a former 5-star recruit from one of the top high school programs in the country
Daniels attended Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, home to one of the top high school football programs in the United States. He shot up the recruiting rankings as a sophomore, throwing for 4,849 yards and an eye-popping 67 touchdowns. He followed that up with a 4,123-yard and 52-touchdown season as a junior in 2017 while recording 63 carries for 561 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground.
He was ranked by 247Sports as the No. 2 player in the state of California, the No. 2 pro-style quarterback nationally and the No. 16 overall player in his class.
If Mater Dei sounds familiar, it should. Alabama signee Bryce Young, the No. 1 QB recruit in the 2020 class, also is an alum.
If 5-star QBs in Athens sound familiar, it should, too. Daniels is the 3rd to join Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs. Jacob Eason was the first in 2016, followed by Justin Fields in 2018. And Georgia has another 5-star committed for 2021: Brock Vandagriff.
2. Daniels’ first career start in high school was a good one
Daniels was a freshman backup to incumbent starter Matt McDonald in 2015. But an injury to McDonald in the season opener opened the door for Daniels.
He didn’t disappoint. In his first start in the season’s 2nd week against La Mirada, all Daniels did was throw a total of 6 touchdowns in a 42-7 win over La Mirada. All told, he threw for 6 or more touchdowns a total of 8 times during his career, including a 7-score performance in a 62-14 rout of Santa Margarita in 2016.
3. Mater Dei went wire-to-wire during Daniels’ final season
Mater Dei was pretty good before, during, and after Daniels’ tenure. How good, you ask? The Monarchs ran the table in 2017, going 15-0 and navigating through the campaign without trailing.
In fact, after losing 3 times as a freshman, Daniels and Mater Dei went a combined 28-1 over his final 2 years there, finishing as the national champion in 2017 based on media polls.
4. Daniels’ alma mater is something of a quarterback factory
We already mentioned Bryce Young, the latest prospect. Perhaps you’ve heard of a few of the trend-setters. Matt Leinart, a 2001 graduate, went on to win the Heisman Trophy and a national championship as a junior at USC in 2004. Colt Brennan, Leinart’s former backup, ended up having a successful college career of his own at Hawaii, one that ended with several FBS records.
There’s also Matt Barkley, a former Gatorade National Player of the Year who threw for over 12,000 yards and 116 touchdowns at USC; the colorful but skilled Todd Marinovich; and John Huarte, a Heisman winner at Notre Dame in 1964.
5. Football is in Daniels’ genes
Daniels, judging by interviews, practically ate, slept and dreamed about football throughout his preteen and high school years. But his father, Steve, spent some time around the game himself growing up.
Steve Daniels is a former high school linebacker and quarterback, his most success coming during a senior season that saw him named an all-state honorable mention pick at the end of the year.
6. He apparently explored Buddhist teachings to better himself as a quarterback
You don’t normally hear of high schoolers studying Buddhism to become better football players. But that’s exactly what Daniels did. According to an interview with The Ringer, the teaching he utilized the most was nonattachment.
“Much of his worldview ‘align with’ the religion’s tenets,” wrote Mike Pielucci. “Exploring Buddhism has taught him to divorce success from arbitrary endpoints.”
7. He got a head start on his college career
While he had a year to go in high school, Daniels didn’t wait long to begin his college career. After completing his coursework at Mater Dei early, he enrolled at USC in the summer of 2018 after reclassifying for recruiting purposes. By then, though, he’d more than proven himself athletically.
Daniels’ father “(swore) their decision was made before Sam Darnold announced he was leaving USC early for the NFL, opening up the starting quarterback job,” wrote the LA Times’ J. Brady McCullough.
8. It certainly isn’t his first rodeo
After Darnold declared early for the NFL Draft following his redshirt sophomore season, USC coach Clay Helton wasn’t afraid to turn to the incoming freshman from Irvine, Calif., in 2018. And while Daniels’ touchdown-to-interception ratio — 14 scores to 10 picks — could have been better, he enjoyed a strong campaign, completing 59.5% of his 363 passes that season for 2,672 yards.
Even if Daniels were to have been beaten by Newman for the starting job, Kirby Smart could take comfort in the fact that he had an experienced backup to turn to if the situation called for it.
9. His game against Notre Dame in 2018 was his best yet
While the Jeweled Shillelagh went to Notre Dame in 2018 during its rivalry game against USC, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying on Daniels’ part. He played what turned out to be his best game in a Trojans uniform, going 37-for-51 with 349 yards and a touchdown.
It was Daniels’ 3rd game over 300 yards, and the second of back-to-back games during which he achieved the feat.
10. What’s he going to do about that tattoo, though?
Daniels has a very noticeable tattoo on his left thigh. And by very noticeable, I mean that it’s extremely hard to miss from basically any distance.
No word on how Daniels plans on covering up the tattoo now that he’s in Athens — or, at least, getting himself a bulldog tattoo on the other leg.