Given what Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa did in the national title game, it’s worth wondering who could be the next true freshman quarterback to take the nation by storm. J.T. Daniels would be the safest bet.
Daniels is going to be a star, there’s almost no question about that. The future USC quarterback has every trait evaluators look for in a great signal-caller. In case you weren’t aware, the junior quarterback has opted to skip his senior season at Southern California football factory Santa Ana Mater Dei, and enroll at USC this Fall (both Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley also attended Mater Dei).
Daniels will take an enormous class load this spring to get qualified and be set for fall camp, where he’ll be thrust into an immediate position battle. With Sam Darnold jumping to the NFL, the Trojans will be looking for his replacement. Their soon-to-be freshman has a great chance at winning the job.
In his three prep seasons, Daniels threw for 12,014 yards, with 152 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. He started as a freshman at Mater Dei and kept his spot over the next two years. The Monarchs play in the Trinity League, which is widely considered the top high school football conference in America. All Daniels did was completely dominate that league for three years.
As a junior, Daniels led the Monarchs to a 15-0 record, a state title and the No. 1 ranking in the nation, all while being named Gatorade National Player of the Year. During his final prep campaign he threw for 4,123 yards and 52 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He added 556 yards and nine touchdowns on 63 rushes.
Daniels had nothing left to prove at the high school level and felt it was time to move on to the next level. He’ll turn 18 before he lands on USC’s campus and when you hear him interviewed, it’s obvious he has the maturity of a college kid.
Daniels was going to be the top quarterback in the 2019 recruiting class, and after dominating U.S. Army Bowl practices last week it’s clear he’s as good as anyone in the 2018 class. He was the best player during those practices, and regularly hooked up with high school teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown. St. Brown is one of the nation’s top wideouts and will be joining Daniels at USC this fall.
At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Daniels has the necessary size for the position. He also has the arm and accuracy to make all the throws at the next level, while possessing enough mobility and pocket recognition to make plays with his feet and extend plays. But where Daniels separates himself is with intangibles and his ability to break down defenses at the line and during plays. The kid just sees the game on another level and has been prepped for college by running a complex offense at Mater Dei under long-time head coach Bruce Rollinson.
Coming out of high school, Fromm had the kind of football IQ Daniels possesses. He was able to step in for Georgia when starter Jacob Eason suffered an injury because of his mental acuity under center. Yes, Fromm had a stellar offensive line and running game to rely on, but he was also able to limit mistakes and read defenses like a savvy veteran.
Tagovailoa is just a straight-up playmaker. A Hawaiian prep legend, he stepped into the spotlight during the national title game and went out and won it for the Crimson Tide. He’s a smart player as well, but his ability to escape pressure and throw into tight windows is what makes him special.
Daniels has the same kind of smarts Fromm does, while he can also move in the pocket and make plays when things break down. He doesn’t have Tagovailoa’s physical gifts, but he can use his feet to his advantage. It’s those next-level traits that could make him USC’s starter next season.
Make no mistake, there isn’t a clear path to the Trojans’ starting quarterback position. Daniels will have to battle redshirt sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears for the job. Both guys have been in USC’s system and are ready to contribute. But Daniels is well positioned to take the job.
If you’re looking across the college football landscape for a quarterback who could make a big impact as a true freshman, there’s no better candidate than Daniels.