JT Daniels is a remarkable talent. That much has been clear for years. JT Daniels is also the best quarterback at USC. That much has been clear for weeks.
On Sunday everything became official, as Clay Helton named the true freshman his starting signal-caller for 2018.
Daniels has made an incredible ascent to earn the starting job, but no one in the history of USC has been better prepared to do what he’s about to.
Daniels dominated high school football at the highest level for years. He took over the starting quarterback job as a freshman at Southern California powerhouse Mater Dei and never looked back. He dominated the Trinity League — one of the best conferences in the country — for three seasons, racking up a ridiculous completion percentage of 68.2, with 12,014 yards and 152 touchdowns against just 14 interceptions.
Daniels led the Monarchs to a national title in 2017 and became the first junior to be named Gatorade Male Athlete of the Year. That came after throwing for 4,123 yards and an insane 52 touchdowns. At that point, Daniels decided he had accomplished everything he could at the high school level.
With prototypical size and arm strength, plus incredible accuracy and touch, it wasn’t a question of “if” Daniels would become USC’s starting quarterback, but how soon it would happen.
Last fall whispers spread that Daniels was considering taking an enormous class load in the second semester to skip his senior year and enroll at USC. Finally in December it became official.
The problem for Daniels was that due to his course load at Mater Dei, he wouldn’t be able to enroll until late in the summer. While most of his teammates would be on campus in the spring or enrolling as early as they wanted after, he would be a late arrival.
No matter, he outplayed everyone else and earned the right to replace Sam Darnold.
Both Matt Fink and Jack Sears had a serious head start on Daniels. Both are excellent quarterbacks in their own right. And both could likely start for most other schools nationally. They just happened to run into a special talent, with a special ability between the lines.
Daniels didn’t just outperform Fink and Sears, he outperformed most of the players on USC’s roster. He was one of the stars of camp and it was obvious to anyone who visited a Trojan practice that Helton had to hand him the ball. He was far too good to sit.
When he takes the field against UNLV this Saturday, Daniels will become just the fourth true freshman to start a game under center for USC. The previous three — Rob Johnson, Carson Palmer and Matt Barkley — all had incredible college careers and wound up in the NFL. They all, like Daniels, also hailed for Orange County.
The expectations for the new quarterback at USC are no less lofty. Yes he will struggle at times as he adjusts to a new level of football. Heck, he was supposed to be suiting up against La Mirada this weekend, not leading the Trojans out of the tunnel at the Coliseum. That said, at 6’3″ and 210 pounds, he’s physically ready for this. And, frankly, he’s been mentally ready for years.
Daniels earned this. He stepped on campus at USC ready to be the next Trojan quarterback and worked tirelessly to make it happened. Something few thought possible a year ago has come to pass.
The JT Daniels era has begun in college football and you should definitely be tuned in.