Just seven months ago, JT Daniels was a junior taking 10 classes– four more than the norm of a student at Mater Dei– thinking of what the future holds.
Now, as the summer turns to July and quickly rolls into yet another academic year, his path takes him on the two hour trip north to USC after reclassifying to graduate a year early. However, before competing for the opportunity to play quarterback for the Trojans, Daniels stands in an off shoot room at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey, answering questions about the upcoming Gatorade Player of the Year Award ceremony.
“It would be a huge honor,” Daniels says about the possibility of joining the likes of fellow Mater Dei alum– and USC quarterback– Matt Barkley as the Male Athlete of the Year. “I would be so grateful for it but really, it’s just an honor to be here in general and be able to experience this week with such great people.”
Career highlights! @paul_habeeb https://t.co/N6mUP5NHmc pic.twitter.com/WwFLy5D807
— JT Daniels (@jtdaniels06) June 5, 2018
Daniels has already been named the National Football Player of the Year after leading Mater Dei’s aerial attack with 4,123 yards, 52 TDs and only 4 INTs last season. During his three years at the helm in Santa Ana, the 6-foot-1 slinger threw for 12,014 yards, 152 TDs and a mere 14 picks. He did all this while attending one of the most prestigious high schools in southern California.
“Mater Dei is elite in athletics, academics, community service, all across the board. When you’re used to that type of competition, that type of schedule, demanding lifestyle, I think that will directly impact me,” Daniels said without hesitation. “I’ve noticed it so far at USC. It’s a really demanding schedule even though it’s summer. You still have summer school and football— that’s pretty much all around the clock. It’s not hitting me like it would hit someone that isn’t used to the same schedule.”
Managing the rigorous school schedule provided challenges off the field, but Daniels was able to compile those video game-like statistics playing against some of the toughest competition in the country– something he wouldn’t trade for the world.
“If you watch the Army Game, the dudes that consistently do the best are the guys that consistently play against elite level high school competition because we’re used to it,” Daniels said. “The guys that don’t play against high level competition their whole lives when they go against 11 D-I athletes on both sides of the ball, it’s like hitting a wall. When Mater Dei plays Bosco, there’s 22 D-I players on the field at all time.”
Daniels final game against Bosco and those 11 D-I players he faced? He threw for five touchdowns and led Mater Dei to its first CIF-SS title since 1999.
With Daniels names now forever linked with former USC quarterback Max Browne and NFL Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Emmitt Smith as winners of the National Football Player of the Year award and a chance to take home the higher title of Male Athlete of the Year, like NBA stars LeBron James and Karl-Anthony Towns did in years before, the 18-year-old making his next move in life looking back at what was acts exactly like that: an 18-year-old.
“Those are all my best friends,” Daniels says of his Mater Dei teammates who will look to defend their CIF-SS title with a new face behind center for the first time in three years. “We still text and snapchat everyday. Anytime somebody is out here, it’s like a whole team get together. It’s just that brotherhood and bond that I think I’ll miss the most.”