SAN ANTONIO — Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) quarterback J.T. Daniels couldn’t contain himself and had to stand up on a chair and cheer.
Daniels was responding to a push ups contest at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but it just as easily could be the reaction to Southern Cal quarterback Sam Darnold’s decision Wednesday to enter the NFL draft a year early.
Daniels surprised a lot of people by announcing Dec. 22, via a tweet, that he was reclassifying from a 2019 graduate to a 2018, but Darnold’s departure makes it easier for Daniels to compete for the Trojans’ starting job next fall.
“USC is my favorite school,” Daniels said. “Sam Darnold’s leaving or staying didn’t affect my choice. If he stays, I can learn the system behind him. If he goes, I can compete for it.”
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Daniels, an American Family Insurance ALL-USA selection, led Mater Dei to a state title and the No. 1 spot in the Super 25 high school football rankings this season, completing 262 of 365 passes for 4,213 yards and 52 touchdowns.
To start next season, he’ll have to beat out sophomore Matt Fink, who only threw nine passes this season and Jack Sears, who didn’t attempt a pass. It won’t be as easy as it sounds because, despite earlier reports, Daniels isn’t enrolling at USC until this summer.
“I just have to get the right amount of credits in,” Daniels said. “This next semester, I just have to take a lot of classes. I’m doing as much as I can legally to learn the (USC) system until then.”
While at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Daniels is hoping to swing a few of the uncommitted players here toward Southern Cal, including Mater Dei receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, another ALL-USA selection.
“As the quarterback in the recruiting class, I have to lead the charge as much as I can,” Daniels said. “It’s on me to reach out to a lot of these guys. I have talked to Jaylen Waddle (a wide receiver from Episcopal High in Bellaire, Texas) out here and Amon a lot. Any one else that’s uncommitted that I feel is a good fit for USC, I’m talking to.”