USC will finally have Sam Darnold’s successor next Wednesday when JT Daniels officially signs with the Trojans. The decorated Mater Dei quarterback and reigning state champion recently announced on Twitter that he will forego his senior year of high school to enroll at USC a year early.
Daniels is the next name in a growing list of Mater Dei High School quarterbacks to play for USC including Matt Leinart (2001-2005), as well as Matt Barkley (2009-2012), both of whom enjoyed tremendous amounts of success as Trojans before moving to the NFL.
In high school, Daniels quickly established himself as a skilled passer, throwing for over 3,000 yards as a freshman, but his production as a sophomore vaulted him into the conversation as one of the best young quarterbacks in the country. That year, he recorded over 4,800 yards and 67 touchdowns while completing an astounding 74% of his passes.
In the following year, Daniels maintained elite numbers through the air (over 4,100 yards, 52 TDs with a 71% completion rate) and reversed the narrative on his ground game and mobility. He entered the season with minus four career rushing yards, but he exploded for 561 yards on 63 carries, good enough for just under 40 yards per game and nine touchdowns on the year. Even more important than his statistics though, was his ability to lead Mater Dei to a decisive 52-21 victory in the state championship over De La Salle High School (11-2).
If it weren’t for the 49ers acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo, that might’ve been the best pass thrown in Levi’s Stadium in 2017.
If you follow USC football, you might question why Matt Fink and Jack Sears, the second and third-string quarterbacks last season, would be passed over in favor of a commit who has just three years of experience at the high school level.
Fink and Sears each enrolled at the University a semester early to attend spring practices before beginning their freshman seasons. Fink looked somewhat sharp in his three appearances for USC last season, going 6-of-9 for 43 yards and a rushing TD, while Sears rode out his redshirt year. But they didn’t dominate the high school football landscape the way Daniels did. Fink and Sears finished their careers with passing yard totals of 4,093 and 5,514, respectively. Essentially, what they accomplished throughout their entire careers was what Daniels’ was able to do in one season.
USC Professor Jeff Fellenzer has watched Daniels since his freshman season at Mater Dei. Fellenzer says Daniels is an exciting player because of his physical tools but also because of the way he plays the game mentally. “As far as his command of the offense, his intelligence in understanding the offense, the way he’s executed and the way he sees the field, he definitely reminds me of Josh Rosen when Rosen was at St John Bosco,” Fellenzer said.
Rosen, of course, enrolled at UCLA early and immediately assumed the starting role.
Fellenzer looks forward to seeing the competition for the starting job between Fink, Sears, and Daniels.
“I think it’s going to be a really great, tough battle,” Fellenzer said. “It’s going to be the story of the off-season for USC.”
In many ways, Daniels’ inexperience itself actually bodes well for his case to assume the starting role. At just 18 years old, Daniels is completing NFL-level throws with ease and has proven that he’s a capable decision-maker both in and out of the pocket. He knows when to scramble versus when to trust his arm, and he is a proven winner.
It’s hard to see one of the most decorated high school quarterbacks in California choosing to reclassify just to play behind somebody else. Daniels is being brought to college an entire season early to become the face of a program, similar to the Monarchs’ Huarte, Leinart, and Barkley did before him.