Georgia was always on the mind of D.J. Daniel.
Daniel, who is a strong contender to start at right cornerback for the Bulldogs, grew up as a Georgia fan, but nearly ended up playing for one of its SEC rivals.
If you remember, Daniel initially committed to South Carolina over Georgia. Despite Daniel’s childhood loyalties to the Bulldogs, the decision made sense for numerous reasons, including the fact that Daniel probably had an easier path to be a starter at South Carolina.
However, Georgia was always on his mind, and the 4-star ended up signing with the Bulldogs. The junior-college transfer from Georgia Military College is from the Atlanta area (Griffin), and he enrolled at UGA in January.
Envisioned being in a Georgia uniform ‘his whole life’
“He had been going to Georgia games since he was a little boy,” said Nick Davis, who coached Daniel at Spalding (Ga.) High School.
“D.J. grew up as a Georgia fan, and stated on numerous occasions that that’s where he wanted to go to college. I think when D.J. went to GMC, (South Carolina coach Will Muschamp) and his staff did a good job of recruiting him, and they had other players (at GMC) commit to South Carolina. Those relationships, and the fact that South Carolina was his first offer, I think D.J. kind of fell in love with that.
“But at the end of the day, when he visited Georgia again, he remembered that he had envisioned being in that uniform for his whole life. That’s hard to deny, especially if the opportunity is there. I know that’s where his family really wanted him to go. He battled with that decision, and ultimately he followed his heart.”
This spring at Georgia, Daniel sort of got overlooked by many UGA fans because of all the buzz surrounding freshmen newcomers on defense such as Nolan Smith, Nakobe Dean, Tyrique Stevenson and Lewis Cine. But Daniel quietly made his presence felt, and proved that he could give the Bulldogs a boost.
“If you know D.J., he definitely feels like he belongs,” Davis said. “He will be highly-disappointed if he doesn’t come out of camp as one of the top two guys. That’s what he has his heart set on. I know he’s going to accomplish that, barring any injuries. That’s just his confidence and competitive nature, not arrogance.”
Davis now coaches at a different high school, and when UGA’s coaches stopped by there this spring to check on future prospects, they gave a glowing report on Daniel’s first semester with the Bulldogs.
“(UGA assistant Tray Scott) came through during the spring, and he said the coaches were really high on D.J.,” Davis said. “Talking to D.J. and Coach Scott … he’s battling for a starting position at corner with some of the guys that are there.
“But everything that D.J. accomplishes is not a big surprise. We knew in high school he was a special talent. He was under the radar with college scouts, though, because he was a late-bloomer. So he went to (junior college). But where he is now is where he needs to be and where he deserves to be. I expect D.J. to come out of camp as the starting corner for the University of Georgia.”
‘Not cocky, but confident’
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Daniel faces some stiff competition at right corner. He’ll likely be battling it out with former 5-star recruit Tyson Campbell, who started 11 games last year as a true freshman before having some struggles. Daniel seemed to enjoy the lively and intense competition during the spring.
“The No. 1 trait that he has – that I think all corners have to have – is he’s very confident … not cocky, but confident,” Davis said. “He’s a true competitor. He understands if he gets beat, he’s going to line right back up and be ready to compete on the next play. He’s not going to get down on himself.
“Coming in mid-year into a new program, like anybody else, the biggest thing is learning Georgia’s system, the schemes, and the different techniques they want you to play. Once he masters those things, I think he is going to be fine … I really think D.J. is going to take off.
“I think he’s a little behind Stokes and those other guys, who have been there for a couple of years. D.J. just got there. But that’s what the summer is for – to catch up, and really work on those fundamentals in order to play at a high level at a place like Georgia.”
‘Nobody is going to outwork us’
And what if Daniel doesn’t crack the starting lineup for UGA’s season-opener? “We have a mantra that we started (in high school) that ‘nobody is going to outwork us’ — that’s what we live by, and what D.J. lives by,” Davis said. “His goal is to come out of camp as one of those top two corners. Is it the end of the world if he doesn’t? No, it’s not. He’ll just keep working hard every day.”
Daniel comes across as soft-spoken, and laid back during his media interviews. But his coach warned UGA fans to not let that demeanor misrepresent Daniel on the football field. He’s known for his intensity and ferocity between the lines.
“He’s a true competitor,” Davis said. “He’s not one who is just going to run out on the field and start talking. But once he’s challenged, he’s going to compete hard at a high level. You know, I’m not going to say he’s a ‘talker,’ but he’s a passionate player.
“So you’ll see him jump up, and kind of get into some people’s faces. But there won’t be any disrespect, and he’s not going to go out and get stupid penalties. He’s just a true competitor who plays with a lot of passion.
“I like to say he’s a ‘true dog.’ On the field, the passion and intensity that he’s going to bring, it’s going to make the other guys play at a different level. His competitive nature is really going to surprise a lot of people.”