ATHENS — Those looking for more insight into JT Daniels might want to know up front that, at this stage of his career, his world starts and ends with football.
The second-year Georgia quarterback enters his fourth year of college looking to lead the Bulldogs to the national championship. It’s Daniels’ passion, and it’s what he has been self-programmed to do.
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Of course, winning a title involves several factors: great line play and a fortuitous run of luck on the injury front among them.
UGA has a championship defensive front and is stocked with talent on a shuffled offensive line that’s replacing two starters.
From an injury standpoint, the Bulldogs already lost their best skill position player. Receiver George Pickens suffered an ACL injury and will miss most if not all of the 2021 season.
But in Daniels, Georgia has a highly sought-after trigger. Recent history suggests an elite quarterback is necessary for a team to win the national championship.
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Daniels’ greatness has been qualified from the time he started as a freshman for SoCal High School powerhouse Mater Dei, winning MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year honors. The next season, Daniels was MaxPreps National Sophomore of the Year.
Then, as a junior, Daniels was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year after leading Mater Dei to the high school national championship.
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Daniels became only the second true freshman to start at Southern Cal in what should have been his high school senior season, and then got injured in the first half of the first game of his second season with the Trojans.
Georgia fans watched Daniels go 4-0 last season and run up the highest passer rating from the time he took the field than any returning collegiate quarterback. Daniels’ numbers from Nov. 20 onward were third-best overall, behind only Alabama QB Mac Jones and BYU’s Zach Wilson.
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But as for “who” Daniels is — not just “what” — UGA did an inside interview with its quarterback to provide the sort of insight that can’t be gleaned from the impersonal Zoom sessions that fire questions at student-athletes in machine gun-like fashion.
Perhaps one of the most refreshing and impressive things about Daniels is that he’s a young man who knows what he knows, but more importantly, knows what he doesn’t know — and is willing to admit it.
“I don’t know anything about anything outside of what I do,” Daniels said in the exclusive interview with University of Georgia staff member John Frierson.
Here are more quotes from that interview that should give Georgia fans an idea of what Daniels is about.
The only time Daniels left Athens since arriving last May was road games
JT Daniels: “Athens really, really feels like home since I’ve been here. My parents actually moved to Texas to be closer. The only direct family I have left [in California] is my sister, who’s in northern California.
“I haven’t been on vacation since before high school. Mater Dei is a very serious football program, so you’re there all summer and all spring. I was almost as busy at Mater Dei as I was at USC and Georgia.
“We once went to Jamaica when I was younger but I don’t even remember the family vacations that we had because I was so young. We counted college visits as vacations whenever I took one.”
Daniels didn’t develop current confidence until H.S. junior season:
JT Daniels: “I wouldn’t say I had great confidence until my junior year of high school when I really started to feel like I was picking things up. Freshman and sophomore year, I had a lot of offers and I was highly rated, and I knew I could throw the ball well, but the game moved fast for me at that point.
“I felt a step behind even though you wouldn’t really see it on film, but watching myself and how I played, I didn’t pick things up. I was accurate and I could throw the ball far, but I wasn’t consistently on time as often as I could have been.
“I was never a natural with good pocket movement and pocket awareness, that was something I really put a lot into going into my junior year of high school. That’s when I noticed that the game was slowing down and I had a better feel for things.
Daniels loves football, he’s fine with being completely focused and committed to it:
JT Daniels: “It’s just what I love to do. I don’t do it for any reason other than that. I think that if I played the game for any reason other than it’s just what I want to do, I could see myself burning out. But I’ve never even come close to burning out. I really have experienced the opposite the more I do it.
“Curiosity really is the best word to use. The more I play it, the more things start to present themselves, and then that opens up new things for me to try and learn.”
Kirby Smart and Todd Monken were reasons Daniels chose the Bulldogs, and Monken’s coaching has helped him improve his game:
“I’ve definitely learned a lot under Coach Monken. I never saw the game or understood it the way he does until I started talking to him. There were a lot of similarities in the way that we thought but coming from a pure progression Air Raid, and it was a little different from my freshman year at USC, to how we do it here.
“It’s really interesting to see how NFL, true passing concepts are taught and read. The importance of certain things that I haven’t used in the last two years because that’s just not how we were coached.”
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