BELLFLOWER, Calif. — The Georgia-Clemson football game is 100 days away, but the coaching staffs are already deep into their game plans.
Chris King, the defensive coordinator at St. John Bosco, knows the soft of challenges JT Daniels presents will keep Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables up late at night.
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Daniels was lighting up storied SoCal programs for Mater Dei long before his impressive finish to the 2020 regular season.
St. John Bosco represented the biggest Trinity League challenge on the schedule annually and beat Daniels two of the five times he faced them. Not that there was any shame in that.
Either Mater Dei or St. John’s Bosco has been recognized as a High School National Championship team each of the past four years. That includes 2017, when Daniels led the Monarchs to the nation’s first consensus national title since 1986 when Valdosta (Ga.) accomplished the feat.
St. John Bosco High School, in Bellflower, Calif., has won two national championships.
King shakes his head recalling his showdowns with Daniels.
“JT started as a freshman at Mater Dei, and we all knew who he was coming in, a youth all-state guy,” King said. “Very early on, he was calling his own plays so you knew the football IQ was there.”
It was particularly impressive to King, who worked Alabama’s football camp in 2013 and still makes visits to the Clemson, Alabama and Georgia campuses to pick the brains of the defensive staffs.
Indeed, with former St. John’s Bosco star D.J. Uiagalelei playing quarterback for Clemson, it’s a good bet Venables has or will visit with King before the Sept. 4 showdown in Charlotte.
There’s much to be learned with St. John Bosco playing the same match-zone concepts that Alabama and Georgia are known for, especially with Clemson utilizing the same defensive scheme in certain packages.
“A lot of offenses are built to take what the defense gives you — there’s no master defense that covers everything,” King said. “JT was just always getting them into the right play. You don’t see quarterbacks doing that in college half the time, much less high school.
“JT always knew what to take based on the look and the leverage.”
The SEC found that out last season when Daniels completed 67 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions the last four games of the 2020 campaign.
More recently, Daniels showed off his patience with one successful check down after another in the G-Day Game, completing 28 of 41 passes for 324 yards and no interceptions.
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Daniels has settled into the Georgia offense to the same extent he had the Mater Dei offense by his junior year of high school, when he swept both meetings with St. John Bosco en route to the national title.
Then, like now, King said stopping Daniels comes down to playing chess.
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“It turns into a guessing game, and you try to give him some different looks without screwing yourself,” King said. “It’s a lot easier if the game is played on a chalkboard. But we’re talking about trying to get 11 guys on the same page, and if there’s one that blows an assignment or a coverage, JT is probably going see it.”
King said he had to turn to “the back of the playbook” to beat Daniels in the 2016 state playoffs when the UGA quarterback was a sophomore in high school.
“We’re watching film of him as a sophomore, and he’s just picking teams apart,” King said. “If we just go out and do what we do, he’s too damn smart, so we’ve got to give him something else. Something he hasn’t seen from us, but something that still fits into our base.”
It’s safe to assume Clemson will also have some exotic looks and twists in store for Daniels, aware the UGA quarterback will have done his film study.
Still, as King noted, it’s also a good bet Daniels will be ready to adjust.
“JT is just such a high football IQ guy,” King said, “just a guy who can always find the weakness in what you’re doing.”
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