The rumors have been going around for weeks, if not months, regarding Santa Ana Mater Dei junior quarterback J.T. Daniels, a USC commit. From supposedly being too old to play high school football in 2018 to leaving for IMG Academy, Coach Bruce Rollinson has heard them all. The big one of late is that Daniels will graduate this coming year to enroll early at USC if Sam Darnold declares for the NFL draft.
Daniels said "no" last week when asked by a reporter from the Orange County Register about the possibility he'd reclassify and become a member of the class of 2018. He also said he's 17 and was planning to graduate in January 2019.
"Until J.T. or [his father] Steve comes in and looks me in the eyes, I'm going under the assumption he'll play great Saturday night and prepare for next season," Rollinson said earlier this week.
Considering that basketball standout Marvin Bagley III disappeared from Chatsworth Sierra Canyon a year early and enrolled at Duke, nothing is out of the realm of possibilities. So Mater Dei's CIF state championship Open Division bowl game against Concord De La Salle at Sacramento State will take on added intrigue among some fans.
Mater Dei has a Heisman Lane featuring quarterbacks Matt Leinart and John Huarte, both Heisman Trophy winners. It also produced Matt Barkley. And Daniels is on the verge of topping all three as far as high school production. He's a two-time Gatorade state player of the year and is trying to lead the Monarchs to their first ever bowl victory.
Describing what Daniels has accomplished this season, Rollinson said, "He's dramatically improved. His ball placement is unbelievable."
Daniels has passed for 3,890 yards and 49 touchdowns with four interceptions while completing 72% of his passes. He added a scrambling ability that was absent as a freshman and sophomore after Rollinson gave him the green light to show off his speed.
Now he must try to help the Monarchs complete an unbeaten season. Rollinson admits he's a little gun shy facing De La Salle, a team he's 0-4 against.
"It's definitely got my attention," he said, remembering twice he lost with top teams against the Spartans.
Most importantly, his defense will be facing De La Salle's veer attack for the first time. They've spent two weeks preparing for the option play and De La Salle's precision blocking.
"When we stop them, we better answer with points," he said.
Mater Dei's offense has few weaknesses. Besides Daniels, there are four future college players at receiver. Running back Shakobe Harper has been improving each week and the offensive line has been dominant. There's a reason the Monarchs are 14-0 and haven't trailed. They show up every game ready to play.
Whether Daniels stays or leaves, this game is an opportunity to put him where no Mater Dei quarterback has ever been— state bowl champion.