This summer, as Steve Daniels and John Brown discussed their sons’ football prowess and chemistry as quarterback and wide receiver in separate interviews with The Times, it was hard not to be at least a little skeptical. These were proud dads, after all.
But even if you chose to ignore the praise they heaped on their sons in the name of fatherly bias, there was more likely to be some truth tucked into what each was willing to say about the other guy’s son.
“He’s a mad scientist kind of guy,” Brown said of quarterback JT Daniels. “He’s obsessed. The good football player that’s obsessed, you gotta watch out for those guys. For someone to beat him out, it will be difficult. Not because he’s a golden child. Because he’s a grinder, dude.”
“His goal is to play three years of college football and be the greatest wide receiver to ever play the game,” Steve Daniels said of wide receiver Amon-ra St. Brown, “and to be the best blocking wide receiver that ever played the game. Don’t bet against Amon.”
On Saturday afternoon, about 30 rows up in the northwest corner of the Coliseum, Steve Daniels and John Brown sat a row apart and watched their sons play in their first scrimmage as USC football players. It was just like old times. For three years, JT and Amon-ra had taken them on quite a ride at Santa Ana Mater Dei High — to individual five-star recruiting ratings, an undefeated state championship season, two college decisions that put them on the same path yet again — and the anticipation for the next step in the journey had been building.
When were they going to show their new coaches and teammates what they could really do together? On the kids’ move-in day in June, Brown attended a player-run practice and saw enough to know he was going to have to wait.
“Because everybody looks good in air,” Brown said. “All the kids look good. We’ve got to put a helmet on and, first and 10, third and long, and then they’ll see him. They haven’t seen him yet. You can’t really appreciate those guys, JT and Amon, in that setting. It’s not right. It will be a minute before they really shine.”
Turns out, it might have been less than a minute. As soon as Daniels took the field Saturday, he executed a play-action fake and heaved a pass deep down the right sideline to a streaking St. Brown, who had senior cornerback Isaiah Langley close by him. St. Brown timed his jump right and appeared to almost tip the ball to himself as he fell to the ground with a long completion. Three plays later, Daniels found St. Brown with a throw to his back shoulder for a touchdown.
The old friends and now roommates were just getting started. Later, for their second touchdown of the scrimmage, Daniels stayed in the pocket long enough to let St. Brown get down the field on a long-developing post route and dropped the ball where only his guy could get it for the score. For their third touchdown hookup, which fittingly ended the scrimmage, Daniels found St. Brown on a fade.
In Daniels’ quest to prove he’s more than the hype that surrounds him, he completed 10 of 12 passes for four touchdowns — the other coming to Velus Jones Jr. on a 40-yard seam route.
USC does not allow for true freshmen to do media interviews until after fall camp. That means that the stars of the Trojans’ first scrimmage won’t be able to discuss their bond for a few more weeks. But they each talked to The Times before arriving on campus.
“We both want to be the best at what we do,” St. Brown said then. “Part of the reason why we’re both going to SC, we think they’re offering something there that we can take and run with. [JT] wants to bring a national championship back to California. We haven’t won anything really since Pete Carroll. To have an opportunity to change the whole ways of SC is huge for him and for us. We think we can do it.”
Said Daniels then: “We have a unique connection on the field. It’s visible. Against [St. John] Bosco, I would step up and roll out, in a scramble drill, you don’t even know what’s going on, and you can see me throw the ball before he’s even looking. Stuff like that is pretty unique to me and Amon.”
As good as Daniels was Saturday, USC coach Clay Helton spent his post-scrimmage interview session trying to temper expectations. He even went as far as to say he still did not plan to name a starter until the week of the opener against Nevada Las Vegas.
“He’s doing a nice job,” Helton said. “Again, it’s only practice eight. It’s one scrimmage. Obviously, everyone is going to come away impressed. The work he’s put in, I’m very proud of him, because he’s put himself in a competition.”
Helton was more happy to talk about Daniels’ buddy.
“Mercy,” Helton said. “What a nice day he had today. He had some confrontation in the catches. They weren’t just layup catches. He had body on body, having to make plays. That’s what really separates you as a receiver, to be able to make the tough plays.”