By Steve Fryer
Orange County Register
JT Daniels, statistically at least, is the best quarterback in Orange County high school history. He was recognized as the best football player in the nation this past fall and as the OC Varsity Male Athlete of the Year in June. He’s also the SoCal Prep Legends Male Athlete of Year, awarded for high school athletes in all sports throughout Southern California.
Daniels was at the controls of an offense that averaged 48 points a game while playing one of the more-challenging schedules any O.C. team has played. Mater Dei went 15-0, won the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 championship and the CIF State Open Division title.
The Monarchs’ average margin of victory was 33 points. They never trailed in any of their 15 games.
Daniels threw 52 touchdown passes, the second-most in O.C. history (he set the record of 67 touchdown passes in his sophomore season of 2016).
He completed 72 percent of his passes for 4,123 yards, the second-most in O.C. history (his 4,819 passing yards of the ’16 season is the county single-season record). Daniels averaged 275 passing yards a game, although he was removed at various points in the second half of the Monarchs’ many one-sided wins. Daniels also rushed for 561 yards, averaging 9 yards a carry, and nine touchdowns.
Daniels was at his best in some of the Monarchs’ more important games.
In their 49-24 win over St. John Bosco in the CIF-SS Division 1 championship game, Daniels threw for 299 yards and five touchdowns. It was the fifth time he had five or more touchdown passes in a game in 2017.
Daniels threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more in Mater Dei’s 52-21 win over De La Salle of Concord in the CIF State Open Division championship game.
He had confidence in himself and his teammates. And Daniels’ teammates had confidence in him.
“Whatever we were going to try to do in a game,” Daniels said, “we knew it was going to work. Nobody ever second-guessed a thing.”
It was a spectacular junior year for Daniels, who was recognized as the Gatorade National Player of the Year.
How good would his senior year be, will never be known.
Daniels decided to skip his senior year at Mater Dei so he could enroll at USC this fall. It took some academics gymnastics to make that happen, but Daniels is being discussed already as potentially the starting quarterback at USC this fall as spring camp approaches and the Trojans seek to replace NFL-bound Sam Darnold.
Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson admits he feels like he’s been robbed of having Daniels around for 2018. But Rollinson also feels gifted by having Daniels for three seasons.
“His physical talent as a quarterback far exceeds any high school kid in recent memory,” Rollinson said. “He has the ability to make all the throws. When you complement the physical ability with his mental grasp of understanding the game, along with his maturity, now you have something that the fans of Orange County football have been able to enjoy the last three years.”
When reviewing Daniels’ career figures, keep in mind he would have added plenty had he stayed at Mater Dei for his senior year.
His 11,984 career passing yards are an Orange County record. The CIF-SS record is 13,109, which is 1,125 more than Daniels’ total and surely within his reach had Daniels hung around for his senior year.
His 152 career passing touchdowns are a county and CIF-SS record.
For Daniels, his personal records are not as important as the Monarchs’ 15-0 record of the 2017 season that he and his teammates achieved and the fun and friendships they enjoyed along the way.
“It was such a tight-knit group of talented guys,” Daniels said. “We had a bunch of great guys who worked hard together for something special.”
The SoCal Prep Legends Athlete of the Year awards are selected by the high school sports writers of the Southern California News Group, which covers more the 600 schools in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Orange County, Riverside County and San Bernardino County. The Male Athlete of the Year is one of four end-of-year awards along with the Female Athlete of the Year, and fan vote for male athlete of the year and fan vote for female athlete of the year.