The announcement of freshman JT Daniels as the Trojans’ starting quarterback Sunday felt long overdue, even though redshirt freshman Jack Sears and redshirt sophomore Matt Fink both competed hard.
After Tuesday’s practice, Daniels met with the media for the first time as the team’s starting quarterback.
Daniels’ high school pedigree was never in question. The 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year threw for 4,123 yards and 52 touchdowns compared to only four interceptions on 71 percent passing in his final high school season, while leading Mater Dei High School to a California state title.
“I was very excited and just super honored that [head coach Clay Helton] gave me the privilege to take ownership of this team,” Daniels said. “But, you know, it still goes back to that I’ve got a lot more work to do. I still haven’t even played a game yet. Very honored, but there’s a lot more to go.”
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound freshman arrived at USC as a five-star recruit, with tremendous expectations to be the next great USC quarterback. However, the job wasn’t going to be handed to him with Fink and Sears waiting in the wings. Daniels didn’t back down as the competition at the position began, lighting up the team’s first scrimmage to the tune of four touchdowns on 10-of-12 passing. He’s shown incredible arm talent from the beginning, fitting the ball into impossibly tight windows and hitting receivers right in stride 50 yards downfield.
Another key piece of Daniels’ game throughout camp has been his uncanny connection with high school teammate and supremely talented freshman receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. St. Brown and Daniels have been a lethal duo, connecting on play after play as if they can read each other’s minds.
Although Daniels’ first practice as the team’s starting quarterback was very run-heavy, he still continued to look impressive on his opportunities. His trademark confidence in the pocket and ability to make incredibly accurate throws were on display.
“We’ll find out Saturday what enough time is, but coach handled the whole process excellently,” Daniels said when asked if the announcement a week in advance was enough time. “I feel confident that I have a good understanding of the playbook, and we’ve just got to go out and execute Saturday. There’s not any excuse I can make.”
Helton talked about what set Daniels apart from the other quarterbacks.
“We said the whole time the decision-making was going to be a huge part of the process, and he made good decisions for the most part,” Helton said. “There were mistakes at times, but I thought for the most part it was good. And this week, him getting the starter’s reps will really benefit him.”
Now all that remains to be seen is what Daniels does with his opportunity, starting this Saturday in the Coliseum.
The biggest news of the day came with the return of outside linebacker Porter Gustin. The senior, who was named a team captain last week, had been held out of practice since the beginning of fall camp when he tore his meniscus. He was a full-go on Tuesday, practicing in pads and participating in full contact team sessions and drills. He looked strong and explosive for someone so shortly removed from an injury of that magnitude. It’s a welcome sign to see him in such solid form at the start of the opening week.
“I feel pretty confident right now. We’ll see — this was a contact day. We’ll see how it reacts after a good day of work,” head coach Clay Helton said on Gustin’s ability to play this weekend. “Two things always go into it for me in a decision: one, did the doctors clear him to play. And then two, is he confident he wants to play. If he’s confident and the doctor says he’s clear, we’ll pull that trigger. If either one’s a no, then we’ll wait for the next game.”
Gustin has the ability to be a dominant player for the Trojan defense. Having him active on game days will be a dramatic boost to the team.
In other news, Helton announced the transfers of redshirt junior safety Ykili Ross and redshirt freshman cornerback Je’Quari Godfrey. The announcement of Ross transfer came as no surprise, as it had initially been reported last Saturday. The senior entered camp leading the competition for the starting strong safety spot, but a hamstring injury derailed him for the entirety of camp until last week. By that time, the job had gone to Bubba Bolden, and Ross had an outburst during practice last week on Wednesday that caused him to be sidelined for the rest of the day. Ross will finish his degree at USC this fall before transferring as a graduate.
Godfrey finds himself buried on the depth chart at cornerback, behind a talented group of young corners, which likely played a part in his decision to transfer. Helton wished both players the best of luck in their future endeavors.