Sports

MOVING ON UP

Mater Dei's J.T. Daniels skips senior year to start college football career at USC

By Dan Arritt     1/11/2018

J.T. Daniels became quite the national story the week before Christmas. And the media couldn’t discuss Daniels without mentioning Mater Dei High School and the football team he quarterbacked the past three seasons. 

Daniels confirmed on Dec. 22 that he planned to skip his senior year at Mater Dei and enroll at USC. 

Daniels, rated by ESPN as the nation’s third-best pocket passer in the high school class of 2019, believed he accomplished all he could at the high school level.  

After all, he passed for 12,014 yards and 152 touchdowns, both Orange County records, and was intercepted just 14 times. He led the Monarchs to a 15-0 record this past season and a CIF-State Open Division championship. 

“I felt I was ready for college and I don’t need another year of high school,” Daniels told the OC Register. “It’s over 40 games now that I’ve started as a varsity football player at Mater Dei against the best competition.” 

This isn’t the first time a highly rated high school quarterback has skipped his senior year to enroll early at USC. John David Booty made the same decision after his junior season in 2002. 

Booty wasn’t from Southern California, rather Shreveport, Louisiana, but a quarterback from Mater Dei ended up having a big impact on Booty’s future and ultimately made his decision to skip his senior year a questionable one. 

Booty had enough credits to graduate from Evangel Christian Academy after his junior year and enroll at USC. He’s believed to be the first high school player to make such a move. 

Booty arrived at USC just as former Santa Margarita quarterback Carson Palmer was departing for the NFL after winning the Heisman Trophy for the 2002 season. 

The competition for the starting quarterback spot remained stiff, however. 

One of Booty’s stiffest competitors was Matt Leinart, a former Mater Dei quarterback who had spent his first two seasons below Palmer on the USC depth chart. 

Leinart ended up winning the starting job over Booty not just in 2003, but each of the next two seasons as well. 

Even after winning the Heisman Trophy his junior season, Leinart returned to USC as a senior in 2005 before finally heading to the NFL, where he spent the next seven seasons. Even Leinart’s backup his first two seasons at USC, Matt Cassell, who never started a game in four seasons with the Trojans, was drafted following his senior year and recently completed his 13th NFL season. 

As for Booty, he never threw a pass in the NFL. 

After two productive seasons as the starter at USC, Booty was drafted in the fifth round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2008 and made the team as the No. 3 quarterback, but never got higher than No. 2 in his two seasons on the team. 

Daniels could face the same challenges at USC. 

Sam Darnold, who recently completed his second season as USC’s starting quarterback, had not decided as of New Year’s Day if he’d forgo his final two seasons at USC and make himself eligible for the NFL Draft. 

“Him leaving or not really was not that big of a factor,” Daniels said of Darnold. “If I leave and Sam stays, I get a year of learning from Sam Darnold, one of the best quarterbacks in college.” 

The Trojans have two other quarterbacks already enrolled at the school, redshirt freshman Matt Fink and true freshman Jack Sears.  

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