Daniels’ circumstances are obviously different. Rice is the fourth program in his college career. He began at USC, transferred to Georgia, then again changed uniforms and joined West Virginia before one final transfer to Rice.
“I can’t imagine there’s someone else that’s started at Texas against Texas in three different uniforms,” Daniels said Tuesday.
A poster boy for the transfer portal, Daniels is one of the most notable players to take advantage of the opportunity afforded to him by the NCAA to move around the country on several different occasions. When he left Los Angeles for Athens following a major knee injury in 2019’s season opener, he traded opportunities with Stetson Bennett during the 2020 campaign. Then, more injuries derailed his 2021 season and kept him out of action all while Bennett entrenched himself as the starter for the Dawgs during their back-to-back national championships.
Daniels departed Athens for Morgantown, W.Va. to run Graham Harrell‘s offense under Mountaineer head coach Neal Brown, but once again limited effectiveness saw him cede the QB1 role late in the year after a disappointing season for the Big 12 program.
Harrell left West Virginia for Purdue, and once again Daniels decided to look for another program. Players have utilized the newfound opportunity to go to three schools in recent years — Texas fans don’t have to look much further than Ovie Oghoufo for an example. But the combination of Daniels’ grad transfer status plus the year of eligibility relief afforded by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant the one-time Mater Dei standout could give it a fourth go at the college level with a new program.
He found one in Rice, and Owl head coach Mike Bloomgren couldn’t be happier with the addition of the former five-star. Bloomgren said even after Daniels, a member of the class of 2018, chose USC over the Stanford program he was with at the time, he kept tabs on Daniels wherever he went.
During Daniels’ short time in Houston, Bloomgren has seen the 23-year-old become a playmaker not typically seen within the Owl program in an important year for the head coach entering his sixth year on South Main.
“I can’t imagine that he’s played better than he’s playing now at any of those spots,” Bloomgren said Tuesday.
It isn’t just Daniels’ on-field exploits that has Bloomgren excited. The Rice program, entering its first year as a member of the American Athletic Conference, announced recently that Daniels would serve as an offensive captain this upcoming season.
“To come in here and work the way he did and show our guys what he’s capable of, but also there’s small things you guys could never possibly see like when we’re having a group meting at my house talking about the DNA of our football team and what’s important to us as leaders,” Bloomgren said. “His voice is priceless on the practice field, whether there’s coaches out there or not.”
Those statements go to show that Daniels, a quality player, has fully integrated into the Rice program and is looking to challenge opposing defenses with his talent.
“His comfort level with it is so out of control,” Bloomgren said of Daniels’ acumen in the Rice offense. “That combined with his arm talent and his abilities that were, I think we’ve got a pretty good player right here.”
Entering the season opening game for both Rice and Texas, the Longhorns are keenly aware of what the transfer talent offers with most of the Texas contributors having seen him in a Mountaineer uniform last year.
“He brings a great leader and a great arm, and it’s definitely going to change the dynamic of their offense,” Texas linebacker David Gbenda said Monday. “We are well-versed and well-prepared on JT Daniels and what he brings to the Rice Owls.”
Daniels was one of the top prospects in the nation in 2018. The On3 Industry Ranking labeled him as a five-star prospect and the No. 14 overall recruit in his class. Two of the three major recruiting rankings services had him as a five-star prospect and a top-10 talent.
Playing for the prominent Mater Dei program, Daniels’ reputation was known throughout the Golden State.
Daniels succeeded Sam Darnold at USC and became the Trojans’ starter ahead of the 2018 season. That was when Daniels first came to Texas. He was 30-for-48 for 322 yards and an interception in a game Texas won 37-14.
Then in 2020 with WVU, Daniels was 29-for-48 for 253 yards and one touchdown in another loss to the Longhorns.
Even with an 0-2 record at DKR, Daniels was excited to return to Austin for another contest in a fourth uniform.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Daniels said. “It’s always fun, it’s one of the coolest stadiums that there is. They get loud. They get rocking. They have a great time. It’s a very good team.”
While Texas has won 15 straight over the Owls dating back to last century, the Horns won’t be overlooking the veteran under center come 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. They’ve seen what he’s capable of before, and as a result know they’ll have to play up to a certain level if they want to make it three losses for Daniels in three appearances in DKR with three different teams.
“They got a quarterback who’s played with a ton of experience, he’s played twice here in his career,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. “They’re hard-nosed. They’re tough. They’ve got very intricate schemes, so we’ve got our work cut out for us from a preparation standpoint.”