In the age of the transfer portal, missing out on a recruit is not always a “goodbye.” Sometimes, it’s a “see you later.”
Such is the case with journeyman quarterback JT Daniels. After nearly a decade of conversations with Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren, Daniels has officially landed at his fourth FBS stop. He sorted through previous destinations of USC, Georgia, and West Virginia, but earlier in December, the quarterback chose yet a new state and a new conference for his final run of his college football career.
JT Daniels is a Rice Owl.
“I feel like I’ve recruited him for 10 years,” Bloomgren said. “I guess it’s only been eight years, but I’ve known him forever. I have wanted to coach him forever. As he and I are saying now, ‘The fourth time’s the charm.’ And I’m just really glad it’s working out.”
The former California-based No. 3 overall pro style quarterback recruit signed with USC in 2017, but before he donned the Trojan cardinal and gold, a rival Pac-12 school made the operation of luring Daniels to campus a priority. Current Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren served as offensive coordinator on David Shaw’s staff at Stanford during Daniels’ recruitment, and he envisioned the Irvine, CA native as a future star quarterback on The Farm.
“I started looking at him, started studying him, believe we had him in camp that summer, and that’s really when I got to talk protection with him and got to hear him express some of the things he was seeing pre-snap from evaluating safeties to understanding fronts — things that just aren’t normal for a freshman in high school,” Bloomgren said. “That’s when it was so impressive to me that this kid is special. That’s when I started talking our staff into it, talking Coach (David) Shaw into it because he was the first one we offered in that class we believed the difference he could make as a quarterback at a program.”
Bloomgren first caught word of Daniels’ talent from a conversation with Dave Money, the offensive coordinator at Mater Dei — a renowned California high school football juggernaut which produced the likes of Matt Leinart, Matt Barkley, Colt Brennan at quarterback. And when Money talked, Bloomgren was sold.
“Coach Money is somebody I’ve talked ball with for a while and after he had his hands on JT for one camp — summer going into his ninth grade year — Money called me and said, ‘Coach, you wouldn’t believe this kid!’” Bloomgren said. “‘You wouldn’t believe how he gets it. You wouldn’t believe the throws he can make.’”
Bloomgren expended his first offer in one Stanford recruiting class on Daniels, with hopes that the Mater Dei alumnus would extend the Cardinal’s run of success that resonated throughout the early and mid 2010s. But roughly a half-decade later, the Rice head coach still sees Daniels a perfect fit in his offense for the soon-to-be American Athletic Conference institution.
“I think he is maybe the most talented kid at quarterback I recruited in my time at Stanford,” Bloomgren said. “He was the first kid we offered in that class, which was originally the class of ‘19 before he reclassified. Talking ball with him, talking ball with him and (Rice offensive coordinator Marques Tuiasosopo) the other day, you just see what an incredible fit it’s gonna be.”
Bloomgren finally completed his eight-year mission of recruiting Daniels, but more factors contributed to the quarterback’s decision than just the resilient head coach alone. Offensive coordinator Marques Tuiasosopo — a former NFL quarterback and longtime Pac-12 assistant at Washington, UCLA, USC, and Cal — was another member of the staff who coerced Daniels to Rice, especially after discussing his fit in the Owls’ pro-style offense.
“The process was eight years in the making,” Bloomgren said. “Recruiting at Stanford as well as here... this takes a village. Our relationship was great. His relationship with Coach Tui, and Coach Tui reaching out to him out every step of the way and trying to help him every step of the way means the world as well. It was a very happy moment in our household when JT said he was coming. Even the dog was excited.”
Bloomgren and Tuiasosopo joined forces roughly one offseason ago on the recruiting front with the same objective in mind. Daniels, who served as the backup quarterback for the majority of Georgia’s 2021 national title run, submitted his name into the transfer portal in January 2022. Although West Virginia edged out Rice in terms of Daniels’ landing spot, conversations with the quarterback only amplified the Owls’ level of intrigue with the well-traveled quarterback.
“Even after he was done at Georgia last year, he let Tui and I come to his house and talk ball with him in Athens — sit there and talk to him about what we thought we could do for him,” Bloomgren said. “I realized he was the same JT last year. Then getting him here on Sunday, he’s the same JT. He’s the same dude that is absolutely crazy about football, wants to study it like a coach.”
This season, Rice experienced some of its best quarterback play in quite some time. TJ McMahon posted the most passing yards the program has witnessed since the 2015 season. Attaining 300 passing yards and three touchdowns in a single game were rarities in the Bloomgren era prior to 2022, but McMahon crossed those thresholds with regulation in his nine starts. However, a season-ending injury in Week 10 depleted his availability for the remainder of the year, making way for true freshman AJ Padgett as the signal caller in relief.
Rice qualified for its first bowl game since 2015, and Padgett — two games removed from a fourth-string role — earned the starting nod. The freshman rose to the occasion in just his second collegiate start. He delivered 19 completions on 37 attempts, firing for 295 yards and a trio of touchdowns in a hard-fought loss to Southern Miss. While Padgett showed flashes of future stardom in the LendingTree Bowl, there is a possibility he remains behind Daniels on the depth chart headed into 2023. But Bloomgren encouraged the budding star by discussing the advantages of bringing in the former Trojan, Bulldog, and Mountaineer quarterback.
“I had a chance to talk to AJ last night after JT committed and I just told AJ, ‘Man, look. You know everything’s a meritocracy. That’s how we roll. Don’t worry about a thing, but I’ll tell you this. If you’re the No. 2 behind JT Daniels and you learn how he studies and how he prepares, there’s a lot worse things in the world than spending a year as his backup,’” Bloomgren said. “He was completely on board. AJ’s a competitor. He’s not just going to give the job to him by any stretch of the imagination. But he’s excited that JT’s coming. He’s excited to learn some of those things.”
Rice kicks off its 2023 season with the Texas Longhorns in Austin — a setting well-acquainted with Daniels. He visited Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in 2018 as a USC quarterback and again in 2022 as West Virginia’s starter. Although his third appearance in the Lone Star State’s capital remains months away, Daniels is already lasered-in on gaining a PhD-level understanding of Rice’s playbook. And Bloomgren and the coaching staff are doing everything they can do accommodate the enthusiastic and willing learner.
“The only thing JT was stressed about was when he could get the playbook,” Bloomgren said. “He and Tui went through many of the initial installs and he was like, ‘Coach, I’m a big gamer and I want to get all this information into Madden so I can start getting myself acclimated and understand the concepts and understand this and that.’ I was like, ‘Wow. Great. Let’s do it.’”