'Glad you’re my quarterback': Daniels has made game-winning drives the norm
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Mike Bercovici turned to Jayden Daniels. With his gold long-sleeved shirt and black sunglasses, the Arizona State graduate assistant and former quarterback shook hands with the freshmen, placing his left hand on Daniels’ back as he pulled him close and said a few words into his right ear.
He then shed his headset and joined the maroon and gold mass on the field for a postgame celebration. He walked alone, taking a moment to glance again at the scoreboard. It didn’t feel real. Or possible. Nevertheless, there it was. So Bercovici walked across the field, shaking his head and smiling in all the perplexity he just witnessed.
“Few people on the Earth can do that,” Bercovici said. “The kid is just special.”
A little while later, the same astonished look grazed the face of offensive coordinator Rob Likens.
With his black backpack at his feet and a heavily marked-up stat sheet in his hand, Likens began answering questions. About ASU’s spotty pass protection. About the game plan for what became the Devils’ 38-34 win. And about his quarterback.
“Jayden has now done this three times,” the question started.
Likens’ eyes widened. “You’re right. He has, hasn’t he? Wow.” he remarked, his smile growing as his mind shifted to the heroics of his young signal-0caller.
There was Michigan State when Daniels silenced 75,000 in East Lansing and orchestrated an 11-play, 75-drive in the final minutes to upset the Spartans. Then there was Cal when Daniels again led the Devils 75 down the field in the fourth quarter to upset the Golden Bears.
And now, there’s Washington State. Perhaps, it was the most remarkable game of Daniels’ young career -- he threw for a career-high 363 yards and three touchdowns. And if it wasn’t, it definitely provided the indelible image of ASU’s season thus far -- an image that, if ASU’s season and Daniels’ ASU career has the success many prophesize both to endure, will quickly become ingrained in the heads of Sun Devil fans.
It’ll be Daniels high in the air -- half of his ascension credited to his leap, the other half the result of Washington State safety Skyler Thomas spinning Daniels after connecting with his floating 6-foot-3, 175-pound body,
Akin to John Elway’s helicopter run in Super Bowl XXXII, Daniels, with speed built up from nearly a decade of track experience darted toward the end zone. Down by three with less than a minute to play, the safe, avoid-the-big-hit quarterback leaped into danger, into the end zone and, perhaps, years down the line, into the minds of many around Tempe.
His jump-started from about the 3-yard line. It ended a few yards deep in the end zone. It commenced as a daring, headfirst, no-regard-for-my-body leap. It ended with his feet almost all the way in front of his head as if he had hit the sand in the long jump.
“I (saw) the middle of the field open,” Daniels said. “I saw (WSU’s linebacker) drop back and try to take it away and then it just opened up, (so) I just took off a run and scored. I can’t really explain it.”
“I could tell at around the 7-yard line, I was like, ‘Oh, he’s going for it.’” Likens said. “I was like, ‘Oh gosh. Oh gosh.’ He smelled blood and he just burst. That was pure greatness.”
Added coach Herm Edwards: “In big moments it doesn’t get him flustered, he just continues to play.”
Edwards often tells stories of Daniels’ poise, about his calm demeanor many have compared to that of his head coach. Following ASU’s wins in East Lansing and Berkeley, Edwards spoke in the media room and shared his conversation with Daniels before the freshman led ASU to the respective victory.
Each time, it ended with the same remark from the 18-year old. “Coach, I got it.” Sure enough, he did. On Saturday afternoon, Edwards, with deja vu filling the air, mentioned it again — for the third time in the past five weeks
Moreover, apparently, it’s been going on much longer than that.
Nick Rogers, Daniels’ coach at Cajon High School, tells the story of Daniels’ comeback in the state championship semi-finals. Cajon was down 10 to Capistrano Valley High School in the fourth quarter and Daniels, then a junior was on the sideline with his coach.
“I look at him and he just goes, ‘Coach, don’t worry, we got this. I’ll take care of this,’” Rogers recalled. “He leads us down by 10 and gets the winning score. When he told Herm that, I’m like ‘That’s his go-to move.’”
During the Cal game, the television cameras would zoom in on Daniels after he was brought down. There was often a smile on his face. He knew many players on the Golden Bears’ defense and sometimes couldn’t contain a smirk if they were the ones that tackled him.
“That’s just how Jayden is,” Daniels’ mom, Regina Jackson said. “(It’s been great) just seeing him love the game and plays the game that he loves and not allow the outside world to really affect him.”
After his touchdown, which put the Sun Devils up four with 34 seconds left in the game, Daniels trotted over to a roaring and thankful sideline. He walked about 30 yards, through a row of extended hands. Then he set his gold helmet on an equipment storage case and wrapped a white towel around his head.
From there -- some in a line, like they were waiting to take a picture with him -- over a dozen Sun Devil players and coaches walked up to their heroic quarterback and offered a dap with varied words of excitement.
It’s tough to comprehend that Daniels, as a freshman, has already commanded such respect and awe from his peers. That pedestal is supposed to be reserved for seniors, or at least guys that have played more than a half dozen games.
However, week after week, there’s Daniels.
“I say it all the time, the way he goes through practice, you would never be able to tell he’s a freshman,” running back Eno Benjamin said. “That’s really just a testament to him.”
Since he arrived in Tempe, Edwards has tried to infuse the Sun Devil program with his philosophies and demeanor. Stay calm. Think about things rationally, not emotionally. Be smart. Leave it on the grass.
If Edwards is the king of that approach, Daniels has become the prince. As a pair, they’ve become the figures that the rest of the Arizona State program can look to. Always calm. Always comfortable.
They’re like flight attendants on a bumpy ride full of a bunch of nervous flyers. One glance at them eases all worry. At that moment, you become confident everything will be fine because if they’re not sweating, why should you?
“Yeah Jayden!” Tight end Tommy Hudson said. “Damn.”
“Jayden!” offensive lineman Ralph Frias yelled. “Good stuff, boy.”
“Good job, Baby,” wide receivers coach Charlie Fisher said.
“Glad you’re my quarterback,” offensive line coach Dave Christensen told him before shaking Daniels' hand and patting him on the back.
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