Aug. 13, 2004
NOTE: Georgia Tech will hold its second scrimmage of the preseason Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Fans should enter at Gate 4 on Bobby Dodd Way and sit in the West Stands. No fans will be permitted on field level.
by Simit Shah
ATLANTA–The only thing harder than tackling Tech’s bruising running back P.J. Daniels is getting the former walk-on to talk about his almost folktale-like accomplishments.
How about rushing for 307 yards, an NCAA bowl record, in the Humanitarian Bowl?
“The bowl game is over. We have other things to worry about.”
His reflections on leading the ACC in rushing last season with 1,447 yards, second-best in school history?
“I’m not content with myself. I always push for more.”
The amazing ascent from seventh-string walk-on to one of the top running backs in the nation?
“I never think that I’m the number one tailback (on the team), rather just continue to work hard and work to get better.”
And on it went, as Daniels spent most of the team’s media day shedding reporters’ questions like Tulsa defenders. It’s not as if the Houston, Texas native is shy in front of the cameras and microphones. A member of the all-ACC Academic team, the junior is affable and well spoken as any college football player you’ll find, but when the topic turns to P.J., he flashes a wide smile and retreats to “It’s not about me” mode.
“That’s him,” explained head coach Chan Gailey. “That’s not a show. That’s who he is. He believes that. He believes he’s been given a gift from God, but it takes everyone to do something great. That’s not a guard. He’s not saying it for show.”
“He might not like to talk about it, but he hears it from us,” added quarterback Reggie Ball. “He’s one of the best, but you’ll never hear him say anything like that. He’s just a humble guy.”
He may be unassuming off the field, but Daniels is primed to assume a lion’s share of the workload on it this fall. He set a school record with 283 carries last season despite seeing light action in three of the team’s 13 games.
“He is one of those guys who gets stronger as the game goes on,” noted Gailey. “So if you limit him too much, you wind up sometimes not seeing the best that he has. But at the same time we have to realize, we don’t want to beat him up too bad and we don’t want to subject him to too much.”
Daniels, at 5-10 and 210 pounds, isn’t afraid of running–or jumping–over defenders, but minor injuries slowed him down at times last season. Backup Chris Woods will likely spell him at times, but don’t look for Daniels to spend much time on the sidelines.
“I don’t think I’d trade P.J. for many people, I’ll tell you that,” offensive coordinator Patrick Nix said. “Just the total person and total player, everything he does for this team is hard to beat. You want a guy like that on the field.”
While Daniels tries to disassociate himself from all the accolades, they nonetheless continue to accumulate. As the first returning all-ACC running back at Tech since Robert Lavette, Daniels is a candidate for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top running back. Also, several publications have named him to preseason all-America teams.
Last season’s performance has peppered his name throughout Tech’s record book, and he currently sits 12th on the school’s all-time rushing list. Daniels is just 663 yards shy of moving into the top five.
It’s easy to forget that Daniels was virtually unknown three years ago when he arrived on campus. A late qualifier, the all-district performer was passed over by most major programs, but Tech’s coaching staff gave him an opportunity to walk-on.
Buried on the depth chart like most non-scholarship players, Daniels began to work his way up, and a series of injuries to running backs in 2002 vaulted him in action, earning him a scholarship after the season. While he showed flashes of potential as a redshirt freshman, nothing could foreshadow his performance in 2003.
A stunning 47-yard touchdown run against Florida State’s vaunted defense served notice to both fans and opponents in the third week of the season. Four more 100-yard-plus games followed, capped by a 240-yard game against UNC. The record-setting bowl game erased any doubts about his ability to be a feature back.
“It is one of the great stories in college football,” Gailey stated. “He has worked to get there. Nothing has been given to him; nothing’s been handed to him on a silver platter.”
Definitely a great story, but you just won’t hear Daniels telling it.