Just a little bit short. For three years, those five words have defined the career of USF quarterback B.J. Daniels.
After dazzling fans and coaches alike in 2009 while passing for 215 yards and two touchdowns and running through, around and over the 18th ranked Seminoles to the tune of 126 yards in a program-defining 17-7 win in his own hometown of Tallahassee, Daniels was unable to recapture the magic that season, going 3-5 down the stretch to send the Bulls to the International Bowl.
Daniels followed his debut season with an up-anddown sophomore campaign, passing for 11 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, while the offense came up short in losses to Syracuse and Pittsburgh, scoring one offensive touchdown combined and eventually dooming their hopes for a Big East championship with their 17-10 loss to the Panthers.
His junior campaign started off with a bang when a lethally efficient performance in South Bend delivered the Bulls another signature win, 23-20 over Notre Dame. After three strong games against Florida A&M, Ball State and UTEP, Daniels and the Bulls proceeded to go 1-7 in Big East play, coming up short in five losses of six points or fewer and missing a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
Entering his final season at the helm of the Bulls’ offense, the 6-foot-1 Tallahassee native is hardened by his frustration and itching to break through, to change the phrase from “coming up short” to “coming up big.” He said the team’s frustrations mean one thing to him.
“It means I’ve got to hurry up and do something,” he said. “It’s my last opportunity to help out the team, to do whatever we can to win the Big East. There’s a sense of urgency in really trying to step up as a leader on and off the field.”
With 7,992 total career yards, Daniels is just 2,883 yards away from breaking the Big East record for total career yardage. If Daniels is slightly less productive than in 2011, when he had 3,205 total yards, he will break the record held by former USF quarterback Matt Grothe. According to his partner in the backfield, however, Daniels won’t let that distract him.
“Individually he’s a great leader, he comes to work every day and always ready to learn,” senior running back Demetris Murray said. “The best thing about him is that even though that record is right there, he doesn’t let that affect him at all. He works so hard and he sets the standard so high for anyone else on the team. I expect him to continue to cut down on those turnovers and grow.”
Though he has a chance to make history, Daniels is focused on making a different kind of history: delivering USF its first ever Big East football championship. Coach Skip Holtz said Daniels refuses to settle for anything less in his final season as a Bull.
“According to B.J., we’re here to accomplish something, and we haven’t,” Holtz said. “He is so committed and competitive, and that really is exactly what you’re looking for as a coach, in a quarterback and a player.”
Entering his own third year at USF, Holtz was encouraged by the growth he saw from his quarterback, despite the struggles of the team as a whole.
“We had a lot of frustrations a year ago, but you could also see the offensive improvements that we made, and a lot of credit for that will go to B.J.,” he said. “With a lot of weapons around him, I’m confident in what B.J. can do for us.”
Along with the growth on the field, Holtz said he values his quarterback’s personality off the field.
“I always say that you hope your boys grow up to be like B.J. Daniels,” he said. “He’s really a class act. You never hear him talking badly about anyone. He’s not one of those guys who’s trying to become the center of attention.”
Tired of coming up short, Daniels is ready to take both himself and his team to the next level. And though he said he’s considered the idea of breaking the Big East total yardage record, he said he is more concerned about coming through in a bigger way.
“Well, yes, I’ve thought about it, and doing something like that would be a big honor,” he said. “But I think quarterbacks as a whole are remembered for the wins and losses, so that’s something that I’m focusing on. … I’m ready for this season, mentally. Me and coach Fitch have been going at it in the film room, trying to make mental preparations, to try to make sure we’re where we need to be when the game starts, and everything comes a little easier.”