There’s clearly something about those California quarterbacks.
John Elway. Tom Brady. Aaron Rodgers. Bryce Young. CJ Stroud. And that kid.
Some have made history. Others are still writing it.
But God created only one Jayden Daniels.
So, who is that kid, behind the explosive downfield passes, electrifying runs and end zone dances?
A legend in the making, in more ways than one.
The kid himself doesn’t even know where the whole that kid thing really came from, assuming his eighth grade self just came up with it one day. Little did he know it would turn into a name that carries so much weight now.
That kid is the most popular person in college sports, but if you are lucky enough to spend even a few moments with him, you would never know. He is a magician on the football field, but it’s his heart that makes him truly immeasurable.
Maybe it’s the way that whenever people sing his praises, he’s almost incapable of making it about him. He is always so steady, and no matter how crazy things get, he just smiles. In the way that only that kid can.
Or, maybe it’s just taking a glimpse at what is written on his wrist every Saturday, a subtle display of tremendous selflessness.
“It means ‘blood’s thicker than water,’” Daniels, a native of San Bernardino, Calif., said. “That’s something me and my friends back home came up with. It resonates with us, being so close-knit. We might not have the same mom, same dad, but we still treat each other like blood. Those are my brothers, and you can always lean on your blood no matter what. They’ve been with you through thick and thin, and just having them support me through everything means a lot. Me writing that on my wrist reminds me that I’m doing it for more than just me.”
Daniels is the last person he’s doing any of this for, but that doesn’t make him immune to feeling the pressure and anxiety that come with being an elite athlete on the biggest stage. The introvert in him craves the nights where he can just go in his room, play Madden or Fortnite with his friends and find a sense of peace for at least a minute.
His current circumstances are such a blessing, but Daniels is still a human being, trying to figure it out like everyone else. He just has to do it in front of the world.
While that could make some people crumble, Daniels has never wavered. Not because of his own strength, but because of God’s, and because of who God made him to be.
Daniels grew up in the church, but admitted that he found himself wandering from his faith during some stages of his life. While he was at Arizona State, he was comfortable, but coming to LSU changed things.
“In Arizona, I wasn’t that far from home, and my family could come see me,” Daniels recalled. “So, when I decided to come out here, I’m like, ‘Alright. I’m out here on my own, really.’ It forced me to figure out me, who I am as a person, who I am as a human being. I can’t rely on ‘one phone call away’ or that somebody’s going to come help me. I had to figure stuff out.”
Although Daniels was far from his blood, he had a whole new family here, ready to embrace him as one of their own. He had help as he was finding his way, specifically from player relations manager Sherman Wilson.
“He’s behind the scenes, but he’s like my right-hand man,” Daniels said of Wilson. “Being around him, I kind of got back into my faith more, always giving glory to God. He died on the cross for us; anything is possible with Him. Coming back out here, trying to figure out my life, I wanted to stop trying to put so much pressure on me and just give everything to God, letting Him take care of it.”
It’s a large part of the reason why Daniels has been playing so free. When he remembers his true identity in Christ, there’s no space for overthinking or self-doubt. He trusts himself to walk in the freedom to do what he loves, and he knows there’s no sense in worrying about things before they happen, because then you worry twice.
“I don’t worry about things I can’t control,” Daniels said. “There’s some stuff where it’s just human nature to have anxiety; you get nervous about it because you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. You can’t predict the unpredictable. So, as I mature, grow up more and dive deeper into my faith, I just know that it’s God’s plan with everything.
“As much as I want to rush stuff, I can’t. What’s there for me and what’s meant for me, God’s always going to provide that. With everything that’s going on right now, God has prepared me for this. He doesn’t give anything to anybody that He knows they can’t handle. To whom much is given, much is required.”
Much has been required of Daniels, but he has never let anyone down. He’s leading the most prolific offense in the nation this year, following a season where he became the local hero after rushing for the touchdown and throwing for the 2-point conversion that finally lifted LSU over Alabama in Death Valley. As recently as two weeks ago, he made FBS history by putting up video game numbers of 350+ passing yards and 200+ rushing yards. Yeah, that kid.
“He’s just got a heart of a champion,” head coach Brian Kelly told the ESPN broadcast crew after the Missouri game on October 7, when Daniels battled through a rib injury to lead the Tigers to victory. “You don’t get many chances to coach a guy like that, and I’m just so happy that I got an opportunity to have him on my team.”
Louisiana will be heartbroken to see Daniels move on, but there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he’s ready for what’s next. Nor does anyone doubt how much he deserves it.
“I think people sometimes look at his demeanor as being kind of cool, calm and collected,” offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said. “I don’t think they understand the fire that’s inside that young man and how important it is for him to not only be the leader of the LSU Tigers offense, but to put the people around him in the best position possible.”
Daniels will never admit it, but that’s what he’s done. According to Kelly, that kid is already a pro. He’s the tone setter: the first one in, the last to leave. He’s every coach’s dream.
But, how does Daniels want to be remembered?
“Humble. Legendary,” Daniels started, then paused for a moment to smile, just as the light caught his deep, brown eyes.
His humility is undeniably received through his words and actions, and every moment he spends on a football field seems more legendary than the last. His joy, though, is intangible. It can only be felt.
Not happiness; joy.
Happiness is an emotion that changes with circumstances; joy is everlasting, rooted in faith in Jesus. Daniels epitomizes this in the most pure, genuine sense. You can’t help but feel it.
They say people will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
Jayden Daniels – the football player – has given Louisiana many priceless moments, but none will be as important as the impact that Jayden Daniels – the human – will always have on this place.
When you see his smile light up from all the way across Tiger Stadium, you feel it.
He lost his grandparents, struggled in his last season at Arizona State, moved across the country, fought through injuries and watched his teammate, friend and co-captain battle brain cancer during a career-defining season where all eyes were on him. But he still smiles.
You feel it.
That smile and his easy, calming presence ignite hope in every person he touches. He effortlessly reminds people why there’s nothing to ever worry about, and why we can always choose joy. All just by being that kid.
There’s something about those California quarterbacks.
But none may be as special as Jayden Daniels.