How Development and Sacrifice Bonded Jayden Daniels and Sherman Wilson Together
After winning LSU’s third Heisman Trophy on Saturday, Jayden Daniels took to the streets of Times Square.
By his side stood football support staffer Sherman Wilson, a recruiting specialist and Daniels’ closest confidant, whose relationship with LSU’s quarterback centers around hard work, sacrifice and their faith in God.
As the two navigated through thousands of pedestrians eager to get a glimpse of college football’s most outstanding player, Daniels paused for pictures, soaking in the city that never sleeps with the person who pushed him when no one else was awake.
There’s a beauty in how it started and how it finished: how the work behind the scenes, when nobody was watching, culminated on the brightest stage with all eyes on 5.
How early mornings and late nights in the football operations building – where sometimes the only noises could be heard from the maintenance crew – made the sights and sounds of New York City that much sweeter.
That Kid is the Heisman.
Meet “Sherm,” LSU’s player relations manager, who would spend up to 16 hours of his 24 hour day with Daniels, pushing him to unlock his full potential.
Wilson doesn’t coach Daniels. He doesn’t teach him schemes or how to throw a better deep ball. Development, though, comes in all shapes and sizes. On the field and off the field. Physically and mentally. And in a life full of choices, it’s Wilson that helped Daniels to make the right ones.
“Being great is a choice,” Wilson said. “You have it. It’s there. It doesn’t just wake up one day. You choose to sacrifice on things you are pouring your time into. If you take your time and pour everything into this for small amounts of time, watch what happens. And for 12 months, he poured everything into his development, and that’s the end result.”
It was that commitment to excellence this offseason that transformed a good quarterback into college football’s best. 5 a.m. film sessions. Extra throws with receivers after practice. Putting ego to the side and being a sponge to information. Nothing about Daniels’ development was a fluke.
“Everything that was put in front of him, he ate,” Wilson said. “I always say: are you starving? The person that’s hungry will eat what’s on their plate. Someone who is starving is going to eat what’s on his plate, then eat what’s on your plate. That’s what made him different. His mindset is different. That killer instinct.”
The role of the coach differs from that of a support staffer. Coaches help bring out players’ talent tactically and technically, by putting them in the right positions and calling the right plays.
A support staffer helps bring out the person – something “Sherm” prides himself on.
“Jayden’s a person that doesn’t have an ego,” said Jack Marucci, LSU’s Director of Performance Innovation. “He can take input in and he’s willing to listen. That’s being smart. I think Sherman was able to develop some of these skills that he had in him already and bring them out. We all need that at a young age. It’s always nice to have a mentor that allows you to look at the picture a little bit clearer.”
It’s Daniels’ cool and calm demeanor, combined with Wilson’s loud and “outlandish” personality, that allowed him to quickly find that mentor when he moved to Baton Rouge.
When Daniels got to LSU, he was quiet. It was important for Wilson, who worked hard to earn the trust of Daniels and his parents, to make a California kid feel comfortable in the South – through jokes, movies, and a shared commitment to daily improvement.
“It’s always different when you come from a different region,” Wilson said of Daniels. “He worked at it. He had to accept it. He didn’t know me.”
“When you start new, you don’t want to rub people the wrong way,” Wilson added. “You want to come in and kind of coexist. I think now, in the end, there’s more of that alpha male in his play. Not as much with his demeanor, more so in his representation; when he walks in, he can command the room with his presence.”
Sometimes, Wilson says, he had to sit back and let Daniels breathe. Wilson doesn’t care about the money. He doesn’t care about the advancement. It’s the ability to impact individuals, and allow them to reach the heights they are supposed to reach – that is Wilson’s ultimate reward.
“Jayden said this a week or two ago: I’m insane,” Wilson said. “I’m single. I work all day, long hours, because the goal is to be the best ever. In order to do that you have to make sacrifices.”
Daniels’ abilities were already there as one of the nation’s most coveted transfers. But talent mixed with the platform of LSU, Wilson says, is an unrivaled formula.
“With the talent that God gave you, and your work ethic, plus the platform of LSU equals iconic status,” Wilson said. “There’s nowhere else in the country – NFL, high school, college – that has the platform that LSU has. If you do what you’re supposed to do with the talent that God gave you, you will reach a level that other schools can’t.”
Daniels etched his name among legends on Saturday night, adding to an iconic LSU career that saw 26 games, 9,053 total yards and 78 touchdowns. But Wilson, who had a front row seat to the development of a Heisman quarterback, wanted to make one thing clear to the younger guys in the room: he made it look easy, and because of that it’s not easy.
Few are willing to sacrifice. Are you?
“Elite people in the world go above and beyond,” Wilson said. “They add to it. That’s what really took off for him.”
Wilson’s front row seat looks a little different on game days – especially at home. Once the team runs out of the tunnel, Wilson hustles over to the football operations building and watches the action from associate head coach Frank Wilson’s office.
“I believe everything is where it’s supposed to be during the game,” Wilson said. “The coaches make their adjustments, I’m not a coach. I don’t want to be a distraction because of our relationship. I don’t affect the game once it starts. I become a fan.”
Away games, Wilson says, allow him to feel more comfortable to roam the sidelines.
That was until the Arkansas game last year, when “Sherm” stayed behind and camped out on the team bus. With below freezing temperatures in Fayetteville at kickoff, Daniels struggled to find a rhythm. It was then when Wilson received a phone call from Daniels’ mother, asking him to provide her son some guidance.
“I got off the bus and the cold weather hit me right in the face,” Wilson said. “I’m just helping him. These are things that he already thinks about already, but sometimes you just need to refocus when adversity hits.”
Nothing about that conversation was about X’s and O’s, nor was it about football at all. It was about being a calming influence for someone who needed it most.
Coming to work every day with a growth mindset doesn’t stop with Daniels. Just check Wilson’s phone, where a group chat with a handful of players is titled “Daily Improvement,” providing an outlet to communicate, have fun and challenge one another.
“I told him your legacy is not the trophy downstairs,” Wilson said. “Your legacy is who did you improve? Who did you push? Who is the next one that will get to the podium and say because of Jayden running, I can walk? A big thing for him and his development has been developing others. Reach down as you climb.”
After capturing the most coveted award in all of sports, Daniels took the podium and made his speech, exhibiting poise and moxie like he does on Saturdays in the pocket.
In closing, Daniels stopped and made sure one final thank you was dished out.
“Thank you for everything that you’ve done for me bro,” Daniels said to Wilson, who was sitting in the crowd. “For pushing me no matter what. You might be annoying, but I love you.”
That’s what their relationship was all about.
A fatherly figure that can get on him. A friend who he can lean on. A brother and someone to confide in.
For Daniels, Sherman Wilson was all three – present at every step on the path toward the Heisman.