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For USF's Daniels, FSU game nothing personal

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:14 PM
TALLAHASSEE -

He's the Tallahassee Kid.

University of South Florida senior quarterback B.J. Daniels once dressed in garnet and gold. He did the Tomahawk Chop. He dreamed of becoming the next Charlie Ward. He actually lived for seven years on Florida State University's campus, where his father was a dormitory director.

In time, he grew into one of Tallahassee's greatest high-school athletes.

He was the city's favorite son.

And now he's … the enemy?

"It's got a little circus aspect to it, doesn't it?'' Daniels said. "It won't have anything to do with what happens between the white lines.''

When slumping USF (2-2) faces No. 4-ranked FSU (4-0) on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium, Daniels' presence makes it part-soap opera, part-grudge match. And in some cases, it compromises the loyalties.

"We hear it 10 times a day,'' said Daniels' father, Bruce. "So many people say, 'I'm a Seminole, but I'm pulling for B.J.' "

Daniels, trying to right USF's ship after a horrific 31-27 loss at Ball State last weekend, said he won't be nervous. He has been here before. On Sept. 26, 2009, the Bulls weren't given much of a chance, particularly because a season-ending injury to Matt Grothe forced USF to start Daniels, a redshirt freshman. How crazy was it? Before the game, Daniels remembers staring up at the seats where he once cheered for FSU.

USF stunned the Seminoles 17-7 at Doak Campbell Stadium, getting two touchdown passes and 126 rushing yards from Daniels in a slack-jawed performance. Afterward, with reporters ready to anoint a star, Daniels calmly proclaimed: "This wasn't about me.''

"B.J. killed us that day,'' said FSU senior defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel of Madison County, who has known Daniels since high school. "That game was a while ago, but we remember. I don't want to say revenge, but we want to beat him. Everybody in Tallahassee knows about B.J. Daniels.''

Another layer of irony: Daniels has compiled 9,333 career yards of total offense, the 11th-highest total for a state of Florida player in the Football Bowl Subdivision, but he never was offered a scholarship by FSU.

"There were murmurs here and there about them recruiting me, but it never happened,'' Daniels said. "I'm not sure I would've gone. By then, I wanted to get out of Tallahassee and experience something new.''

Daniels was a sensational athlete at Lincoln High School, the only player ever to be named the Tallahassee Democrat's Big Bend Athlete of the Year in football and basketball in the same season. He found his destiny at USF.

FSU's Jimbo Fisher, the offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting, was grooming Christian Ponder and had a commitment from big, sturdy EJ Manuel, rated the No. 2 quarterback prospect in America.

So, Daniels and FSU went down separate paths.

Until the intersection of Sept. 26, 2009 – and now, Saturday night.

"There won't be anything like that first time,'' said Daniels' mother, Rhonda, a nurse at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. "We went to the hotel the night before to see him (in 2009) and it calmed me to see how calm he was.

"He was not a basket case. Seeing him was like an anti-anxiety pill for me.''

Daniels' father was fine – as far back as B.J. can remember, the father always sat expressionless in the stands – but his mother remained tense as the game unfolded.

"Part of that game, I wasn't even watching,'' she said. "Everybody else was standing up and I was sitting down. I was just overwhelmed and felt like I was going to pass out.

"Now here we go again. It won't be like that. I've accepted the fact that I'm in Seminole country. The majority of people I work with and know are Seminoles. I like the Seminoles to win, too – every week but one. That's my son down there. You don't have to tell me what he's all about. I know his heart.''

B.J. stands for Bruce Jr.

Sure enough, Daniels has been his father's protégé, athletically and personally. The father, now an event director at Florida A&M's Lawson Center, was a basketball point guard for Bethune-Cookman University. He's entering his fifth season as girls basketball coach at Leon High, where his youngest child, Eleana, is a freshman.

"He's the first person I call after a game because I want to hear his perspective,'' Daniels said. "He expects great things from me. He just keeps it all in perspective. I think I'm like him.''

Daniels had a stormy entrance into the world – his mother endured 24 hours of labor, then a C-section – but he was a calm, happy baby. When he became an athlete, when the stage was the biggest, he was happiest of all.

That hasn't changed.

"Sometimes, there's a tendency to try to do more, to put pressure on yourself,'' said the father, who admitted he thinks his son's first USF start established lofty expectations, which are sometimes difficult to match. "B.J. has never been about that. I don't worry about him at all.

"USF doesn't have to be better than Florida State. They just have to be better on that day, just show some heart on the day of the game, just be themselves.''

That was how Daniels felt on Sept. 26, 2009.

That's how he plans to feel on Saturday night, despite USF's status as a two-touchdown underdog.

"The group of us who played in that game (in 2009), we've gone through the same thing, the highs and lows of college life, and we've grown into men,'' Daniels said. "I know a lot of people are going to be high-strung about this game, but I want to enjoy it.

"This isn't a personal thing. This isn't me going back to my past and beating the team I once cheered for. It's about USF's program getting better. It's about stepping up and making a name for ourselves. I'm going to love being out there.''


jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353 Twitter: JJohnstonTrib

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