Daniels: ‘Life is amazing’
SEATTLE – BJ Daniels’ earliest football memory makes him laugh.
“I was a year behind,” he said. “Most of the kids were 6. I was 7, but my dad’s friend coached the team, so they allowed me to play. I remember playing running back and catching a pass. I ran all the way down the field and then I stopped and turned around to see if anybody was chasing me and my entire family was there telling me to keep running, so I kept running into the end zone.”
It’s something that still stands out today, at 30 years old, because it was funny, but the passion for football sparked at that age was serious.
Daniels comes from an athletic family, but football wasn’t their main priority.
“Basketball is what almost everyone in my family has done,” Daniels explained. “I’m one of the only football players, but I’ve always had a ball in my hands and everyone around me has been able to have a ball in their hands as well.”
Even if football wasn’t the most popular sport in his family, it was a pretty big deal in his hometown of Tallahassee, Fla.
“Florida is definitely a hot bed for a lot of athletes,” Daniels said. “I was fortunate enough to go to Lincoln High School. We’ve had numerous athletes go all the way to the NFL, like Pat Watkins, Antonio Cromartie, myself, Buck Allen, Javorius Allen, Earl Holmes, I’m going to be mad if I forget anybody … William Gay, and that’s just my city alone. Florida, they’re serious about their football.”
Daniels remained in state for college, attending the University of South Florida, where he began working his way up the record books. He left USF second in total offense with 10,501 yards, tied for second in passing touchdowns with 52 and first in rushing touchdowns with 25, which is obviously good, but was a letdown for Daniels.
“I was on my way to being an all-time leader in yards in USF history,” he said. “It just so happened that the guy in front of me named Matt Grothe, not only was he the all-time leader in the school, he was the all-time leader in the entire Big East Conference. He was ahead of guys like Pat White from West Virginia, Ken Dorsey from Miami and Donavan McNabb was also on the list.
"So, I was on my way to trying to break that, I get to my senior year and I break my ankle and end up missing my last three games. I remember crying and being so upset that I never thought I would have an opportunity to reach my goals. I had spent from 6 years old in my first football game to my senior year of college playing sports and football and dreaming to make it to the league and I thought that was all over.”
Daniels was disappointed. He questioned his future. But, one thing you learn quickly when talking with him – he doesn’t give up easily. He did need to be realistic, however, and there was some uncertainty surrounding his football future given the severity of his broken ankle.
“I have metal in my ankle,” he said. “I have a three-inch plate and 15 screws.”
Finding out that he has that kind of hardware in his foot is probably hard to believe for XFL fans who saw how elusive he was Saturday, rushing for 84 yards in the second half of Saturday’s game against the BattleHawks.
Back in 2012, though, there was concern over whether he would ever play again.
“My parents pushed me to graduate,” said Daniels. “I got my degree in criminology, and I have a minor in graphic design. I even did FBI interviews, but I applied for the NFL draft and, by the grace of God, I was still drafted. Going into the draft, I’m a guy that people have to consider … you know, I have a major injury.
“Many teams wouldn’t take a chance on a guy that’s hurt. Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers was the guy that gave me that opportunity, so I’m always thankful for that. It all was just an amazing experience and really humbling.”
Football has been such a life-changing experience for Daniels that it changed the course of what he wants to do down the road. When asked if he would pursue something in criminology once his football career is over, he had a thoughtful response.
“To be honest with you, through my experiences with football and the things it means to me, and the things I’ve had to go through, I know that my story is something a lot of people can relate to. As far as continuing to work and grind and things might not work out but you continue to persevere and overcome, so I want to help kids, I want to help people. My next journey or step is to be possibly be an athletic director at a major university sometime coming in the near future.”
In the present, Daniels is focused on doing everything he can to help the Seattle Dragons win football games. He was called upon to provide an offensive spark in the second half of the matchup against the St Louis BattleHawks, and he did just that.
The Dragons’ comeback fell short, but the offense totalled 198 of their 253 yards after Daniels entered the game and added two touchdowns. Coach Jim Zorn spoke about the job Daniels did leading the team in the postgame press conference.
“BJ has the wheels to make somebody miss, which he did, and it kind of just ignited us in the run game and the passing game," Zorn said.
There was a strong fan reaction to Daniels entering Saturday’s game – especially in Seattle – and when you hear more from the quarterback, it’s not hard to see why. So, how has his passion for football evolved since the days of the 6-year-old, who wasn’t sure what to do when he outran everyone and no one was chasing him into the end zone?
“It’s evolved tremendously, and I will say it has with age … my love for it and how I view it,” Daniels said. “Football has given me a lot of experiences. I’ve traveled the world, I’ve been awarded opportunities to be in different circles, I’ve had the chance to meet President Obama and go to Super Bowls, and it’s amazing. I’ve been able to motivate so many people from different walks of life, you know I’ve been cut from NFL teams, I’ve been released, I’ve been fired from my job per se. I’m just thankful that I never thought I’d be back in Seattle and, not only am I here, but I’m playing football back in the same stadium where it all started.
“I mean life is amazing, it’s crazy how it happens.”
Maura Dooley is the Dragons Insider and sideline reporter for 710 ESPN Seattle and she contributes to a weekly Dragons podcast.