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After years of trying, Bloomgren finally landed JT Daniels

Ndidi Nwosu / Thresher

By Daniel Schrager     2/21/23 11:52pm

While he was in Mobile, Ala., preparing his team for Rice’s first bowl appearance in eight years, head coach Mike Bloomgren was also working on another project. JT Daniels, a former five-star recruit who started three games for the University of Georgia’s 2021 national championship team, had just entered the transfer portal and Bloomgren wanted to lure the then-West Virginia University quarterback to South Main.

“[We] actually flew him in while we were playing the bowl game in Mobile, he landed in Houston while we were playing,” Bloomgren said. “And then we got back from the bowl game at like 2 in the morning. But we spent all of Sunday with him. And that kind of showed him why this should be a great fit.”

Bloomgren had heard that the quarterback, who spent his first two seasons at the University of Southern California, was close to committing to a different school. According to Daniels, that school was Georgia Southern University, where his former USC head coach Clay Helton now worked. But Bloomgren said he got on the phone with Daniels and convinced him to at least come see Rice’s campus before he made his decision.

“The weekend before our bowl trip, I had a break in the day when I was setting stuff up at my home because we had official visits going on,” Bloomgren said. “I got on the phone with him. And he ended up calling his dad and we probably talked for 45 minutes to an hour. And basically, we kept them from committing to the other institution that night, and committing to come on a visit here that next week.”

The way Daniels tells it, while he was leaning towards Georgia Southern at one point, he was never ready to rule out Rice completely.

“I knew before going in I was trying to make a decision fast and just I know the offensive situation that exists here,” Daniels said. “For the most part I really liked Rice from the jump.”

Daniels, who has now transferred three times, said that while he’s used to recruiting visits by now, his conversations with offensive coordinator Marques Tuiasosopo won him over.

“I’ve been to enough campuses at this point, so it’s never a big deal for me,” Daniels said. “I was with Tui for eight hours. [We] went through the offense, made sure I liked it, and [I] pretty much made my decision at that point.”

Daniels, who is now pursuing his masters in industrial organizational psychology, waited two days to make sure he was certain. Then, he told Bloomgren that he’d be an Owl. According to Daniels, his relationship with Bloomgren and Tuiasosopo, as well as his belief that he fit well in Bloomgren’s offense, ultimately convinced him to join.

Bloomgren had recruited Daniels since his time as offensive coordinator at Stanford University. Daniels said the Cardinal were one of his final two or three choices, before he committed to USC. According to Bloomgren, he’s been hoping to work with the Mater Dei High School alum ever since.

“[I’ve] recruited him since he was 14 or 15, since he was a ninth grader at Mater Dei, and built a great relationship [with him],” Bloomgren said. “I remember him and his dad hanging out at my house and just having all the other coaches come around, and just what a great time it was.”

Daniels was named USC’s starter as a true-freshman, but his sophomore season was cut short by an injury in the Trojans’ season opener. According to Bloomgren, he reached out to Daniels after the injury to offer support.

“I was just like, ‘hey, man, this too shall pass. You’re gonna be the same player, and even better than you ever thought you could be,’” Bloomgren said.

Daniels said that the two maintained a strong relationship over the years. 

“At this point we’ve known each other long enough to be friends,” Daniels said. “To the point where he would text me [after] games and what not, and just check in with me.”

After reviewing his texts with Daniels, Bloomgren said that he cut off contact with the quarterback, outside of the one text after his injury, until each time he entered the transfer portal, in order to comply with the NCAA’s tampering rules. 

“It’s kind of, forboden once somebody signs with another institution,” Bloomgren said. “So I always respected that, except for when he got injured … And then every other time, we of course, waited for the portal to open.”

Prior to last season, when Daniels transferred from Georgia to West Virginia, Bloomgren said that he reached out to the quarterback as soon as he entered the transfer portal, and almost lured him to Rice. Bloomgren flew to Georgia to spend a day talking to Daniels in Athens. Daniels considered Rice, but ultimately ruled it out after not being able to bring his preferred teammates along.

“They were in the conversation,” Daniels said. “At the time I thought it would have been difficult for me to get some of the other guys that were planning to go with me to get into Rice.”

Instead, Bloomgren had to wait a year, but he finally landed his quarterback.

“I do go back to the length of the relationship, the persistence and just the staying with it,” Bloomgren said. “He was the first player we offered at Stanford in his class, which was supposed to be the 2019 class – he ended up reclassifying in ‘18. But I was in love with him. I built a relationship with his dad that I cherish … Those things just paid off.”

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