Mr. Football 2017: JT Daniels

It’s no surprise that Mater Dei QB JT Daniels has been selected as Mr. Football for California for 2017 season. Photo: Mark Tennis.

When the state has one of its strongest national player of the year candidates in many years, it’s fairly obvious who should be Mr. Football for the 2017 season. The Mater Dei quarterback was the clear leader of the nation’s No. 1 team but we still had another finalist with 72 touchdowns and another who set a state record for total offense. In the end, the only real complication with Daniels was his re-classification from junior to senior because that changed the lineup of our other state players of the year.

To see who has been named Cal-Hi Sports State Player of the Year for defense, juniors, sophomores, medium schools and small schools, CLICK HERE.

For a list of our all-time players of the year for juniors, sophomores, medium schools and small schools, CLICK HERE.

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Historical comparisons started quickly after the CIF Open Division state final last month when the Mater Dei of Santa Ana football team capped a dominant 15-0 season with a 52-21 win against perennial power De La Salle of Concord.

It wasn’t just for the Monarchs as a team, either. Their quarterback, JT Daniels, wrapped up his third season as the starter and with improvement in all facets of his game over the previous 12 months figured to be not just a leading Mr. Football State Player of the Year candidate for California but perhaps for all major national player of the year awards as well.

The expected has become official today. Daniels is the 2017 Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Football and joins a State Player of the Year list that spans more than 100 years. The only other Mr. Football from Mater Dei is Rod Perry, a receiver who was selected after the 1996 season. Daniels is also the first State Player of the Year from Orange County since Aaron Corp of Orange Lutheran in 2006.

Daniels passed for 233 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 43 yards and two scores in his final game for the No. 1 Monarchs in Sacramento. Photo: Willie Eashman.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound signal caller nearly earned the state’s most prestigious honor after last season as a sophomore. He had 4,849 yards passing with 67 TD passes and just six interceptions. Daniels and the Monarchs, however, couldn’t beat league rival St. John Bosco of Bellflower a second time in the CIF Southern Section Division I championship. That game also presented an opportunity for Bosco All-American lineman Wyatt Davis to put on a show. He did, the Braves won the state title two weeks later, and it was Davis who was named Mr. Football.

Daniels, who committed to USC last summer, didn’t pass for as many yards this season, but the Monarchs were a better team and ran the ball more effectively. He still finished with 4,123 yards and 52 TDs to go with just four interceptions. Daniels’ rushing stats also were far superior in 2017 as he added 556 yards and nine TDs.

After the season concluded, a smaller group than usual of just five were selected as Mr. Football State Player of the Year finalists. The other four in addition to Daniels were WR Joe Ngata of Folsom, QB Jayden Daniels from Cajon of San Bernardino, RB Kazmeir Allen of Tulare and Daniels’ highly regarded teammate, receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.

While Allen set a state and national record by scoring 72 touchdowns and Jayden Daniels became the first quarterback in state history to pile up more than 6,000 yards of rushing-passing yards, neither of those two were Division I in the CIF state bowls and they didn’t lead their teams to a state title. Mater Dei, meanwhile, played the strongest schedule in school history and won every game by 10 points or more.

On the national level, just three days after the CIF state final, JT collected the Gatorade National Player of the Year award. Others may still follow. Considering his accomplishments this year and for his career and considering where he led the Monarchs, it could be argued that Daniels is the strongest Mr. Football State POY since D.J. Williams of De La Salle in 1999. It’s also why we decided not to have a Twitter poll among the finalists this year. It’s a bit of a no-brainer.

Also shortly after the state final, Daniels also let it be known that he will be re-classifying from being a junior (Class of 2019) to a senior (Class of 2018) with plans of graduating early from Mater Dei. That also will give him a chance to compete for USC’s starting job in the fall now that the Trojans’ Sam Darnold has declared for the NFL Draft and won’t be coming back for his senior season.

Daniels will have to complete several extra classes at Mater Dei for the rest of this school year so he can graduate early and he’ll miss out on all of the various Class of 2019 recruiting events, especially the Elite 11 quarterbacks. Still, leaving Mater Dei earlier than expected for him makes complete sense.

With Daniels’ reclassification, however, that does change up the list of those who can be State Player of the Year in other categories. When it’s a junior who is Mr. Football (like Antioch’s Najee Harris two years ago), a separate State Senior of the Year is chosen since the junior also is de-facto the State Junior of the Year. Daniels would now be the State Senior of the Year as well as overall. The senior who would have been State Senior of the Year had Daniels’ not reclassified? That would have been Mater Dei teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown. The State Junior of the Year honor that also opened up due to that reclassification then came down to one of the two State POY finalists: Joe Ngata of Folsom or Jayden Daniels.

Daniels and St. Brown hooked up for a TD for the West team at this year’s US Army All-American bowl. They will continue their partnership as well at USC. St. Brown committed to the Trojans at the end of that All-American game.

Another angle of Daniels’ reclassification is that he won’t be able to break the all-time state career records for yardage and touchdown passes. He probably would have been hard-pressed to break both anyway since Folsom’s Jake Browning put up totals in 2014 of 16,775 yards and 229 TDs. Despite no senior season, Daniels still ended with 12,014 career yards and 152 career TDs. That puts him third in state history for yards and second for TDs. Daniels’ 152 TDs beat the previous all-time best from the CIF Southern Section of 145 set in 2006 by Jimmy Clausen of Westlake Village Oaks Christian.

There was a time last year when we thought JT might be Mr. Football three times for his Mater Dei career. It will only be once, but that’s enough. Just being on the list at all with some of the other great players in California history is quite an accomplishment.

Here is the all-time list of Mr. Football State Players of the Year (all selected by Cal-Hi Sports but done retroactively based on research prior to 1975 by our late founder, the great Nelson Tennis):

One of the highest rated recruits that St. John Bosco has had in recent years has been lineman Wyatt Davis, who also was the 2016 Mr. Football for California. Photo: Mark Tennis.

2017 — JT Daniels (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) QB (Jr.)*
2016 — Wyatt Davis (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) OL
2015 — Najee Harris (Antioch) RB (Jr.)
2014 — Jake Browning (Folsom) QB
2013 — Adoree’ Jackson (Serra, Gardena) WR-DB
2012 — Michael Hutchings (De La Salle, Concord) LB
2011 — Deontay Greenberry (Washington Union, Easton) WR-DB
2010 — Dano Graves (Folsom) QB
2009 — Dillon Baxter (Mission Bay, San Diego) QB-RB
2008 — Tyler Gaffney (Cathedral Catholic, San Diego) RB
2007 — Milton Knox (Birmingham, Lake Balboa) RB
2006 — Aaron Corp (Lutheran, Orange) QB
2005 — Toby Gerhart (Norco) RB
2004 — Desean Jackson (Poly, Long Beach) WR-DB-KR
2003 — Sean Norton (Hart, Newhall) QB
2002 — Whitney Lewis (St. Bonaventure, Ventura) WR-RB
2001 — Derek Landri (De La Salle, Concord) OL-DL
2000 — Tyler Ebell (Ventura) RB
1999 — D.J. Williams (De La Salle, Concord) RB-LB
1998 — Kyle Boller (Hart, Newhall) QB
1997 — DeShaun Foster (Tustin) RB
1996 — Rod Perry (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) WR-DB
1995 — Chris Claiborne (J.W. North, Riverside) RB-LB
1994 — Daylon McCutcheon (Bishop Amat, La Puente) RB-DB
1993 — Keith Smith (Newbury Park) QB
1992 — Travis Kirschke (Esperanza, Anaheim) OL-DL
1991 — Amani Toomer (De La Salle, Concord) WR
1990 — Napoleon Kaufman (Lompoc) RB
1989 — Ryan Hancock (Monta Vista, Cupertino) QB
1988 — Tommie Smith (Antelope Valley, Lancaster) RB-DB
1987 — Bret Johnson (El Toro) QB
1986 — Russell White (Crespi, Encino) RB (Soph.)
1985 — Terry Rodgers (Sweetwater, National City) RB-KR
1984 — Aaron Emanuel (Quartz Hill) RB
1983 — Ryan Knight (Rubidoux, Riverside) RB
1982 — John Paye (Menlo School, Atherton) QB
1981 — Kevin Willhite (Cordova, Rancho Cordova) RB
1980 — Michael Alo (Banning, Wilmington) FB
1979 — Kerwin Bell (Edison, Huntington Beach) RB
1978 — John Elway (Granada Hills) QB
1977 — Marcus Allen (Lincoln, San Diego) QB
1976 — Freeman McNeil (Banning, Wilmington) RB
1975 — Charles White (San Fernando) RB
1974 — Myron White (Santa Ana Valley) RB
1973 — Frank Manumaluena (Banning, Wilm.) LB
1972 — Wally Henry (Lincoln, San Diego) RB
1971 — John Sciarra (Bishop Amat, La Puente) QB
1970 — Pat Haden (Bishop Amat, La Puente) QB
1969 — James McAlister (Blair, Pasadena) RB
1968 — Jesse Freitas (Serra, San Mateo) QB
1967 — Calvin Jones (Balboa, San Francisco) RB (Jr.)
1966 — Mickey Cureton (Centennial, Compton) RB
1965 — Greg Jones (South San Francisco) RB
1964 — George Buehler (Whittier) LB-OL
1963 — Tim Rossovich (St. Francis, MV) LB
1962 — Steve Grady (Loyola, Los Angeles) RB
1961 — Mike Garrett (Roosevelt, Los Angeles) RB
1960 — Kent Nance (Madera) RB
1959 — Willie Brown (Poly, Long Beach) RB
1958 — Daryle Lamonica (Clovis) QB
1957 — Jim Josephson (Bellarmine, San Jose) FB
1956 — Randy Meadows (Downey) RB
1955 — Mickey Flynn (Anaheim) RB (Jr.)
1954 — Dick Bass (Vallejo) RB
1953 — C.R. Roberts (Oceanside) RB
1952 — Ronnie Knox (Santa Monica) QB
1951 — Marty Keough (Pomona) RB
1950 — Charley Powell (San Diego) E
1949 — Paul Larson (Turlock) HB
1948 — Johnny Olszewski (Long Beach St. Anthony) FB
1947 — Hugh McElhenny (L.A. Washington) FB
1946 — Al Pollard (L.A. Loyola) HB
1945 — Paul Haynes (Pasadena) HB
1944 — Jackie Jensen (Oakland) HB
1943 — Don Burnside (North Sacramento Grant) QB
1942 — Glenn Davis (La Verne Bonita) QB
1941 — Billy Agnew (Piedmont) HB
1940 — Tommy Fears (L.A. Manual Arts) E
1939 — Johnny Petrovich (Alhambra) QB
1938 — Jim Jurkovich (Fresno) FB
1937 — Frankie Albert (Glendale) QB
1936 — Mike Klotovich (San Francisco Mission) HB
1935 — Kenny Washington (L.A. Lincoln) QB
1934 — Doyle Nave (L.A. Manual Arts) HB
1933 — Vic Bottari (Vallejo) QB
1932 — Nello “Flash” Falaschi (San Jose Bellarmine) HB
1931 — Larry Lutz (Santa Ana) T
1930 — Charles “Chili” Bertoli (Berkeley) HB
1929 — Ervin “Cotton” Warburton (San Diego) QB (Jr.)
1928 — Orv Mohler (Alhambra) QB
1927 — Gus Shaver (Covina) HB
1926 — Erny Pinckert (San Bernardino) FB
1925 — Francis Tappaan (Los Angeles) T

*Daniels played as a junior during the season and is being listed as a junior for this list. He reclassified to senior status after the season with goal of graduating early.
Note: List continues back to 1890 in the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book & Almanac.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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