Replacing Sam Darnold, who went third in the NFL draft in April, is no easy task for USC coach Clay Helton.
On Sunday, though, just a week before the Trojans’ season opener, Helton officially has his man.
True freshman JT Daniels was named the starting quarterback on Sunday night, beating out redshirt sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears for the job and ending the three-way quarterback battle.
“In the end, JT Daniels has earned the starting position and will be the starter against UNLV,” Helton said in a statement. “As you can imagine JT was excited when we let him know, but his uncanny maturity kept him focused on what is next.
“At the completion of camp, it became clear to me and our staff that JT had taken a step ahead of Matt, Jack and Holden [Thomas]. I thought the quarterback competition was very competitive and fair and I am satisfied with how our staff handled the process. We look forward to each young man continuing to grow and progress at the position and we are very fortunate to have each one here at USC.”
Daniels, a five-star recruit, was ranked by Rivals as the fourth-best player in the entire 2018 recruiting class. The hype surrounding the 18-year-old has been sky high since he committed to the Trojans.
The 2017 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year graduated a year early from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, which also produced former USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Matt Leinart, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2004. Daniels led the program to a state championship his junior year, racking up 4,123 yards and 52 touchdowns that season with just four interceptions.
While he’s significantly younger than Fink and Sears — he’ll be just the second true freshman to start a season opener for the Trojans, behind Barkley in 2009 — that doesn’t seem to bother Helton, who recently told reporters that age “doesn’t matter.”
“I am honored that Coach Helton picked me as the starter,” Daniels said in a statement. “I understand that it is a huge responsibility, and I need to work hard to be prepared to handle it. It was a tight competition between all the quarterbacks throughout camp. We pushed each other every day. I felt that Coach’s decision wouldn’t be wrong whoever he picked.
“I am thankful to Matt and Jack and Holden for teaching me so much and helping me adjust to the system so that I could quickly get into the flow of things, and I know we will continue to be supportive teammates in the quarterback room.”
No. 15 USC opens up its season on Sept. 1 against UNLV in Los Angeles.