True freshman Jayden Daniels named starting quarterback at Arizona State

Michelle Gardner
The Republic |

Jayden Daniels was the starting quarterback for his varsity team the day he showed up as a high school freshman.

Now his college career is starting off much the same way.

After a competitive battle, Daniels, a true freshman, was named the Arizona State starter by coach Herm Edwards, who Monday night confirmed what had been widely speculated the previous week.

Daniels becomes the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Sun Devils.

Another true freshman, Joey Yellen, will be Daniels' backup.

"It says a lot about him and his ability right now to do some things we feel real good about," Edwards said. "That's how we're going to roll."

Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) during football practice on Aug. 12.

Edwards was quick to point out Daniels has some veterans around him on offense so he won't have to shoulder the load alone.

"It's one of those deals, you start a freshman quarterback and you try and anticipate what's going to happen," Edwards said. "He's not the savior. He's a freshman quarterback like all freshman are. He's going to do a lot of good things and he's going to make some errors. That's part of it."

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Since the spring, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rob Likens has said he would like to name a starter two weeks before the Aug. 29 season opener against Kent State and he held true to that.

"He doesn't put the ball in jeopardy and he sees the field are the two main things," Likens said of his new starter. "For his age and hasn't had a lot of experience in college except for spring practice, his ability to make quick decisions with the speed that is going on around him and his ability to adjust from the high school speed to the college speed was nothing I've ever seen before."

Some have questioned whether Daniels' 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame can hold up in the college game but Likens noted that his protege is built in the same mold as Jared Goff, whom Likens coached at California. So he never saw that factor as a detriment.

Likens also says he's never had true freshman holding the top two quarterbacks spots in his 30 years and he couldn't say he'd heard of that ever happening anywhere in a major conference.

Daniels and junior Dillon Sterling-Cole, Manny Wilkins' backup a year ago, had emerged as the front-runners after spring drills in February. The other contenders were also true freshmen —Yellen and Ethan Long.

Long was ruled out of the starting mix last week but the versatile 6-foot 2, 220-pounder is expected to have a big role with the Sun Devils moving forward. He has worked out a slot receiver, fullback and on special teams with Edwards also hinting Long could be used on defense.

But Daniels was the first quarterback out with the first team during last week's practices, although the other quarterbacks did get some first-team reps.

When the team took to the practice field Monday night it was Daniels and Yellen taking the reps.

Sterling-Cole has been slowed by a sore shoulder and spent the early part of practice getting treatment.

Likens has praise all four candidates for their work ethic and character, which made the decision even tougher.

"I love all those guys and if you have ever been up for a job and didn't get it. If you've ever been demoted, if you've ever been fired, if you've ever been not picked for a team, if you’ve ever not been picked for a promotion, everybody understands that," Likens said last week. "So very sensitive to that. I’m not looking forward to it."

All three true freshmen enrolled at Arizona State in January, which allowed them to take part in spring ball and start competing for the vacant job.

"Coming in I just wanted to play college football," Daniels said. "I had a chance to come in and earn the starting spot and I'm grateful for the opportunity."

Daniels started 53 high school games, completing 921 of 1,389 pass attempts for 14,007 yards with 170 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. He also racked up 3,645 yards rushing and another 41 touchdowns on 562 carries.

During the 2018 season, Daniels had two games in which he threw for more than 400 yards. In those games he accounted for 546 and 574 yards between his rushing and passing numbers.

Daniels, the No. 2 ranked dual threat quarterback in the country coming out of high school, is Southern California's career record holder for passing yards and passing touchdowns. He ranks second in state history in both categories behind Jake Browning. He’s also is the state record holder for total offense in a single season — 6,431 yards as a junior.

Yellen started the last two years at Mission Viejo during which his team was 22-3. Yellen, 6-3 and 210 pounds , completed 360-of-595 passes (60.5%) for 6,131 yards while throwing for 57 touchdowns with only 14 interceptions.

Likens said he was impressed with the progress Yellen made from spring football to the start of camp two weeks ago. He lost 20 or so pounds and made a slight adjustment in his delivery that has paid off in his showing.