LAWRENCE — Jalon Daniels has started just three games, but the Kansas football true freshman quarterback has already made a believer out of at least one teammate.
Daniels’ connection with that Jayhawk may have helped him win over even more folks.
Daniels didn’t finish with the best stat line in last Saturday’s 55-14 defeat at then-No. 20 Kansas State — he was 22-for-39 passing for 207 yards and an interception, though he did add two rushing touchdowns. But as he did in his first career start on Sept. 26 at Baylor, Daniels showed glimpses of talent that could signal a promising future.
One such moment, on a third-and-4 attempt from the Jayhawk 31, saw Daniels evade pressure to find sophomore tight end Mason Fairchild for a 27-yard completion.
"He does a good job of taking what’s given, and if it’s not there, he tries his best to get us in the spot to make plays," Fairchild said. "Obviously you saw on that one that I got, it’s just keeping the play alive long enough that someone gets open and gets the ball. He does that really well."
Daniels capped that drive with an 8-yard rushing score that made the visitors' deficit 20-7 with 2:16 left in the second quarter, right before special teams went fully off the rails for the skidding Jayhawks (0-5, 0-4 Big 12).
"Electric. I mean, he’s got all the skill sets to be a great quarterback," Fairchild said of Daniels. "Even right now he’s a good quarterback. He’s going to be a great quarterback for us for years to come."
Barring injury, Daniels will get another opportunity to take a step forward in the Jayhawks’ next contest, an 11 a.m. Saturday matchup with No. 23 Iowa State at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. KU head coach Les Miles earlier this week stated Daniels will "be the guy" against the Cyclones (3-2, 3-1), adding that with "some experience, (Daniels) is going to be very special."
Miles said Daniels should develop into a player who thrives in up-tempo offenses, a dual-threat quarterback that can both extend plays with his mobility and rocket the ball down field.
"That’s what you can expect out of him — move his feet, throw the ball, get it lined up," Miles said. "And when he goes to throw the ball he can make all the throws. He just needs to get more confidence. When he ... steps into a game, he needs to snap his fingers and say, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do,’ and get it right. If he does that, he’ll be a really talented quarterback."
Daniels showcased his scrambling skills early against the Wildcats, using his legs to convert both a third-and-11 and a fourth-and-2 on the Jayhawks’ third drive. Passing proved more of a struggle, however, with Daniels throwing a costly pick-six on a botched screen play that K-State's Justin Gardner returned 24 yards for a score and a 20-0 advantage.
Miles doesn’t believe scrambling is Daniels’ best attribute at this point in his career.
"It’s not his biggest weapon. He can really throw it. He just needs to get more confidence there and spend some time throwing the ball," Miles said. "But he’s going to give us, as well, a very mobile, very confident runner."
Daniels is still looking for his first touchdown through the air, now 45-for-79 passing for 381 yards and one interception across parts of four games. Despite those lackluster numbers, Miles appears pleased with the 6-foot, 203-pounder out of Lawndale, Calif., who only turned 18 earlier this week.
"It’s pretty special what he’s getting accomplished right now, just so you know," Miles said. "… He’s bright as a whip and still provides us with quick feet and the ability to get down the field."
And, if nothing else, Daniels is earning the respect of many inside the KU locker room.
"Kid is definitely tough, man. He’s a baller for sure," said senior offensive lineman Adagio Lopeti. "He’ll go out there, he’ll take the blame, but at the same time he’ll work for every inch that he can get. I mean you’ve seen that. He was fighting for that first down (on the third-and-11) at K-State. Kid is a baller, man."