By JENELYN RUSSO     6/28/2017

Capping off what was an extraordinary year for the Mater Dei High School quarterback, JT Daniels was awarded the second annual Trinity League Athlete of the Year Award in recognition of his record-breaking offensive season for the Monarchs.

Daniels was presented with the award earlier this month at the Orange County Register 2017 OC Varsity Athlete & Coach of the Year Awards held at the Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin, an annual event that honors the best athletes and coaches in Orange County high school sports. In addition to the honorees, the night was highlighted by a keynote address given by former Los Angeles Rams quarterback, Vince Ferragamo.

Selected by the Register’s sports writers and editors from a list of outstanding Trinity League athletes, Daniels was recognized by the Diocese of Orange and presented the award by Catholic Sports View host, Bob Gibson, who spoke of the football phenom’s commitment to his sport and his team, both on and off the field.

In an interview following the event with Gibson, Daniels expressed his gratitude for the special recognition in what is often touted as one of the most competitive high school sports leagues in the country.

“It is a great honor,” said Daniels of the Trinity League Athlete of the Year Award. “Orange County is loaded with athletes and talent all across the board. It’s definitely a good feeling…to be regarded as one of the top athletes in the county.”

In only his sophomore year, Daniels led the Monarchs to their first undefeated regular season since 1997 and their first outright league title since 1999. He did so by posting one of the most record-setting seasons in Orange County high school football history, including setting Mater Dei records for completions (315), attempts (423) and completion percentage (74.5). Additionally, Daniels also set county records in both touchdowns (67) and passing yards (4,849), accomplishments that also garnered Daniels the Register’s 2017 Offensive Player of the Year Award in football, as well as the Gatorade 2016-2017 California Football Player of the Year Award.

As he and the Monarchs marched through both their Trinity League and non-conference schedules, often defeating opponents by large margins, the squad seemed poised to make a run for the state title.

But that run was stopped short by a familiar Trinity League foe, as Mater Dei’s only loss of the season came in the CIF-SS Division 1 final, where they were defeated by St. John Bosco, 42-28. The Braves went on to win the state championship, while the setback still stings for Daniels and his teammates, providing a healthy amount of motivation as they look to next season.

“The loss is definitely motivation. We’re going to take that with us this year,” said Daniels. “Really, we wanted to win a championship, and we had the talent to do that. We didn’t come up with the championship, but overall, it was a great season.”

A word that is often used to describe the young varsity starter is poise, and Daniels embodied that this past season as he faced a continual string of tough opponents, even calling his own plays, a reflection of the confidence Monarchs head coach Bruce Rollinson and the coaching staff have in Daniels.

And the respect is mutual, as Daniels relishes playing under one of the best high school football coaches in the country in Rollinson, at the school he’s always wanted to represent.

“You learn so much about responsibility, and really taking your own life into your own hands, not only for yourself, but for your team,” said Daniels of Rollinson coaches. “[Coach Rollinson] is probably the greatest man I know. I’ve always dreamed of playing Mater Dei football.”

With all the accolades that he has collected this year, Daniels was quick to point out that he couldn’t have reached such staggering stats without the support of his coaches and the play of his teammates. And yet, the incoming junior has his sights set on even higher achievements this fall.

“I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done, but I haven’t done much yet,” said Daniels. “There’s a lot more for me to do.”

Known for his incredible work ethic away from the gridiron, Daniels admitted he’s working this offseason on improving his pocket presence and would like a higher completion rate, in the neighborhood of 83%.

And while a championship is still the goal, Daniels is seasoned enough in his young years to realize that there is more to the sport than winning.

“We want to achieve all these things, but we understand football is more than just wins and losses,” said Daniels. “There’s a lot more to football that I play for. I just love the game and my teammates, just the whole experience, working for something together. I think that’s the real goal.”