Even being hit by car cannot deter Georgia safety David Daniel-Sisavanh

Georgia safety David Daniel (14) flies in from the secondary to help bring down Ball State tight end Tanner Koziol (88) during the Bulldogs 45-3 win over the Cardinals on Sept. 9, 2023, at Sanford Stadium. Georgia safety Malaki Starks (24)linebacker Xavian Sorey (18) were also in on the play. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia safety David Daniel (14) flies in from the secondary to help bring down Ball State tight end Tanner Koziol (88) during the Bulldogs 45-3 win over the Cardinals on Sept. 9, 2023, at Sanford Stadium. Georgia safety Malaki Starks (24)linebacker Xavian Sorey (18) were also in on the play. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

ATHENS — At this point, David Daniel-Sisavanh often is overlooked when the discussion turns to great athletes that the Georgia Bulldogs have signed in recent in recent years.

Now a junior safety, Daniel-Sisavanh was rated the No. 3 athlete in the nation in the 247Sports Composite when he signed with the Bulldogs as a 4-star prospect out of Woodstock in the recruiting class of 2021.

So far at Georgia, Daniel-Sisavanh’s supreme athletic ability hasn’t earned him a starring role. But it may have saved his life and, at the very least, saved his legs.

On Aug. 24, 2021, Daniel-Sisavanh was crossing a campus street after getting off a UGA bus when he was struck by a Toyota Prius. The force of the collision threw the 6-foot-2, 185-pound athlete up into the air and into the windshield of the vehicle. Daniel-Sasavanh rolled off the car and ended up in the middle of Sanford Drive on South Campus.

Just days before the Bulldogs were to open the season against No. 3 Clemson, Daniel-Sisavanh found himself being treated at University Health Center for cuts and bruises to his wrist, thighs and back. He also was placed into concussion protocol.

Thankfully for everyone, it was not worse.

“They said if he hadn’t reacted the way he did when that car hit him, he might not have walked again,” said Brent Budde, Daniel-Sisavanh’s head coach at Woodstock High School. “He got up off the ground high enough and quick enough to end up on top of the car instead of ending up underneath it. He was fortunate.”

Said Georgia coach Kirby Smart: “Certainly it was a scary incident and one that he had to rehab and come back from. He was very lucky that it was not any worse than it was.”

The driver of the vehicle was not charged in the crash. Daniel-Sisavanh, as it turned out, was cited for not using a crosswalk.

Actually, the accident did not hold back Daniel-Sisavanh long. He received his first playing time 11 days later when he got in for a few plays in Georgia’s 56-7 win over Alabama-Birmingham. And he has continued to play in bit roles for the Bulldogs in the two years since.

Daniel-Sisavanh saw action in nine games as a special-teams player and reserve defensive back in 2021, then played in 14 games last season. He finished with 14 tackles, including four stops and a tackle for loss in last season’s opening-game win over Oregon.

“Not a lot of people experience something like that,” Daniel-Sisavanh told UGASports.com earlier this year. “I realize I could have been gone within that second. But I was thankful to come back from not-too-severe injuries.”

There is a very good chance you’ll see more of Daniel-Sisavanh going forward. Thanks to the ankle injury that sidelined Javon Bullard against Ball State on Saturday, there’s a distinct possibility the long, tall safety from Cherokee County could get his first career start when the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs play host South Carolina in both team’s SEC opener Saturday at Sanford Stadium (3:30 p.m., CBS).

Daniel-Sisavanh can at least expect to play more. He has been splitting reps at strong safety this week with fellow junior Dan Jackson and a few other players.

Daniel-Sisavanh was slow to get going this season, too. He suffered a turf-toe injury in preseason camp and was unable to return full speed to practice until last week. He got his first action of the season last week against Ball State, recording two tackles and a pass-breakup.

For a myriad of reasons, Budde doesn’t think the Bulldogs have had a chance to see the best of Daniel-Sisavanh yet. He had the good fortune of witnessing it every day at Woodstock High.

Daniel-Sisavanh played both ways and pretty much all over the field as a senior for the Wolverines. Sometimes he might line up at receiver or running back on offense or occasionally at cornerback or linebacker or some other place on defense.

But, generally, Budde kept Daniel-Sisavanh in the center of the defense at free safety, where he could patrol the field sideline-to-sideline and be involved in pretty much every play.

It was as a safety that Daniel-Sisavanh drew the notice of the Bulldogs, and that’s where they recruited him to play.

“His recruitment was exciting for everybody,” said Budde, now an assistant coach at Sequoyah High. “Just about everybody was on him. It was well-deserved because he had all the physical attributes you were looking for – the strength, the long arms and the speed. He could really cover some ground. But what always stood out to me was how much he loved contact. He searches it out.”

That’s what first drew Budde’s attention to Daniel-Sisavanh. Then known simply as David Daniel, he didn’t play varsity ball for the Wolverines as a ninth grader, though he certainly could have, according to Budde. It was during one of those practices with the freshman team that he first drew Budde’s notice.

“There was a collision down at the other end of the field where the freshmen were going against the JV kids (junior varsity), and I heard it all the way up there where were practicing,” Budde said. “David had hit another kid in the middle of the field, and I turned around immediately and looked to see what they heck was going on.”

Those kind of hits become commonplace the next three seasons. Daniel drew comparisons to other great safeties who had played for the Bulldogs, including Greg Blue and Thomas Davis.

Daniel committed to the Bulldogs early in September 2019. But that didn’t prevent other SEC schools from coming after him, especially Auburn. But he never wavered from his commitment and became an early enrollee at UGA in January 2021.

It was sometime not long after the accident that Daniel decided to add a hypen and the name Sisavanh to the back of his jersey. Rocky Sisavanh has been involved in raising David since he was a 1-year-old.

“It was always David’s wishes that this be done for his father,” Budde shared this week. “Rocky’s always been there for David throughout his whole life, and it was a way to honor the great man that Rocky is.”

After surviving a collision with a car, Daniel-Sisavanh’s desire to honor his loved ones certainly is understandable.

“He continues to fight to be healthy and to be ready when his opportunity comes,” Smart said. “He’s trying to take advantage of it.”

Georgia defensive back David Daniel-Sisavanh (14) during Georgia’s scrimmage on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023. (Tony Walsh/UGAAA)

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

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Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA