Georgia QB JT Daniels played South Carolina with heavy heart

Credit: UGA

Georgia quarterback JT Daniels comments on the team's proficiency against South Carolina and the state of his injury.

ATHENS – Georgia coach Kirby Smart and quarterback JT Daniels both carried heavy hearts into Saturday’s game against South Carolina. But thanks to the teachings of the man whose death they were grieving, they were able to stay neutral and excel through the day.

Trevor Moawad was a Los Angeles-based sports psychologist who served as a mental-conditioning coach for many famous athletes. He died last week at the age of 48 from cancer.

Smart first met Moawad when he joined Nick Saban’s Miami Dolphins staff in 2006. Saban enlisted Moawad’s services at Alabama, then Smart brought Moawad to Georgia to share his stay neutral philosophy with the Bulldogs.

“He meant so much to me personally, meant a lot to a lot of coaches,” Smart said after Georgia’s 40-13 win over South Carolina. “I spent a year at Miami, nine at Alabama and four or five at Georgia with Trevor. It just touches my heart and soul thinking about the lives he touched.”

One of those lives belongs to Daniels, who first encountered Moawad as an eighth grade quarterback in training in Irvine, Calif. Like Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Daniels was one of many of Moawad’s clients who would receive motivational videos from him regularly.

Daniels queued one up when he learned of Moawad’s passing this past Thursday. It left him in tears in the Bulldogs’ locker room.

“It was crazy to me that I won’t get a new one,” Daniels said in his postgame interview Saturday. “But it puts a lot of things in perspective for me. I really got to appreciate him for everything he was and for everyone he impacted.”

Moawad’s stay-neutral philosophy certainly manifests itself in Daniels’ persona and his play. That was evident again on Saturday. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior, returning from oblique injury that sidelined him the previous week, completed 74% of his passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns against the Gamecocks.

It continued a streak of three consecutive weeks of excellent quarterback play for the Bulldogs. When Daniels sat out the previous Saturday, senior Stetson Bennett took over and threw five touchdown passes averaging 48.8 yards apiece in a 56-7 win over UAB.

Through three games, Georgia will carry a 172.89 collective quarterback rating into this Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt (12 p.m., SECN). Individually, that would rank 16th in the country.

Daniels still was not 100% healthy coming into the South Carolina. Because of that, the Bulldogs entered the game with a plan for Daniels to rotate with Bennett. But Bennett threw an interception on his first pass attempt of the game, which came on Georgia’s third offensive possession. Daniels was already 8-of-9 passing with two touchdowns at that point. The rotation plan was scrapped.

“JT was not 100% all week,” Smart said. “He practiced all week, but he didn’t necessarily go with the 1s the whole time. We didn’t know he was going to be able to go on Monday and we thought Stetson really practiced well and he and JT rolled all week. We told them, I guess it was Thursday or Friday, we called them in and said, ‘hey look, you’re both going to play. We think JT is healthy enough to go but we’re going to play you, Stetson.’”

With Daniels now pronounced healthy, there likely won’t be much a rotation going forward. But Daniels said he’s good with whatever his coaches decide.

“That was just a coaches decision, but I believe both quarterbacks had earned playing time,” Daniels said. “It’s something that’s really not that rare in college anymore either. There are a lot of teams that play multiple quarterbacks. … When Stet’s in, I’m pulling for Stet and when I’m in he’s doing the same thing.”

At least some of Daniels’ laid-back attitude can be attributed to Moawad. While his mental coach is no longer with him, Daniels said Moawab’s teachings will remain with him forever.

“Trevor was one of my best friends,” Daniels said. “Everything that I talk about when I talk about concepts, or when I talk about staying neutral, are from him. There are so many things, when I get asked questions, I answer media honestly, and everything comes from what I’ve learned from Trevor.”