Daniels coached running backs for one season at Buffalo before accepting the same job at Tech to replace Tashard Choice.
“It made a lot of sense, all in all,” McDuffie said. “I ended up taking my official visit, and I knew that was the right place for me.”
McDuffie, in fact, is the second player who previously played for Daniels to commit to Tech this offseason. On April 4, running back T.J. Engleman, a sophomore at Princeton High in Cincinnati, gave Tech his commitment to be a part of the 2024 signing class. Daniels was the head coach at Princeton, his alma mater, from 2017-20 before going to the college ranks.
“Super energetic and authentic and just real,” McDuffie said of Daniels. “Real genuine in (that) everything he says, he means. And he’s going to push you, though. He’s definitely a player’s coach, but he pushes you on and off the field just to be better in every aspect.”
McDuffie’s decision to leave Buffalo was not lightly made. He is from Buffalo, and three of his uncles played for the Bulls. But McDuffie, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, sought a higher level of competition to improve his chances at the NFL.
In McDuffie, Tech is receiving a player who rushed for 1,049 yards and 11 touchdowns on 206 carries despite starting only the final six games of the season. He was a backup in the first half of the season before taking over the No. 1 job. McDuffie, who has called his running style “violent,” averaged 116.7 yards per game in the final six games and made the All-MAC third team.
“We had a pretty good backfield, so we were splitting carries for the first half of the season, I would say,” McDuffie said. “And then, honestly, coach Daniels put a little more trust in me to take the bulk of the carries. That’s what they asked of me, so I was just trying to do that for the team.”
He joins a position group where he may be sharing carries again. While the transfer of All-American Jahmyr Gibbs to Alabama was most impactful (along with backup Jamious Griffin’s transfer to Oregon State), Tech has bolstered the depth chart with the transfers of McDuffie and Hassan Hall, who gained 3,843 all-purpose yards in four seasons at Louisville (and also cited Daniels as a reason for selecting Tech), along with incoming freshmen Antonio Martin and Jamie Felix. They join returnee Dontae Smith, who gained 378 rushing yards last season on 68 carries.
“I’m just going to do whatever is asked of me from my coaches, honestly,” McDuffie said. “Whatever needs to be done to win, whether that’s running the ball, blocking, catching the ball or whatever else, anything that comes with it, I want to win.”
Other factors that McDuffie cited in his decision to select Tech (Virginia and Duke, among others, also made scholarship offers) were his relationship with strength-and-conditioning coach Lewis Caralla (who was at Buffalo in 2018, McDuffie’s freshman season), coach Geoff Collins’ record of sending players to the NFL and his perception of the energy and direction of the program.
“It was really a no-brainer for me,” McDuffie said. “It just seemed like a perfect fit for me and the type of person I am.”
While Tech has won a total of nine games in the past three seasons, McDuffie noted the number of close losses that the Yellow Jackets suffered last season. While Tech was on the end of three losses by 31 points or more, the Jackets had a fourth-quarter possession either to tie the score or take the lead in the other six defeats.
“I know at the end of the day, coach Collins is a great coach and coach (Chip) Long is a great coach, the new (offensive coordinator),” McDuffie said. “Coach Daniels is a great coach. I’ve got faith that it’s going to be a good season, and I want to be a part of that.”
McDuffie had an unusual experience with the transfer portal. McDuffie announced Dec. 31 that he was going in the portal with the intention of transferring mid-year. However, he said, he realized that he was close to graduating from Buffalo and could finish his degree in social sciences if he took extra classes this semester.
As a result, he withdrew from the portal a month later. He went back into it March 31. He’ll move to Atlanta following graduation. His goals?
“Win an ACC championship and just do whatever needs to be done to become a better player and really just get ready for that next level,” he said.