For West Virginia QB JT Daniels, staying healthy is key

Joshua L. Jones/USA TODAY NETWORK
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West Virginia knew what it got in transfer JT Daniels: a quarterback who went undefeated as a starter at Georgia – and has sat out more games than he’s played in throughout his career.

Daniels understands the way to helping the Mountaineers become relevant in the Big 12 this season is by staying healthy for a full season.

“It’s an old saying, but availability is your best ability,” Daniels said. “And I’ve missed 28-30 games over the last three years from injury.”

Coach Neal Brown named Daniels the starter for the season opener at No. 17 Pittsburgh, a move that was anticipated. The renewal of the Backyard Brawl for the first time in 11 years will feature Daniels against his former backup at Southern Cal, Kedon Slovis, who took over after Daniels was injured in the 2019 season opener.

Their offensive coordinator at the time was Graham Harrell, who was hired at West Virginia in January. Daniels, who played just nine games over the past two seasons at Georgia, followed Harrell to West Virginia in April.

“I know him. I trust him,” Daniels said.

Without the benefit of playing spring ball, Daniels has had to do some quick learning, although he’s familiar with Harrell’s Air Raid style. Daniels’ time spent at Georgia actually helped his growth, Harrell said.

“He’s a really intelligent kid that can handle a lot of information,” Harrell said. “At the quarterback position, you can overload them with information. He can process information quickly.”

Daniels was the second true freshman to start a season opener at Southern Cal in 2018. He started 11 games, missing one in midseason with a concussion. In 2019, when Harrell was hired to run the Trojan offense, Daniels suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener.

Daniels missed much of 2020 at Georgia while awaiting medical clearance on his knee. Last year he missed several games with two upper-body muscle strains, then was relegated to a backup role as Stetson Bennett led the Bulldogs to the national championship.

Coach Brown describes Daniels, who went 7-0 as a starter at Georgia, as “weathered.”

“He’s really even-keeled,” Brown said. “He doesn’t get too high or two low, not rattled easily. He’s been successful. He’s been on some good teams, too. The fact that he’s played in big games, I think, helps too. He arrived here as a really mature player and one that is really hungry.”

This is the 10th straight season that West Virginia has used a transfer as its starting quarterback.

The streak started with Clint Trickett from Florida State in 2013 and 2014. In 2016, junior college transfer Skyler Howard led the Mountaineers to a 10-win season. Will Grier arrived from Florida to provide a spark in 2017 and 2018. Austin Kendall followed from Oklahoma and Jarret Doege came from Bowling Green with lackluster results in the past three seasons.

Like Grier, who was shielded from media interviews until after the 2017 season opener, Daniels has yet to be made available since the start of fall practice. He told reporters in June after a youth football camp that Morgantown wasn’t a huge adjustment from Athens, Georgia.

While Daniels’ ability to stay healthy remains to be seen, he brings a reputation for a strong arm. He has six 300-yard passing games and has thrown at least three touchdowns five times. In the Peach Bowl following the 2020 season, he rallied Georgia from a 21-10 deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Cincinnati 24-21.

How well Daniels can contribute to the Mountaineers also depends on who he’ll throw to. Three of the team’s top five wide receivers entered the transfer portal in January. West Virginia is counting on Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James to boost their production after combining for 1,080 receiving yards and eight touchdowns a year ago.

Brown said he believes Daniels fits in with his teammates because “we have a lot of hungry guys who are eager to prove.”

“He’s prepared with a chip on his shoulder. I like where he’s at mentally and physically heading into this opener.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.