High School Football

Well-traveled Dragons running back deals with playing for former rival

Southlake Carroll Dragons running back TJ McDaniel (4) is tackled short of the first down by Arlington Martin.
Southlake Carroll Dragons running back TJ McDaniel (4) is tackled short of the first down by Arlington Martin. Special to the Star-Telegram

The son of a coach, T.J. McDaniel knows things can change in a hurry in sports.

For example, he grew up playing against the Southlake Carroll Dragons while a member of football teams at Coppell. Now, he is not only playing for the Dragons, he’s a standout in the backfield.

“Whenever I moved [in January], I knew some of the kids, but it took some getting used to, transferring to a rival,” McDaniel said. “But I’ve adapted, and those guys are awesome to hang around.”

That’s an understatement. In his first game as a Dragon, McDaniel, a junior, rushed 30 times for 106 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns that lifted Carroll to a 21-14 come-from-behind win against Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. In three games, he’s racked up nearly 590 total yards of offense and has hit the end zone seven times.

“Scoring that first touchdown to tie the game was an all-around great feeling, but to score that second to put us ahead was relieving more than anything,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel has moved a lot in his life with his father, Danny McDaniel, being both a former coach and a pastor. He was born in Austin, moved to Tennessee, to Burnett, and spent the past nine years in Coppell.

“I’ve seen some places,” he said with a laugh.

It’s been a while since his father coached, having quit when T.J.’s older brother Cam was a freshman at Coppell. Cam is now playing running back for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League after playing four seasons at Notre Dame.

Cam, a 2011 Coppell graduate, also gained notoriety in 2013 as the “Ridiculously Photogenic Football Player” after a photo of him during a game was released online.

Middle brother Gavin, who graduated Coppell in 2014, is also a running back. He began his college career at Washington before transferring to Azusa Pacific in California.

And, of course, his dad was a running back, among other positions.

“Dad grew up a coach’s kid like me. He played it all,” T.J. said. “Running back, fullback, he played wherever he was needed.”

T.J. found himself doing the same thing at Coppell. As a freshman on the Cowboys he earned all-district honors at a cornerback, though he did see some time at running back as a sophomore, rushing for 360 yards and two touchdowns on 86 carries.

Still, he spent most of last season in the defensive backfield.

“I sprained my MCL, missed two games, and when I returned they put back at cornerback,” McDaniel said.

Though he just loves playing the game, it is running back where he is most comfortable. He’s also proud to be carrying on the family tradition at the running back position.

“That’s how our family’s been known, so yes, I’m happy,” he said. “Cam and Gavin, they share with me advice from their experiences. The legacy carry is a great one and we’re proud of it.”

That legacy might not have continued, however, had not fate intervened. Though his coaching days are over, Danny’s moving days were not, it seemed.

Midway through his sophomore year at Coppell, his business took the family to Southlake and Daniel went onto the welcoming roster of Dragons coach Hal Wasson, who knew right away he wanted McDaniel to be in is backfield.

“He plays running back for us because he’s tough and dependable, and that’s how he can help our team the most,” Wasson said. “He’s an outstanding young man with a great work ethic. He’s been able to grasp our offense fast, and we think he has a tremendous upside for our team.

“We look for T.J. to have a very bright future. He has a lot of things going for him.”

Including being the son of a former coach. T.J. said being such helps him gain an understanding of what coaches go through weekly to prepare for a game.

“I know how much time those coaches spend in the field house going over film. They’re doing everything they can to make us better,” he said.

“My dad is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. He always has something to say, and it’s so helpful.”