Go ahead and call T.J. McDaniel a one-year wonder. In fact, up the ante and say he’s a flash in the pan.
But if all of these labels produce the results that Southlake Carroll’s running back has, he couldn’t care less. Neither could the Dragons.
Fresh from a 311-yard performance in the bi-district 42-0 bi-district playoff victory over McKinney, the Coppell senior transfer has created an impact in his first year.
The career-high effort followed a two-week absence after having surgery on his right thumb. In fact, the performance against the Lions was done with one hand tied behind his back. The right-hander primarily used his left hand for most of the carries.
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“The plan for Carroll running backs is something that you can pick up really quickly,” McDaniel said. “Then it’s up to you to be a baller and make something happen.”
McDaniel is at 1,648 yards and 21 scores. Carroll (8-3) earned its postseason rematch with and victory against reigning Class 6A Division II state champion DeSoto (10-1) in the Region I area round. The Dragons face Arlington in Round 3.
In 2016 at Coppell, McDaniel acted as the No. 2 back behind Joe Fex. McDaniel also played in the Cowboys’ secondary.
But when the McDaniel family moved to Southlake in January, McDaniel wasn’t sure what his role was going to be. Carroll had a running back need. Audricke Gaines graduated. Tavian Gould had some experience.
McDaniel met with head coach Hal Wasson and offensive coordinator Mark Humble to talk about his future.
“He came in with an open mind,” Wasson said. “At first, I thought he was more of a safety type. But we thought he would be a better fit for running back. There was no drama involved in it. It was like anything else, the biggest part was learning our offense and blocking assignments. The way he can run is a blessing. There’s really no secret formula. There’s a lot of ability.”
Carroll has featured some pretty talented running backs in its history, dating back to Dane Johnson in the early 1990s. More recently, it’s featured Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who rushed for more than 2,500 yards between 2014-2015, and A.J. Ezzard, who rushed for 2,000 yards between 2012-2013.
The difference between McDaniel and those players is that McDaniel is the newbie. He had to make his impression quickly. His vision is a strength. McDaniel can hit the crease before it completely opens. That will account for the hidden yardage, those collected before the play really begins.
“He’s a special player that only comes around once every few years,” Carroll senior left tackle Jackson Kimble said. “We don’t rely on one player for our success. But he brings so much energy to our team. I’ve never enjoyed blocking for anyone more than him.”
The right hand is protected by a bandage. His ability to play as well with his left hand works to his advantage.
“I’m sure DeSoto is going to look for which hand I’m carrying the ball,” McDaniel said before the playoff win. “But I’m just going to give it to my line. You have to play physical and fast to play this game.”