Process of attrition
Daniels emerges as Ga. Tech's No. 1 running backPosted: Friday August 15, 2003 4:04 PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- P.J. Daniels started last season as Georgia Tech's seventh-string tailback. This year, he likely will start out as the starter.
Daniels is the front-runner to take over at one of the Yellow Jackets' most questionable positions. When Tony Hollings failed to keep his grades up, the team was left without anyone who rushed for more than 282 yards last season.
"Oh yeah, I see the magazines. They all say Georgia Tech has a bunch of unknown running backs," Daniels said. "Well, we're going to have a little surprise for them. We're going to show them we're ready for the challenge."
He knows a thing or two about defying the odds. Coming out of high school, the Texas native had scholarship offers, but struggled to get a qualifying score on the SAT. Once that was finally accomplished, he walked on at Georgia Tech.
When the 2002 season began, Daniels had six players ahead of him on the depth chart. But Hollings tore up a knee, and several other runners went down with injuries. Daniels kept working his way up, finally breaking through when he carried 21 times for 95 yards in a victory over Virginia.
"He has great leadership and great desire," coach Chan Gailey said. "Think about where this guy was a year ago and where he is today. To hang in there like that, you've got to give him a great deal of credit."
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Daniels conceded that quitting entered his mind "millions of times."
"I kept asking myself, 'Why am I doing this?"' Daniels said. "When I would get up early in the morning, it would be, 'Why am I doing this?' When I would work out with my teammates, it would be, 'Why am I doing this?' But it all paid off. I had a goal, and I kept chiseling away at it. It's here now. I've got to take advantage of the opportunity."
Heading into preseason practice, it appeared Georgia Tech would use a running back-by-committee approach to come up with some semblance of a ground game. But Daniels quickly established himself as the top guy heading into the Aug. 28 opener at BYU.
Behind Daniels, another surprise has emerged. Like Daniels, Chris Woods didn't exactly follow the conventional path to Georgia Tech, transferring from Morris Brown after the Division I-AA school folded its athletic program because of financial problems.
"It was pretty tough," Woods said. "I didn't even know that was an issue until December."
The 5-10, 190-pound sophomore had an offer to play at Division II Morehouse, but didn't want to step down in class. Iowa came up with a full scholarship, but the Atlanta native wasn't enamored with the idea of leaving home.
He desperately wanted to play at Georgia Tech, so Morehouse coach Willard Scissum provided an assist. Scissum called the Yellow Jackets to recommend Woods. The coaches got hold of some film and liked what they saw.
"Chris has great toughness," Gailey said.
Ace Eziemefe was pressed into service as a true freshman when the Yellow Jackets kept losing running backs to injuries. A power back with more yards than any other returning player, he struggled in early practices.
The Yellow Jackets also have Rashaun Grant, a speedy freshman from Tampa, Fla. While the coaches like his potential, he could be a year or two away from making a major contribution.
Woods just wants to put himself in the top two.
"P.J. is a real good back. He deserves to be No. 1," Woods said. "There's not going to be enough carries for everyone. You've got to be first string or second string."