Southern Miss

Southern Miss junior has eyes on Hollywood, ‘I just play football as a backup plan’

Southern Miss running back T'Rod Daniels scores against Charlotte during the game at M.M. Roberts Stadium on Saturday.
Southern Miss running back T'Rod Daniels scores against Charlotte during the game at M.M. Roberts Stadium on Saturday. Special to the Sun Herald

Much of the time, athletes face the media with a fear they never show on the football field.

They want to make sure they say the right things to these strangers, make sure they don’t give their opponent any “bulletin board quotes,” make sure they don’t say anything that will get them in trouble with their coaches or teammates, and yet be open enough for their audience to report on.

Southern Miss running back and kick returner T’Rod Daniels shows no fear. Not when it comes to talking. Not even in a regimented setting.

“How y’all doing,” he hollered to reporters before he even got to the chair designated for the speaker of the day.

“I always smile. That’s what I do best. They say if you smile, you’ll live longer. So I just smile.”

Daniels also laughed at himself, along with the press corps, at most everything he said.

“I’m a comedian,” he said. “I just play football as backup plan. Be like a Martin Lawrence. Get my own show. Try to go to Hollywood.”

But first, there is Saturday’s Conference USA football game at Marshall and then a bowl game, along with the 2018 season for the 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior from Bassfield.

And although he’s the No. 3 running back, the former “chubby” kid possesses something that you can’t teach — blazing speed. He put it to use last week when he sprinted 52 yards to the end zone late in the game in a win over Charlotte.

“It felt pretty good,” Daniels said. “I was just trying to kill the clock. I just seen it and I went.

“I looked and I didn’t see nobody. I didn’t see anybody behind trying to strip the ball. Our coach is always talking ball security.”

So he took it to the house.

Quite a feat for someone who hasn’t always been fast.

“I used to get blew out in the eighth grade,” he said. “I was the slowest in the school. I was a little chubby. Now I blow everybody out.”

Daniels finished the Charlotte game with 70 yards on four carries.

“We got T’Rod in there and he had some big plays,” Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson said. “That was also good to see that our No. 2 and No. 3 backs came in there and had big explosive plays. So that's something we’re going to need now this season and need for the future.”

For the season, the transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College has 21 carries for 160 yards, an average of 7.6 yards per carry — the highest of any running back on the team.

He also has 13 kickoff returns for 249 yards, a 19.1-yard average.

Although he has played in 10 of the Golden Eagles’ 11 games, he is not on the field much, not with Ito Smith and Tez Parks ahead of him on the depth chart at running back.

Daniels understands.

“When you get your time, do something with it,” he said. “I’m over there for a reason. I’m not just over there on the sideline because I’m sorry. I’ve got some great backs in front of me. NFL draft pick probably. Everything happens for a reason.

“I just sit back there and chill. Keep everybody happy. It gets to me sometimes but it is what it is.”

Another drawback could be Daniels’ small size, but that seems to be inconsequential.

“I can do anything anybody else can do,” he said. “Probably better. I’m just short.”

It doesn’t bother Hopson, either.

“He’s tough,” Hopson said. “He’s not a guy that size means anything to him.”

Don’t be surprised to see a lot more out of Daniels next season.

“We’ve been seeing some things at practice that shows he’s going to have a bright future,” USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.

But for now, Daniels is trying to learn the game, and he said he’s picked up a lot from Smith, who has scored more touchdowns (48) than any player in Southern Miss history.

“The most important thing I’ve learned from him is being patient,” Daniels said. “When I first got here, I used to hit the holes not knowing what my blocker is doing. I used to just run in there. He told me, ‘When you know what the offensive line is doing, you’ll be a whole lot better. The play develops.’ That made a lot of sense.”

So he’s still learning, and doing it with a smile on his face.

He said, “Coach says, ‘Get 1 percent better every day. You either get worse or you get better.’

“I ain’t trying to get worse.”