The 6-inch scar on his left shoulder is a reminder of the physical pain and the mental angst that led him to this very moment of joy.
Last year’s season opener left Will Daniel broken, his spirit shattered, his collarbone snapped, his sophomore season over just 12 minutes after it began.
The journey since has taken the quarterback from the inherent starter at Bishop England to some sort of comeback story, and at First Baptist of all places – the team that dealt him the season-ending blow.
This season opener was nothing like the last. Instead of bound to a sling, headed to the hospital after the game, Daniel stood locked shoulder to repaired shoulder with his new teammates as the tunes of victory blared through the stadium speakers. His smile told the story.
First Baptist rallied past Trinity-Byrnes, 35-21, Friday on James Island in the first regular-season game anywhere in the state.
The SCISA AAA No. 2 Hurricanes scored 28 unanswered against the AA No. 2 Titans. Daniel finished with 279 yards passing and three touchdowns in the first complete varsity game of his career.
“I can’t even describe the feeling,” Daniel said. “It’s been such a long year, just trying to work my way back and then moving schools. But out here right now with these guys, the heart we showed together tonight, it just feels really good.”
First Baptist trailed 21-7 at halftime, managing just 66 total yards — 56 coming on one touchdown catch from App State commit Sincere Brown — as passes flew errant, potential completions were dropped, penalties mounted and the Hurricanes run game stalled in its first showing in five years without all-time leading rusher Michel Dukes.
“We didn’t look good,” Hurricanes coach Johnny Waters said. “I know it’s the first game but that wasn’t us at all.”
Trinity-Byrnes meanwhile pounded away with its double-wing offense, stacking up 215 yards and all three scores on the ground while dominating time of possession.
Part of the Hurricanes locker room — mostly the newcomers — sat silent, stunned at what’d transpired in the first half. The other part — the veterans — boiling in rage, angry with what they’d shown in the first, knowing better things awaited in the second.
“I mean, my gosh, how many plays did we leave out there?” Waters said. “They’re not used to that. But they knew we were going to make adjustments, we were going to keep plugging, keep plugging and we were going to come back. You could see it on their faces.”
The Hurricanes defense ushered the rally. After getting gashed throughout the first half, First Baptist brought its outside linebackers down to better bottle up the stretch plays and began to plug the middle, essentially shutting down a Titans offense predicated on the run. After reeling off more than 200 rushing yards in the first half, Trinity Byrnes was limited to just 32 in the second.
Sevaughn Washington recovered a Trinity-Byrnes fumble just past midfield with less than two minutes to play in the third quarter. Daniel hit McKay Wilson on an 11-yard slant into the end zone 62 seconds later to trim the margin down to one score, 21-14, with a quarter left to play. Walker Taylor then recovered a fumble in the end zone five minutes after to even the game 21-all.
Washington pulled down an interception on the following series. Two plays later, Brown hauled in a 64-yard score, overpowering one defensive back and breaking away from another to give the Hurricanes their first lead of the night, 28-21, with just four minutes remaining. Brown finished with five catches for 166 yards and two score — all career-highs for the 6-foot-4 senior.
“Our guys, we have a mentality that we don’t give up. We fight and battle no matter what,” Brown said. “At the end of the day, that’s why we’re a great team. They started the game hot. We finished it.”
Trinity-Byrnes turned the ball over on downs in its own red zone on the ensuing possession. Hurricanes eighth-grader Davian Brown broke open a two-score advantage with an 8-yard squeeze into the end zone two plays later that all but sealed the game.
Seemingly everything was going wrong for First Baptist in the first half. The Hurricanes were averaging just 2.4 yards per play and were 0-for-7 on third-down conversions. Morale was low. Things seem to be unraveled.
Daniel rose from the ground slowly at one point after being planted down onto his shoulder. He adjusted his helmet, shook off the dirt and dust and realized he was OK. He realized that despite the mounting deficit and the endless errors, the Hurricanes were going to be OK. After all, he’d been through much worse and come out the other end just fine. The trials in this season opener were nothing compared to what he was used to, nothing compared to what the team was used to.
“We knew it was going to take everybody and everybody came together. That’s a team,” Daniel said. “The leaders came out, our captains came out, and led the way and we all followed. They weren’t scared at all. They’ve done this before and we did it again.”
First Baptist improves to 1-0 heading into next week’s road game at Florida AA defending state champion North Florida Christian.