Jermaine McDaniel’s championship rings take up an entire hand – and a finger on the other.
That’s the kind of jewelry a football star can compile if he accomplished what McDaniel has done so far: Winning three consecutive state championships at Dillon High School. Then, he was part of Appalachian State’s 2017 and ’18 Sunbelt Conference championship teams before transferring to North Carolina A&T, where his team there last fall won the MEAC crown.
A redshirt junior, McDaniel hopes to win yet another one this year. And, the first step toward that goal begins today when the Aggies begin football practice for the first time since a drastically shortened spring practice because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We only got to have two days of spring practice,” McDaniel recalled. “We didn’t even get around to getting to use shoulder pads.”
Last fall in shoulder pads, McDaniel was one of A&T’s star defensive ends, starting in each of the 11 games he played in while totaling 40 tackles (29 solo), including 12 for loss and 7½ sacks. He earned second-team All-MEAC honors. And on top of that, he earned conference defensive player of the week honors after making eight tackles (four solo), including three for loss and three sacks against Elon.
North Carolina A&T went on to defeat Alcorn State in the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta.
“I would say the reason for our success last year was coming up with schemes to take away the other team’s most dominating player and then work with the rest,” McDaniel said. “We had great continuity from game to game, and we followed what the coaches wanted us to do.”
McDaniel said he has been on A&T’s campus since July 5.
“When I was driving there, it just wasn’t the same feeling that’s usually there,” McDaniel said. “We have a very vibrant campus here, but now it feels like more of a ghost town in a sense.”
Although McDaniel said his COVID-19 test was negative, some teammates were not as lucky and had to quarantine. With different groups practicing at different times today, McDaniel said he hopes that can be a first step toward some kind of gridiron normalcy.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been a struggle, but it does get irritating, because you just want to get back into football,” said McDaniel, who was all-state, as well as a Shrine Bowl selection at Dillon. “But you know it’s not the same routine as before, because of what’s going on, so you’re kind of antsy. We want to go into full football activities, but we also know that’s not possible right now.”
Meanwhile, McDaniel knows he can only control so much. When the season does begin, his goals are focused as much on leadership as performance on the field.
“I plan to stay in my role, doing more of what coaches ask of me and bringing along the younger guys with me,” McDaniel said. “That’s my main focus on the team, to be the best I can be and make them the best they can be while trying to bring another championship to A&T.”