TAMPA, Fla. -- It's impossible to miss B.J. Daniels at a South Florida Bulls practice. While his teammates are wearing green or white jerseys, Daniels sports a bright red top, the kind of color you might picture on a overcompensating, middle-aged man's sports car.
"I kind of wish I blended in a little more," Daniels said.
Even if the team didn't need an obvious visual reminder that Daniels can't be hit this spring, he still wouldn't just fade into a crowd. He is the most important player on the field, and the Bulls know they're only going as far as he takes them.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback led them to five wins in 10 games as a starter last year in what amounted to a baptism by fire. Four-year starting quarterback Matt Grothe tore up his knee in the third game, thrusting Daniels into the spotlight. His first start came at Florida State, where he led South Florida to a program-rattling victory. A star, it seemed, was born.
While Daniels performed admirably in his first major college exposure, he also suffered some inevitable freshman ups and downs. He pulled off some highlight-worthy big plays while amassing more than 2,700 total yards (772 of them rushing) and 23 touchdowns. He also completed just 53.7 percent of his passes, threw nine interceptions and struggled in blowout losses to Pitt, Rutgers and Miami.
"I would say I did OK last year," Daniels said. "Looking back on it now, there are a lot of things I wish could have done differently. But I don't regret it at all."
Daniels was not only the leading ball carrier for the Bulls in 2009, he was continually running around in the pocket trying to avoid the rush and make something happen. He either ran or passed the ball on almost exactly half of all South Florida's plays. The new coaching staff would like to reduce some of that workload this year, especially since there is no other scholarship quarterback on the roster this spring.
Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch plans to put Daniels under center more and ask him to hand off to the running backs instead of calling his own number all the time.
"B.J. is so talented that he could be one of our top running backs if we really wanted him to be," Fitch said. "With his feet and his ability to improvise, we'll use him in certain situations like that. But we don't want him to be the leading ball carrier. We want to take some of the running pressure off him with backs and maybe some receivers."
Like Grothe, Daniels has the uncanny ability to elude trouble. But he also has a stronger arm than Grothe, and he has often said he'd prefer to be a pocket quarterback. So he's excited about the possibilities of a new system.
"As far as running around, I don't think that will happen too much," he said. "It's not what I look forward to doing."
Right now, he's limited in what he can do. Offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder necessitates that red jersey, and he says he still doesn't have full range of motion in the arm. He can throw, of course, but it will be another few months before he's capable of doing any contact work.
So he's focusing on the mental part of his game this spring, which requires a lot since he's learning a new offense. There's little question about his ability to handle that, because his makeup and character excite the coaching staff as much as his physical traits.
Daniels' calm, cool demeanor throughout the Florida State game -- which he played in his hometown, no less -- showed that he does not rattle easily. He's always been mature and is becoming confident as a leader. Running back Mo Plancher says that when other players are sentenced to extra running as punishment, Daniels usually joins them to show support.
"He's off the charts," head coach Skip Holtz said. "He has all the intangibles, to go along with all the talent."
That bright red jersey is a red herring. B.J. Daniels already stands out from the rest.