Knowledge McDaniel signed with Marshall Feb. 6
National Signing Day, the day when gifted high school athletes choose their future colleges and universities, is a celebration.
On Feb. 6, though, one local athlete might have been a bit happier than the rest.
Braden River High senior running back/wide receiver Knowledge McDaniel didn't waste any time signing his letter of intent that morning. At 7:09 a.m., the Marshall University football program’s Twitter account announced McDaniel, a three-star player by Rivals, was a member of the Thundering Herd.
For McDaniel, the fruition of his college football dreams followed a challenging senior season. Entering it, he held offers from “Power Five” conference schools like Georgia, Ohio State, Tennessee and Missouri, according to 247 Sports’ recruiting database. He could have, at least verbally, committed to one of those schools then, but he chose to take his time and evaluate his options.
On Aug. 8, after an extensive investigation into Braden River athletics, the Florida High School Athletic Association ruled McDaniel received impermissible benefits by staying with the family of teammate Brett Thoma, whose father, Todd Thoma, is the president of the Braden River booster club. McDaniel was suspended for the season.
After a six-week appeals process, McDaniel’s suspension was reduced to three regular season games, plus the Pirates’ two-game postseason run. He played in seven games, finishing with 436 receiving yards, 163 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns.
Whether the ordeal affected his college recruiting is open to conjecture. Either way, McDaniel waited to make his decision, and many of the college powers did not wait with him.
“Recruiting is kind of an 'early bird gets the worm' thing,” Pirates coach Curt Bradley said. “If you don’t commit quickly, other students can take your spot. But Knowledge wanted to take his time.”
McDaniel said he was not sure if his suspension played a part in some schools backing off him. Marshall came into play late in the process, he said, but once he did some research, he discovered the school might have been the best fit for him all along.
Former Pirates offensive lineman Alex Salguero is a sophomore for the Thundering Herd, and Marshall freshman wideout Talik Keaton, who attended Sarasota’s Booker High, played with McDaniel on a 7-on-7 summer team. McDaniel said the coaching staff, led by head coach Doc Holliday, felt welcoming, and his friends on the team said there is an opportunity for young players to quickly earn playing time if they work hard and prove themselves. He will start as a running back at Marshall, he said, and coaches told him they will work him into other offensive slots in time.
“There are two senior running backs graduating,” McDaniel said. “There is an opportunity. I just need to handle my business.”
Plus, McDaniel said, Marshall gets a little snow, but not too much. That was important, because McDaniel, who is used to playing in warm weather, did not want to deal with constant blizzards.
Bradley said he will remember McDaniel as someone who is “enthusiastic for life” and called him “one of the lights of this campus.”
“Knowledge has overcome a lot of things in his life,” Bradley said. “He has handled it all well. I think Marshall is a great fit for him, and I am extremely proud of him.”
Does McDaniel think about his suspension anymore? He tries not to, he said, but there is a part of him that thinks it all had to happen for a reason.
That reason might be Marshall.
“I am ready to get up there and start working,” McDaniel said. “I did not get a full season in the fall. It makes me want to grind, to be part of the team.”