TALLAHASSEE — The lone walk-on to make Florida State’s two-deep on offense or defense for Saturday’s season opener against Georgia Tech is freshman tight end Preston Daniel.
Head coach Mike Norvell and his staff worked aggressively since their arrival in December to build FSU’s walk-on group for the 2020 season. Daniel is one who defines what they are looking for in those non-scholarship roster additions.
« That’s going to be something that we’ll be very active with here moving forward, » Norvell said of assembling a walk-on roster. « This first year, obviously it was a quick turnaround. We were able to identify some guys that we thought would have a chance to be able to come and impact the program.
Daniel, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound prospect who hails from Evangelical Christian in Memphis, Tenn., is in an ‘or’ back-up situation at tight end alongside former walk-on Wyatt Rector. The duo will help to spell starter Camren McDonald when necessary and may find themselves working in some two tight end sets for the Seminoles.
« He’s just consistent, » McDonald said of Daniel. « On a day-to-day basis, Preston is not up and down. He’s the same guy every day which is a great football player who really knows the playbook. The coaches have a lot of confidence in him and his ability. Preston’s consistency is really what helped him get himself onto the depth chart and be a factor on the team this year as a true freshman walk-on.
The Seminoles staff was aware of Daniel during their time at Memphis. How he ended up a Seminole, was explained by his position coach, Chris Thomsen, during the preseason.
« He’s from Memphis, so Coach Norvell, Coach Dillingham, Coach Tokarz, Coach Cooper Williams, they all have a lot of ties to that school that Preston was at, » Thomsen said. « We dropped by there in January when we were recruiting in that area. I actually got to go to the school myself. There are some real close relationships and I think they really pushed Preston as a guy that they thought could play at this level. So the opportunity was there for Preston. »
Daniel, a former lacrosse player who thought that was going to be his future sport, realized while sitting out his sophomore football season due to injury that his passion was on the gridiron. Then in his junior year, he moved from wide receiver to tight end, but at just 190 pounds at that time, felt that he may not fit that role.
With about 45 more pounds on his body as a senior, and an opportunity to continue playing football in college, Daniel decided to seize the opportunity before him from Norvell and his staff. He shared how he was able to get on their radar and what the process was like to land at FSU.
« When I was in high school, the headmaster my school was actually the chaplain for the Memphis football team, so that was kind of a connection, » Daniel said. « What ended up happening, going into my senior year the headmaster asked if I was really serious about wanting to play in college and I was like ‘Yes sir, of course’. So he ended up bringing me up, mentioning me to Coach Norvell. That is how I got on their recruiting board. They began to give me some attention.
« When they ended up moving to Florida State, they stuck with their same recruiting board, » Daniel added. « Coach Dillingham came to my school. I knew I had the opportunity to walk on. »
Despite the change of scenery going from his backyard of Memphis to Tallahassee, Fla., Daniel knew that to play for Norvell and company was an opportunity he wanted to take advantage of.
« I was definitely comfortable, because out of anyone I had communication with, the FSU staff was by far the one that made me feel the most comfortable and I definitely had the best feel from them, » Daniel said.
Norvell’s history as a former walk-on, and also with how he found success with walk-on players at Memphis, was another selling point for Daniel.
« I knew his history with walk-ons. He had Joey Magnifico, who was a tight end at Memphis, who was a walk-on, » Daniel said. « Seeing that, and his success, gave me a lot of confidence that if I came into the program I wasn’t just going to be tossed aside like just another walk-on. I would have a chance to compete. That was exciting to me. »
Since his arrival in Tallahassee, and hitting the field with his new team, his central focus has been on improving.
« I’m definitely comfortable with it, » Daniel said. « This staff has done a great job of making sure we are adjusting and picking up on everything we need to. … It has been a fast-paced change, but I’ve realized that is the way things are.
« It was definitely tough, » Daniel added. « They keep you busy. It is nothing like high school. It was primarily about adapting to how much time it takes and making sure you are dialed in, not just trying to get through it. »
The in-line blocking responsibilities, the physicality of this level, and the speed of the game have all been adjustments he is learning in real-time on the field since his arrival.
His position coach was pleased with Daniel from the early stages of the preseason and hopes that translates to the field on Saturday.
« He has really surprised us a lot to be honest. He’s still learning a lot about just our offense, but he’s one of the more composed, intelligent kids that I’ve been around in terms of knowing where to Lin up, knowing different leverage points and stuff like that, that are not really natural to some freshmen, » Thomsen said in early-to-mid August. « He’s a guy we’re really excited about and has done some really good things in camp. »
FSU takes on Georgia Tech at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be broadcast nationally by ABC.
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