May 5, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
PJ Daniels graduated from Georgia Tech Saturday, yet if you had the astoundingly good fortune of chatting with the erstwhile Yellow Jacket and NFL running back, chances are you would NOT be left with the feeling that was an ending of any sort.
Daniels, whose wondrous 1,447-yard sophomore season in 2003 culminated with a NCAA bowl game-record 307-yard/four touchdown rushing effort against Tulsa in the Humanitarian Bowl, seems ever in continuum.
This will jump around, much like Phillips – who despite fits and starts always sorts matters as if pushing bubbles through a line rather than being interrupted by them.
There was the time when a former Tech assistant coach told Daniels that he was washed up. He responded like Forrest Gump, taking off on a cross-campus run straight into a workout routine that fetched a greater status.
And when, after his NFL career was scuttled by injuries and the combination of Daniels' short-sighted decision to close out his family circle of advisors, he found his way again.
That wasn't a standard path; Daniels went back and forth from his native Texas to the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas intermittently for about a year to find direction – with the help of an un-named guru discovered by his uncles (one of whom lives in a monastery).
That led to him starting a Houston fitness business.
Again, not a stopping point, but rather a launching pad. A friend whom Daniels had met years earlier called from San Diego and said, 'Hey, you should come out here and we can run a fitness business together.' So, that is what Daniels is doing now.
Nope. Prince Ahadzie Daniels, Jr., son of Ghana's Prince Daniels and Jo-Ann Keys, is not standard.
That explains how, in the midst of a lengthy phone conversation Sunday he didn't seem put off when the guy on the other end had to check an emergency call waiting. “It's good,” Daniels said. “I'm at peace. Call me back.”
Prince's peace seems picturesque from here.
San Diego's Carter-Prince Evolutionary Fitness Training has been up and running since early last fall, and it goes beyond lifting weights and cardio.
Named after co-founders Daniels and Jason Carter, the former Texas A&M player whom he met while training for the 2006 NFL combine, CPE Fitness goes deep like Daniels.
He talks about it, in fact, in his side job as an inspirational speaker at home and abroad.
“My primary talking points are about balancing mind, body and spirit,” Daniels said. “If you can cultivate these three things every day . . . at least 15 minutes reading every day, at least 30 minutes of physical exercise, and the spiritual is just sit and do nothing for five minutes. It works.
“I started to do that after I had to make the transition from the NFL to everyday life. It became a habitual thing for me because I was trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go.”
Daniels' NFL career ended, beset by injuries after he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round in 2006. After that super sophomore season in '03 at Tech, in fact, injuries were a recurring issue.
He might've lasted longer as a pro had he kept the counsel of family close – as he had years earlier through dark days at Tech. Instead, Daniels took too seriously advice received at the NFL Rookie Symposium.
“What they told us that stuck with me was, 'Don't give your money to your family, don't spend your money, and . . . be a professonal,'” he recalled. “At that point in time, I kind of tried to figure out everything on my own. I took [the advice] so literally that I isolated my family.”
Frustrated by both injury and the Baltimore Ravens' decision to end his 2007 season by putting him on injured reserve with a labrum tear, Daniels left the game in '08.
“I had a rap sheet for injuries,” he said. “I was distraught, mentally bruised, and emotionally bruised, and it was kind of hard for me to come to terms with myself because my reality was that I'm always getting hurt.
“But the truth was that the injuries were small injuries, and I think if I had a mentor to tell me to push through it, I would have pushed through it.”
The fact that he was in the NFL, in fact, was testament to his family's support because the fact that he first made it big at Tech – that he even made it to Tech – those were nearly miraculous facts.
Daniels was a walk-on for the Jackets. His grades were good in high school, but he had problems with standardized tests.
One day, former Tech assistant Lance Thompson was circling Houston's Elsik High School and the topic of a talented, 5-foot-10, 214-pound running back came up between Elsik coaches and Thompson – a member of George O'Leary's staff.
He liked what he saw on Daniels' tape, and struck up conversation.
“I was offered a number of scholarships, but after I didn't pass the SAT score by Signing Day, everyone retracted. Georgia Tech . . . asked if my parents could afford to pay for school my first year,” Daniels said. “I applied to Tech, wrote an essay, passed the SAT.
“I had to prove myself the first year and a half. In that process . . . I was in a whirlwind, and I stayed calm. My mother, uncles, dad . . . they all made sure I stayed there. That was my first time facing real adversity. High school was not as coarse.”
Tech was rough. Not long after the spring game in 2002, as Daniels was finishing his redshirt year, former offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien – now head coach at Penn State – played the role of heavy-handed motivator.
“Bill O'Brien, he actually . . . threw some insults at me and told me that I wouldn't amount to anything. I guess you need that from coaches,” Daniels said. “When I look at it spiritually, I thank him. He said that I sucked, and I'd never play at Georgia Tech. I was No. 7 on the depth chart.
“I took that as fuel. One tear came out of my eye. By the time I got outside the AA . . . I took off running. I ran all the way to my Sixth Street dorm, threw my bag down and worked out until I passed out. I did it again next day. I was determined to prove them wrong.”
Daniels pitched in 255 rushing yards as a redshirt freshman in '02, earning a scholarship under new coach Chan Gailey.
While he continued building himself up, Tech suffered several running back injuries, washouts and the earlier-than-anticipated departure to the NFL of Tony Hollings.
In the fall of '03, Daniels didn't really bust out in the first two games against Brigham Young or Auburn, but he popped 113 rushing yards on Florida State in the Jackets' 14-13 loss in Tallahassee.
A few weeks later, he rushed for 175 yards against Vanderbilt, and when Daniels went for 240 yards against North Carolina, it was the second-highest single-game total in Tech history (Eddie Lee Ivery, 356 vs. Air Force in 1978).
He bettered that in the Humanitarian Bowl.
His pro career was a disappointment, but from its ashes Daniels re-designed himself yet again. He had help.
“I took a sabbatical for about a year after I left the NFL, and that helped. I went to the mountains, the Ozarks, and meditated. The longest I was there was a month, but I would go back and forth, and talk to my guru. He is in the Ozarks.
“He sees the bigger picture. He keeps me on the track with the mental and spiritual. I take care of the physical. We're on an infinite journey; if you stay true to your inner self, you'll be able to fulfill your purpose on Earth.”
Daniels sounds as if he's being true to himself.
His trip back to Atlanta was quick. He made it worthwhile beyond picking up the degree he earned by petitioning Tech officials to allow him to attend the University of San Diego for his final three classes.
“I landed around 4 p.m. Friday and took MARTA because I wanted to get a lasting experience of Georgia Tech,” he said. “I got off at North Ave., and walked to the AA. From there, I attended a small ceremony for athletes who were graduating, talked to athletic director, and some alums. I enjoyed myself.”
I could've talked to P.J. for hours, and written more. One thing kind of drove me nuts in our conversation, though. I didn't get the notion that a young man (30) on a path like his could be an international inspirational speaker. How did he jump-start that part of his life?
I asked; he answered. “To be honest, you just say that you are an international public speaker, and people start to believe. Whenever I have been speaking in America, when I go outside the country and let other people know what I'm doing, it's word of mouth.”
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