Daniel, Reesing proving smarts, skills trump size
By any measure but one. The tape measure.
It showed that both Texas high school stars lacked prototypical height for their position. Reesing, from suburban Austin, was maybe 5-foot-10. Daniel, from suburban Dallas, might have scraped 6 feet if he stuffed Kleenex in his shoes.
Not tall enough for the elite programs, that was the verdict. The tyranny of the tape measure can be a cruel thing. It canceled out a vast array of attributes both players had to offer.
They were big winners: Reesing was 19-4 in two years starting at quarterback for previously futile Lake Travis High School; Daniel was 31-1 in two seasons starting at quarterback for Southlake Carroll High, which was USA Today's No. 1 team nationally his senior year.
They had big stats: Reesing produced more than 4,000 yards total offense and accounted for 49 total touchdowns as a senior; Daniel compiled more than 11,000 yards total offense and 127 total touchdowns in his two seasons as a starter.
They earned big honors: Reesing was the 2004 Texas Class 4-A Player of the Year as a junior; Daniel was the EA Sports National Player of the Year as a senior.
They had big academic résumés: both were members of the National Honor Society and had the brains necessary to think the game.
They just weren't big.
They were midgets without honor in their own land, forced to go outside their football-rich home state for their best scholarship offers. Reesing wound up at Kansas, Daniel at Missouri -- Big 12 backwater locales far from the league's glamour addresses.
They could play and they knew it, but they had the hardest time convincing the alleged recruiting experts.
"I heard it all the time," Daniel said. "None of the big three [Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech] recruited me at all. That was definitely a blow to me."
Said Reesing: "Teams didn't want to give me a chance from the beginning. I kind of got used to it. There weren't people beating down my door to have me come play for them."
But the beautiful thing about college sports is this: If the right school gives a chance to the right guy at the right time, athletic miracles can happen. Todd Reesing and Chase Daniel are living Lilliputian proof.
This week, the two sawed-off Texans are the biggest men on campus nationwide -- perfect symbols for two programs that many doubted would ever grow into full-sized contenders. Sophomore Reesing's undefeated, second-ranked Jayhawks will face junior Daniel's once-beaten, fourth-ranked Tigers in college football's most improbable Game of the Year in roughly forever (ABC, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET).
The stakes are beyond any Missouri and Kansas have ever tussled for in the remarkably nasty 116-year history of the rivalry. Winner earns its first Big 12 North title and figures to be 60 minutes away from the BCS National Championship Game. The winning quarterback could lock up a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
And the revenge of the little men very nearly will be complete.
When Missouri quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator Dave Yost first went into Chase Daniel's home, the kid already had made an oral commitment to the Tigers. Yet when Yost went into Daniel's room to play him in Xbox, there was a picture of the quarterback with Texas coach Mack Brown.
"Oh, that's lovely," Yost thought to himself.
Like thousands of Texas high school quarterbacks before him, Daniel had wanted to be a Longhorn. But the Horns, who were in the midst of the Vince Young revival at that time, did not reciprocate.
Daniel was the No. 26 quarterback in the Class of 2005, according to Scout.com. That was 12 spots behind Young's eventual heir apparent, Colt McCoy, who is listed these days at 6-3. And it was 24 spots behind 6-3 Ryan Perrilloux, who would wind up at LSU but who was the object of Texas' ardent desire.
Bill Daniel, Chase's father, says he is friends with Longhorns offensive coordinator Greg Davis. But friendship was not going to get his son a scholarship.
"Look, he's just not tall enough," Bill Daniel says Davis told him. "He's as good as he's ever going to get."
"No," Bill Daniel disagreed. "He's not."
Yost believed that, which is why Missouri was the first school to offer Daniel a scholarship. The Mizzou coaches had gotten to know Southlake Carroll coach Todd Dodge, and had even invited the spread-offense guru to Columbia to speak at their clinic and help them implement the offense. Dodge, now the head coach at North Texas, raved on Daniel. (The two remain close and speak by phone before every Missouri game.)
Daniel didn't accept the offer when it came via mail, but during the summer before his senior season his family visited some of the top schools on Chase's list: Missouri, Duke and Stanford. Bill Daniel favored Stanford because of the academics, but Chase accurately predicted that coach Buddy Teevens was going to get fired.
After visiting Missouri and hearing all the right answers about how he would fit in the offense, Daniel committed. That was despite the presence of then-starter Brad Smith, who would go on to be the most productive run-pass quarterback in Missouri history, and redshirt Chase Patton, a top-15 prospect who played right there in Columbia, Mo.
"He wasn't real worried about the competition," Yost said.
Missouri was. When Texas figured out that it might lose Perrilloux to LSU, it inquired with Dodge about Daniel's level of commitment to Mizzou. Dodge told them his QB wouldn't change his mind, and Daniel became a Tiger.
And after a single season of backing up Smith, Daniel has taken over the job and actually done better than the four-year starter who preceded him. Daniel already holds 11 Missouri career and 15 season records, with plenty of time to add more.
And because the NFL shares the big-time college aversion to short quarterbacks, it's a certainty that he'll be back for his senior year. Daniel will be glad to tell them what they're missing: a savvy reader of defenses and an accurate thrower who plays on his toes -- which means he plays taller than his listed height.
"He's got that Napoleon syndrome -- I'm going to prove you wrong," Yost said. "He still kind of has that chip on his shoulder. He doesn't take practices off. Every day he wants to show he's the best quarterback on the field. & His competitiveness is probably unmatched, from what I've been around."
Which goes back to that long-ago Xbox game Yost played with Daniel in his bedroom. Yost scored first, and Daniel stopped talking until he took the lead. Which he kept.
"I just don't like to lose at anything," Daniel said. "I know a lot of guys say that, but I get mad at you as a person if you beat me at something. To the point where I won't talk to you. & But I don't hold grudges long."
Perhaps not. But rest assured, Chase Daniel knows who recruited him and who did not, and what those other hot-shot quarterbacks once rated ahead of him are doing now.
Compared to Todd Reesing, Daniel was a superstar recruit coming out of high school.
ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. rated Reesing the No. 81 quarterback prospect nationally in 2006, and placed 13 Texas QBs ahead of him. He was way behind Texans Matthew Stafford and Jevan Sneed, among many others. And the hometown Longhorns weren't interested.
"I was obviously a Horns fan," Reesing said. "My dad went to UT. I grew up watching Major Applewhite and Ricky [Williams]. But I really wasn't hoping certain schools would recruit me."
That's in part because it seemed so unlikely that Texas (to name a certain school) would want him. Reesing said he remembered Davis' watching him work out once, and sending him a letter. But that was about it.
Nobody else was going wild over Reesing either. But a family friend knew Kansas wide receivers coach Tim Beck and sent him a highlight tape late in the spring of Reesing's junior year at Lake Travis High. Beck liked what he saw and showed the tape to head coach Mark Mangino.
"We said, 'Holy cow, this guy's making plays all over the place,'" Mangino recalled.
That summer, Reesing came through Lawrence, Kan., on what Mangino called a "barnstorming tour," trying to sell himself to schools who had some interest. Mangino remembers his initial reaction.
"He was small," he said. "He was really small.
"But he had an engaging personality. What convinced me was that he looked me in the eye, he was intelligent and he was a very confident guy. He had a little bounce to him. I remember going down the hallway when he was out taking a tour of the campus and the coaches said, 'What do you think?' I said, 'He's small, but I still like him. We are going to offer him [a scholarship].' You couldn't help but like him. He's engaging and he's fun to be around, but he's a competitive guy. When he buckles up, he's ready to go."
Kansas had to beat out only Kansas State, Duke and a few others to get its man. And then the Jayhawks got him on campus very quickly.
Reesing graduated early from high school with a 4.2 GPA and enrolled at KU for the winter semester of 2006. He went through spring ball and earned the nickname "Sparky" from Mangino, because of his fiery personality, but seemed destined to redshirt.
Then came the ninth game of the season, and a 9-0 deficit against Colorado. With starter Kerry Meier injured and his team needing a spark, Mangino turned to Sparky and burned his redshirt year.
Reesing led a comeback 20-15 victory and came off the bench in two more Kansas games last season. Not coincidentally, the Jayhawks are 13-1 since he started playing.
"I think he saw the intensity and emotion I play with," Reesing said of Mangino. "I try to play as hard as I can every snap, and leave it all on the field."
Reesing's charisma has seemed evident, but it's not all intangibles at work here. He's tossed 30 touchdown passes with only four interceptions this season -- the last of which was thrown on Oct. 6. He's completed at least 63.6 percent of his passes in each of the past five games. He's not running it as much as he had earlier in the season, but that's in part because the Jayhawks' running backs have stepped up and taken over the ground game so Reesing doesn't have to.
In pure tape measure terms, Reesing is playing well above his head.
"I think we do things with him that we would do if our quarterback was 6-3 or 6-4," Mangino said. "You don't see us doing anything to match his size. I think whoever the quarterback is here would have to do the same thing. We believe in it. We do work to his strengths in certain routes and certain situations, but we didn't [change the offense to fit] Todd's height. That's not the case."
Maybe now it's time for colleges to break their own molds. To accept the fact that some quarterbacks -- especially in the spread offense era -- can play beneath the Mendoza Line of 6-2.
Maybe that will be the enduring legacy of the little men currently occupying center stage in this jarringly unconventional college football season.
Then again, maybe this is only the little man's revenge, and not the little man's revolution.
The fairy tale sounds great, and it has been great fun to follow. But even Dave Yost, one of the few guys out there with the guts to embrace a short quarterback, still echoes the old recruiting truism.
"If you're going to miss on a recruit," Yost said. "Miss big."
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.