Prince Ahadzie Daniels, Jr. (better known on the gridiron as P.J.) was a long shot walk-on at Georgia Tech University for the Yellow Jackets football squad. After overcoming the kind of odds you read about in books or see on the silver screen, he went from a ‘one in a million’ shot to ‘the one’ holding the still NCAA bowl game rushing record of 307 yards in the Humanitarian Bowl in 2004.
The Houston, Texas native was then drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He played in parts of three seasons before he career was cut drastically short due to injuries in 2009.
After battling depression and a loss of identity due to the sudden end of his professional football career, Daniels transitioned from the practice field to the practice of meditation. Daniels is now a successful author and entrepreneur. His latest book entitled Mindfulness for the Ultimate Athlete: Mastering the Balance Between Power and Peace, helps athletes of all levels reach the highest level of their game.
In the second of a new series called Card Back Q&A, we talked to him about some interesting information found on the backs of his rookie cards from the 2006 season.
Tony Reid–Many of your rookie cards, including your 2006 Bowman card, mention how you walked on at Georgia Tech. How did you go from a walk on to earning a scholarship and eventually holding rushing records in major bowl games?
Prince Daniels, Jr.-I had a lofty dream and some really big ambitions. It took some time for what I desired internally to manifest. I had to learn how to find patience. I had to learn how to find resilience, persistence, and perseverance and just be mindful of when my opportunity would present itself. For a long time, I was number seven on the depth chart. You don’t get a chance to see, or run, too many plays. You are always on scout team. I knew I had to learn how to stand out.
One of my coaches told me I sucked and that I would not play at Georgia Tech and if I wanted to play my changes were one in a million. He said if I wanted to play in the NFL it was one in a billion. I guess I was that one in a million and one in a billion. As the season went on, we had some running backs get hurt and some didn’t meet the academic requirements to stay on the team. We were down to a smaller number. I was ready and available when my time came. I knew if I put in hard work that sometime it would eventually pay off and eventually it did. When they called my number I never looked back. I stood up for the challenge.
I went from a walk on to a supporting cast member to being a starter to being the man. It was a whirlwind. It was a beautiful experience. I was All ACC. I was All Academic. I still hold the record for most rushing yards in an NCAA Bowl game. That was in 2004. Its 2020 now. That was sixteen years ago! I’m just a walk on, right? That record is something I am really, really proud of. I share that moment with my teammates and offensive line. If it wasn’t for them, I would never have that record. I think I had two hundred and ninety something yards. My coach was getting ready to take me out. He wanted the other backs to get an opportunity. Literally, they asked the coach to let me stay in so I could get the three hundred yard mark so we could go down in history. He said as soon as I got three hundred yards he was yanking me. So, I ran one pay and I got to 311 yards and he yanked me. At that time there were still twelve minutes left on the clock. I was having a field day. My lineman were opening up holes as big as the Red Sea and I was just running right through them.
TR–You were known as “PJ” but, as your 2006 Topps rookie card states, your full name is Prince Daniels. How did you come up with “PJ”?
PDJ-Most people ask me about it. Yes, Prince is my real name. That’s why they call me P.J. They ask what the ‘J’ stands for. It stands for Junior. It’s Prince Junior. He is Prince Ahadzie Daniels, Senior. I am the junior. That is my name. I am really proud of it. My father is from Ghana, Africa. That was the name he gave me and I wear it with pride.
TR– A blurb on the back of one of your rookie cards simply states ‘Bruising runner. Solid receiver.’ It was short and sweet. Is that a fair assessment?
PDJ-(Laughs) Yes, I think that is a fair assessment. In college, I was a bruising runner and a nice receiver. When I made it to the NFL, I matured. My game evolved. I played three different positions. I played running back. I played Wide Receiver and I played a little bit of F back. I increased my speed and I stopped trying to bruise people so much. I learned how to run past people and run out of bounds. I was always physical. I enjoyed the physical side of the game. My speed increased and they started lining me up at wide receiver. I had the opportunity to add more value to my game and my craft. That was one of the parts that I really enjoyed. I just wish I had the opportunity to present it to the world on that platform.
TR– The back of your 2006 Topps rookie card states that you wanted to emulate your heroes Walter Payton and Barry Sanders on all off the field. What drew you to those two greats?
PDJ-I wanted to be just like Barry Sanders. I remember seeing him when they were playing the Houston Oilers. He made a move and scored a touchdown. I remember looking at my mother, with tears of determination in my eyes, and said ‘I’m going to make it to the NFL and do that one day.’ She said ‘Baby, I believe you.’
That’s all that I needed because I was so determined. Barry Sanders was the most electrifying NFL player that I have ever seen. He was the equivalent of Reggie Bush at USC. The most electrifying. Everyone holds their breath when they got the ball.
I read Walter Payton’s book when I was a freshman at Georgia Tech. That book gave me the inspiration to look within and dig deep when my coach told me I wouldn’t amount to anything. He told me that and I had to make it up in my mind that I wasn’t going to allow anyone to steal my dream. It’s my dream. He can’t tell me how it’s going to pan out. I saw it.
I remember reading in Walter Payton’s book that he used to work out until he passed out. So, I ran to the other side of campus and worked out until I passed out. I was so determined to do it that I did it. I was in disarray. I passed out in the sand pit. I woke up and snapped out of it. I had this big sand print right on my face. I walked to my dorm room. My roommate offered me some pizza. It was two greasy slices of pizza from Pizza Hut. I ate them and went to sleep and woke up the next morning at 4:30 AM. We had workouts at 5:30 AM. I ran to the other side of campus. I did that for the next three and a half months. Every single day. I was so determined. My teammates would ride by me in the morning when I was running to the workout. Everybody was packed in the car or truck. They would stop and blow the horn and tell me to get in. I said I was OK. Just running. They thought I had lost my mind. That’s what you have to do when you are determined to do something. I was constantly working on my craft.
When I got to the NFL, it was a whole new ballgame. I realized all of the things that I could do and realize all of the potential I had. The game started slowing down for me. All I needed was my body to cooperate. I know I would have been one of the best running backs in the NFL. Every week my game improved. I stepped up to the plate and made it happen.