Francis Howell North quarterback Aidan McDaniel was the second leading passer in area last season and he has his sights set to improve on that.
The 5-foot-1, 190-pound junior enjoyed a solid sophomore season for the Knights. McDaniel complete 179 of 315 passes for 2,732 yards. He tossed 25 touchdown passes. McDaniel had 11 interceptions.
“I want lead the area in passing this year,” McDaniel said. “Last year, I came up a little short because I was second to Brett Gabbert of CBC. I have the tools now to lead our offense. I’d like to throw for most yards in St. Louis this year. That’s a good goal for me. If I can do that, I think our team will win a lot of games.”
What helped McDaniel in 2016 came from the experience he gained as a freshman.
Sophomore starter Connor Gallagher was the starting quarterback. However, an inflamed muscle in his lower back sidelined him right before the Homecoming football game against rival Francis Howell Central.
That meant Brandon Gregory, then the Knights coach, to turn to an untested freshman.
McDaniel remembers that week well.
“t was nerve wracking. But, it was also very exciting,” McDaniel said. “It was my dream to follow my life’s passion of playing football. It was amazing accomplishment for me, I think. I didn’t know it was going to happen.
“It was the Thursday right before game day when coach Gregory told me the quarterback (Gallagher) above me had back spasms. He went to the ER [emergency room]. In the middle of that day, he told me I was starting. I was pretty scared. We went over everything and talked and then I went out and played.”
He finished his freshman season throwing for 980 yards on 82 of 129 passing with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“It was a good experience for me,” McDaniel said. “I wouldn’t have been ready at all my sophomore year I think if not for that.”
Brett Bevill took over reins at Francis Howell North last season.
There was a competition between McDaniel and Gallagher for the starting job.
“It was a good competition,” Bevill said. “Aidan won it. He was our starter. Connor is a great kid. We put him at wide receiver and on defense.”
Bevill noted it’s unusual for a sophomore to start on the varsity level.
“For a freshman to start is almost unheard of but Aidan did that,” Bevill said. “He has the maturity level to shoulder all that. It’s really a testament to his competitive nature.”
Bevill likes what McDaniel shows on the field.
“He can some amazing things with the ball. I describe sometimes that had a knack for hitting the ball in the right spot at the right time. He’s really got a good touch on it. He has power. He can throw really well.
“He’s awesome. He can make your jaw drop. He’s able to thread the needle. He can play. A had a number of rushing touchdowns last year. He doesn’t get credit for his speed because he can throw so well.”
McDaniel exceeded Bevill’s exceptions last season. In the beginning, Bevill was somewhat conservative with the offense.
“We had a really good running back in Donnell Hawkins,” Bevill said. “For beginning of the season, we gave him the ball a lot to run. Then Aidan really came around. We lost Donnell the three or four games and it turned all around on Aidan’s shoulders. He responded well.
“I’m a believer that you fit the offense to the players you have. He’s a natural thrower. If it’s working, keep doing it.”
One of McDaniel’s most memorable game was a 43-40 win over Francis Howell Central. He finished with 448 yards passing and he connected on 32 of 50 passes. McDaniel brought the Knights back from a nine-point deficit in the final four minutes with a pair of TD passes. His final TD pass came with just 15 seconds to play and proved to be the game-winner.
“Without him, that game would have been tough,” Bevill said. “He ran well and he threw the ball a ton. It was a big win.”
McDaniel worked hard in the offseason to get ready for this season. He gained 15 pounds. He believes that will help him this fall.
“I feel like I got a little faster from last year,” McDaniel said. “I’ll run if I have to. I like scrambling.
“My deep ball explosiveness has gotten better. My arm strength is there. I think I’ll do all right this year. I have such great receivers in Maurice Massey, Connor Gallagher, Taron Woods and Cameron Lewis. It’s a real strong receiving corps.”
McDaniel took part in the Black Shirt program, Bevill said. It’s an offseason program for the players.
“That means you’re in it for the entire offseason,” Bevill said. “He was always one of the first guys there. He’s a great leader for us. He works very hard. He puts in the time. He’s done everything he can do.”
His ability to read defenses and know the offense so well means more responsibilities for McDaniel this season, Bevill said.
“We’re going to give him more freedom this year,” Bevill said. “He’ll be looking at a defense and seeing if he wants to change certain routes. I’ll tell ‘if you see this and you want it, call it.’ He can audible on his own. He’s taking on a bigger role this year.”
That’s fine with McDaniel.
“That’s great,” McDaniel said. “I just want us to win games.”
So does Bevill. If McDaniel performs, so too will the offense.
“I forsee him putting up even bigger numbers this year,” Bevill said. “Maybe he will really turn some heads. Last year we knew he was good but we didn’t turn him loose until the last four or five games.
“This year, it’s going to be ‘let’s go Aidan’ and see what we can do. We’ve got a great offense around him and the receiving corps is really good. He’s up for the challenge.”
McDaniel is more than just a football player, too.
“He plays basketball and he gets great grades,” Bevill said. “He’s got a good family. They’re all involved. He’s just a great kid.”