Prep wrestling: A.L. Brown’s McDaniel headed to Gardner-Webb
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS ó A.L. Brown senior Morgan McDaniel rarely encounters anyone who possesses his relatively weird combination of athletic gifts.
“There really aren’t a whole lot of wrestlers-kickers out there,” McDaniel said with a laugh.
McDaniel is best known as the placekicker for Brown’s 3AA runner-up football team. He got attention last fall for one kick he missed and a bunch he made.
Wonder football has a profile much higher than the school’s wrestling program, but McDaniel is even better on the mat. He’s made a strong run in the state tournament the last two years.
Ask McDaniel for his greatest moment and he’ll recall a pin, not a PAT. Wrestling is the sport he’ll pursue in college. He’s signed with Gardner-Webb.
“I’m not weak, by any means, but my biggest assets are I’m good on my feet and I have strong technique,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel is only 5-foot-7, but there’s serious athleticism crammed into his compact body. He’s run cross country, and he may have been a beast in soccer had he gone that route instead of switching to football.
McDaniel also would have a good chance to thrive with a 7-iron in his hands.
His father Mallory, a West Rowan graduate, carved out a permanent place in Rowan’s golfing history. He won the inaugural Rowan County Amateur and was on the winning team often in the huge Labor Day Four-Ball tournaments.
The window opened for Morgan to make an athletic impact as a freshman when the football program made a casting call. The varsity had a fine kicker in soccer standout Ben Alford, but the jayvees were in dire need. Interested parties were asked to audition.
“I thought, ‘Hey, I can do that,’ ” McDaniel said.
He got the job. With Zach Massey snapping and Jamill Lott holding, McDaniel booted jayvee PATs.
He caught the kicking bug, went to camps and worked with former Wonder and Catawba standout Rush Rollins. He improved his range. He built confidence.
The last three football seasons, he’s been the guy for the varsity, although he was a secret weapon as a sophomore. He was listed on the 2006 roster as “Morgan McDaniels” and was so tiny that binoculars were required to locate him.
By his junior year, No. 13 had his name spelled correctly in the program. He also booted a game-changing 40-yarder in a playoff game with St. Stephens. That earned some respect.
By his senior year, he was so strong he kicked off into the end zone, and he was on the AP All-State ballot. He finished a stellar career with 158 PATs and 11 field goals. He would’ve kicked more 3s, but the Wonders weren’t stopped all that often.
McDaniel missed a kick in September that would have won the Mooresville game. Wonder football is serious business. The miss made him famous overnight.
“Everyone was nice about the Mooresville miss,” McDaniel said. “Watching the film, I just pulled my head up. But I do remember Coach (Ron) Massey telling everyone I’d win games down the road. It turned out to be a very short road.”
One week later, McDaniel kicked a 42-yarder against Sun Valley. After Sun Valley rallied to tie, Brown drove and McDaniel lined up for a 22-yard attempt with 1:04 remaining.
“I was so nervous I couldn’t even feel my hands,” McDaniel said. “But Zach snapped and Jamill held. It was a repeat of my freshman year.”
He made that kick.
He also made two memorable playoff boots: the decisive PAT with 10 seconds left that ended Charlotte Catholic’s hex on the Wonders and a field goal with 5:48 remaining against Kings Mountain that helped secure a trip to the 3AA state championship game.
McDaniel could kick in college, but his senior wrestling season opened wider doors.
Mere days after the Wonders lost to Dudley in the 3AA title game, McDaniel was weighing in at North Davidson’s King of the Mat Tournament, a marquee wrestling event featuring 32-man brackets and powerhouse teams, many from outside the state lines.
“I remember wrestling a good guy from (High Point) Andrews, falling behind like 5-1 and coming back to win 7-2,” McDaniel said. “I was scrambling around, just going one-on-one and nothing else mattered. The best match of my life. The fun ones are the toughest ones.”
While there are zero physical similarities between kicking field goals and wrestling, there is a mental toughness crossover.
“I think what I like about both things is it’s just you, and if something goes wrong you can’t blame anyone else,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel has grown steadily and moved up in weight class each year.
He wrestled at 103 pounds as a freshman. He returned to the regional at 112 as a sophomore. As a junior, he was third in the regional at 130 and sixth in the 3A state tournament.
Wrestling at 135, his senior year was his best. He was second in the regional, fourth in the state event.
A.L. Brown coach Jerome Davis, a former state champion, taught him a lot, and McDaniel benefited from working against his drill partner, super-strong Jonathan Donatien, who placed fifth in 3A at 140.
McDaniel, who recorded three straight pins to take the SPC championship, finished his career with 136 wins. Gardner-Webb coaches became McDaniel fans at the state tournament.
“They watched me at states, and then I started getting phone calls every week,” McDaniel said. “I visited, liked the coaches and campus, and they’ve got a starting spot open for grabs. I’ll have to work like crazy, but I’m willing to do that.”
McDaniel’s work in the classroom will help make Gardner-Webb affordable. He’s landed an Air Force ROTC scholarship that’s worth about $18,000 a year.
McDaniel will be required to attend one ROTC class each week as a freshman and more classes in years to come. He’ll also have a four-year Air Force obligation to handle after graduation, but he looks at that commitment as a privilege, not a problem.
“My dad was in the Air Force 20 years and my brother (Marcus) also won that same scholarship,” McDaniel said. “It gives me a chance to keep wrestling, and I’ll be proud to serve my country.”
A.L. Brown is proud of McDaniel. Kicking wrestlers don’t come along every day, but he’s been a special one.