If fantasy high school football existed, Kenai's Jace Daniels would be Alaska's most coveted player.
The senior opened the season with a state record 488-yard rushing performance in a 51-16 win over Nikiski and last week ran for 279 yards in a 78-6 win over Homer.
Consider West running back Lui Faamasino's 296 rushing yards leads the Cook Inlet Conference through three games, and Daniels' three-game total of 837 demands attention.
Daniels' 488-yard outburst blew away the old single-game rushing record of 395 set by Service's Dominique Maddox in 1999. Service's Brandon Drumm ran for 381 yards in 1996, a week after Dallas Elmore totaled 372 for Colony. From 1981-1996, the record was 351, set by North Pole's Ben Williams.
Daniels' big game was not part of a concerted effort to pad stats or chase a record, nor did it come in a game as lopsided as the final score suggests. Kenai trailed Nikiski 15-14 at halftime, with Daniels exploding for five touchdowns in the third quarter. He scored seven touchdowns in the game, reaching pay dirt twice from 49 yards in the second quarter and scoring from 73, 2, 81, 38 and 43 yards in the third. Daniels did all that damage on just 20 carries and Kenai assistant coach Jim Beeson said it felt like the rushing total was closer to the old Kenai record of 331 yards.
"If someone told me afterwards he had over 400 yards, I would have said it was impossible," Beeson said. "It certainly wasn't any fluke, and obviously everyone is gonna be keying on him."
The next week, Wasilla's defense made Daniels a priority and held him to 70 yards on the ground. Kenai still managed to run its way to a 17-14 win. The nonconference win carried some weight, because Kenai is a medium school playing out of the Northern Lights Conference and Wasilla is a large school in the Railbelt Conference.
"We have other kids who can carry the football," Beeson said. "We've played three games and attempted one pass."
At 5-foot-10 and around 165 pounds, Beeson said Daniels isn't exactly an imposing figure, but he is an impressive looking athlete who puts in plenty of gym time. Daniels trained hard in the offseason to improve his speed, after rushing for about 600 yards all of last season.
"He's got a little extra gear," Beeson said. "He's a short, stocky little kid who is put together pretty well."
Daniels also plays outside linebacker for the Kardinals and doesn't limit his point production to the offensive side of the ball. In last week's win over Homer he returned a fumble and interception for his first defensive touchdowns of the season.
Daniels is remaining humble, Beeson said, but there is no mistaking his star role on the team.
"The kids all recognize for us to be successful, he has to be successful," Beeson said. "He's handled it really, really well."
Single-game rushing leaders
488 Jace Daniels, Kenai, 2013
395 Dominique Maddox, Service, 1999
381 Brandon Drumm, Service, 1996
372 Dallas Elmore, Colony, 1996
352 Perry Monzulla, North Pole, 2004
351 Tres Saldivar, Juneau, 2005
351 Ben Williams, North Pole, 1981
* Statistics are unofficial, and based on game coverage by the ADN and other newspapers, and information provided by varsity coaching staffs. There is no official stat-keeping body for Alaska football.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS