IN FOCUS: Danny Etling
Communications Graduate Assistant
“I got stuck with the football.”
When Danny Etling was just a kid, his father, Joe, showed up at their home in Terre Haute, Indiana, with a bag of balls from a local toy store.
One by one, each of the five Etling children grabbed a ball. One took a basketball, another took a soccer ball, and Danny, the middle of the five children, was stuck with the football.
He put the football in his closet and didn’t touch it, not for a few years anyway, but all of a sudden, he acquired the urge to play. However, his mother, Gretchen, was reluctant to let that happen, so he placed a wager that if he won a local tennis tournament, he would be able to join the local team.
After winning the tournament, a few days later, 10-year-old Etling walked into his first football practice with his father - who had been asked to be an assistant coach - with one goal in mind: he wanted to be a running back.
With close to 20 other kids lined up to take a shot at playing quarterback, the head coach of the team looked at Joe and told him that Danny was going to play quarterback.
“Don’t make Danny the quarterback because he’s my son,” Joe pressed.
“I’m not,” the coach replied. “Danny is the smartest one out here, and he can throw.”
After losing quite a few games in his first season, Danny’s father introduced him to Steve Englehart, the head coach and quarterbacks coach at Division III Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology to start working with him.
Danny was enthusiastic and ready to throw, but was quickly humbled by Englehart. The quarterback position was not about solely being able to throw the ball, Danny learned. Instead, it was the combination of leadership skills, footwork and dedication. Weeks later, he began throwing the ball, and his love for the football truly began to blossom.
In a town that is basketball-oriented, Danny quickly found his passion for the quarterback position, likening it to a point guard in basketball—the ball always goes through his hands. He gets to distribute everything.
The next season, Joe became the head coach of Danny’s county football team, and they needed one more player.
The duo urged one of Danny’s childhood friends from kindergarten, Cam Taylor, to join.
Taylor was not the most athletic one out there, but he had the gift of making each game and practice fun for everyone.
“There was something about Cam,” Danny said. “He didn’t play a lot, but for some reason when he got in and got to go out there and play and perform, he had so much fun doing it that it spread around the team.”
With the lead secured in one of the games, Taylor ended up being able to play. He was handed a reverse and somehow almost scored, causing the entire squad to erupt with joy. It’s a moment they still talk about to this day.
“He wasn’t the best athlete, but he would always go out there and make me appreciate sports. I would go out there and see him giving it his all, loving being a part of a team and loving the aspects of it. He may never play a second of a game, but he would still be as happy as the guy who made the game-winning shot. I was always envious of him being able to do that. He taught me to love sports and love being part of a team,” Danny said.
Later in the season, his seventh grade team had made the county championship, Cam Taylor and all. With two minutes left in the game, the defense had given up a touchdown, putting Danny’s squad down by seven. The entire defense walked over to Danny, looked him in the eye and asked him to get the team out of it.
They drove the ball down the field and scored a touchdown. With 18 seconds left, they were down by one point, and Joe called a timeout. Before he could utter a word, Danny said, “Let’s go for two. Dad, let me throw it. I can do it,” he pleaded.
Reluctantly, Joe let Danny call the play, a double fade pass to the back of the end zone. The pass went up, and the receiver caught the ball to secure the championship.
“Everyone gave me credit for calling the play, but it wasn’t me,” Joe said. “It was Danny who called it. He wasn’t just a young kid anymore. He showed leadership in that position.”
It all clicked for Danny after that. For the first time, he truly realized he could play football.
“Once he started working, he had one goal in mind,” his father explained. “He said, ‘Dad, I want to be a Division I quarterback.’ There hadn’t been a Division I quarterback from Terre Haute in 40 years, and people scoffed at the notion that he could be a Division I quarterback.”
Work he did, and during his junior year at South Vigo High School, he committed to Purdue as one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation.
Danny’s mother walked into his room on a late September morning in 2012. It was a typical school morning for the now high school senior.
That was until she delivered the news.
Danny’s life-long friend, Cam Taylor, had passed away in the middle of the night after suffering a seizure in his sleep.
After much thought and after talks with his father and his head coach, he asked to wear the No. 16, Taylor’s soccer number, to commemorate him in the game that Friday night.
“I didn’t want to make it a huge thing, so I didn’t keep it with me,” Danny said. He returned to his traditional No. 8 in the next weeks and then wore No. 5 at Purdue.
He was thrust into playing during his freshman campaign for the Boilermakers, starting the final seven games of the year after playing in eight. Danny looked to build on his freshman campaign and started the first five games of his sophomore season before being benched for the duration of the year.
“I didn’t even know if I wanted to play football anymore,” Danny said. “I was in a bad place, and football is going to beat you down. It will beat you to your knees, but if you really love it, you have to pick yourself up.”
After much consideration following the 2015 spring season, he decided to transfer from Purdue and never dreamed that he would play in the Southeastern Conference.
While on an official visit to Arkansas, Danny received a call from a Baton Rouge number. It was former LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, an alum of South Vigo High School. He told Danny that another Baton Rouge number would be calling shortly, and just a few minutes later, he was on the phone with Les Miles, who offered him a scholarship on the spot.
During his official visit to LSU, Danny walked into an empty Tiger Stadium and along with his father, immediately had chills. He knew this place was for him, and shortly after, he signed with the Tigers.
Due to NCAA transfer rules, Etling would have to sit out one season, but during that campaign he worked as the scout team quarterback. He learned from the other quarterbacks in the room around him and knew he would be in for competition the next season.
He was finally having fun again, playing the sport that he loved. At the end of the 2015 season, the No. 16 jersey became available to wear, and he jumped at the chance to wear that number that reminded him of his friend Cam Taylor.
“It’s something that helps me to remember why I play the game and why I still love it when I have a bad day, or when football isn’t exactly what I want it to be because, obviously, football is rough,” Danny said. “Enjoy being a part of the team and enjoy the aspects that you can control, just like Cam did. It keeps me grounded to have the honor to wear that number.”
At his first home game on the sidelines in Tiger Stadium, Etling had his chance to play against Jacksonville State, and as a result of his performance, he kept the job at quarterback for the remainder of the season. Along with posting a 7-3 mark as LSU’s starter, he was named to the 2016 SEC Academic Honor Roll and the 2016 SEC Community Service Team, graduated in May 2017 with a degree in mass communication, and he was voted the 2017 Vice-Chair of the SEC Football Leadership Council.
Entering the 2017 season with a heated quarterback battle, on August 21, LSU coach Ed Orgeron called Etling into his office and told him that he had solidified his job as the starting quarterback for his second season.
Immediately, Etling walked out of Orgeron’s office and phoned his father. Upon seeing Danny’s call, Joe walked out of his office and heard “Dad, I got the job” come over the other line.
From thinking that his son may never play football again after leaving Purdue, Joe was ecstatic that Danny had been officially named LSU’s starting quarterback.
“It was very emotional for me,” Joe said. “Danny kept working. There were a number of people who never thought he would play if he went to LSU. It’s a testament to Danny and his character. Rest assured, there’s no one who will outwork him. That’s one thing you can take to the bank.”