Madison County High standout defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel felt disoriented.
He remembered stretching out on the back seat of the Chevrolet minivan at some point during the long ride home from a prestigious scouting combine in San Antonio, Texas, on the evening of Jan. 4, 2008, and then …
"It was like I was walking on air," he said.
But where? When? Suddenly it hit him that he couldn't hear well. Blood was dripping down the left side of his face and, even in the darkness, he could see blood splattered around him.
"I thought," he said, "I was in heaven."
McDaniel, who was about a month shy of orally committing to Florida State's 2009 class (national signing day is Wednesday), as well as teammate Chris Thompson and three of their coaches, survived an accident along a stretch of Interstate 10 in rural Louisiana.
According to the police report, a little after 10 p.m., the driver of a Toyota Camry lost control of her car when the left rear tire blew out and she hit the 2007 Chevrolet Venture she was passing. The minivan spun off the road and rolled before hitting a tree.
"Jacobbi and Chris, it's not that they weren't humble kids to begin with," said Madison County assistant Mike Coe, who injured his shoulder in the accident, "but (after that night) they realized this thing's about eternity and not a football game."
"I could have been gone," McDaniel, who received several stitches, added simply. "To be alive, I really think that God put me on this earth for a reason — to be a leader for young kids and be the best person that I can be."
This is a young man with his cleats firmly on the ground.
This is a young man eager to show that at FSU.
The 6-foot, 267-pound McDaniel committed as early as he did so he could "set the tone," and he has talked up the FSU program to his peers ever since. It's not just coincidence that Thompson, a four-star running back, is another FSU commitment.
"In the end, it came down to if I really wanted to be there or not," Thompson said of his decision, "but Jacobbi talked to me about it a lot. A whole lot. And yeah, that was part of it, (knowing) I'd be there with one of my high school teammates."
Earlier this month, McDaniel contemplated a trip to Georgia merely so he could see another campus. FSU coaches told him that if he went, it could appear as if he were wavering on FSU. McDaniel scrubbed the idea.
"He's the bell cow of the class," said Tom Lemming, the national recruiting analyst for CBS College Sports. "And deservedly so. I have him as the No. 10 player overall in the country."
Rivals.com has McDaniel No. 15 overall and the lone five-star player among FSU's commitments. Analysts liken him to a young Warren Sapp, the former Miami Hurricanes and Bucs standout who wasn't tall but relied on quickness and relentlessness to be a disruptive force. McDaniel doesn't shy away from the comparison.
"He has a desire to be the best there is," Coe said. "He's always prided himself on the fact that he was going to get out of here and do great things."
Not just for himself. Not just for his family. But for his small community east of Tallahassee.
"I go to the store and I see young kids and they come and speak to me," McDaniel said. "And then grown-ups come to me and say, 'My child looks up to you.' That's something that really drives me. I can't just go somewhere and mess up all those things. I had a good high school career, but now it's time for me to put that away. … I have to work harder, do that extra step and do everything I can to make myself better and be successful."