COLUMBIA, Mo. -- This was reason to celebrate. Chase Daniel had scored his first big victory of the season. So what if this momentous event took place in the dead of the offseason? The Missouri quarterback had taken a deep breath, turned his body around, stepped up against the wall and -- hooray! -- finally measured in at 6 feet. Until this moment, Daniel had never topped 5-11¾ since his arrival in Columbia.
Sound petty? Not if you're a quarterback with dreams of someday playing in the NFL.
"Man, it's a huge deal," Daniel said. "I knew what it meant for me as a player. It means you get a chance. They [the NFL scouts] throw 5-11 guys right out."
Daniel hopes he can follow in the cleat prints of another supposedly undersized Texan, Drew Brees, who was passed over by the big-name Texas schools and ended up as a record-setting quarterback at Purdue. Brees continued proving skeptics wrong in the NFL by blossoming into a Pro Bowler.
"I think we're very similar in our backgrounds," the 6-0, 225-pound Dallas-area native says of Brees. "Neither of us got recruited by the big three [Texas, Texas A&M or Texas Tech]. He went to Purdue, became an All-American and elevated the program. And hopefully that's what I can do here."
After one season as the Tigers' starter, Daniel is well on his way. In 2006, his 3,527-yard total smashed the Mizzou single-season passing record by more than 1,000 yards. He blew away the school record for TD passes, connecting on 28 scoring throws to easily eclipse Terry McMillan's mark of 18 set in 1969. Daniel's performance in the Tigers' final three games of the season, passing for 996 yards with seven TDs and no interceptions against Iowa State, Kansas and Oregon State, has many around the Mizzou program believing the Tigers have a shot for their first top-15 season in decades.
"He's a special one," said David Yost, Missouri's quarterbacks coach. "His competitiveness and football sense are what make him so much different."
In addition, the Tigers return 10 offensive starters and a handful of other key receivers. Plus, everyone inside the program is fired up about the return of Jeremy Maclin, a speedy redshirt freshman receiver who missed last year with a knee injury. Better still, they also have a favorable schedule with Nebraska, Texas Tech and Texas A&M all having to come to Columbia this fall.
"With the people we have coming back, there's no way we shouldn't compete for the Big 12 title," said Daniel. "I don't see there being any way where we don't finish first or second in the nation in total offense. We have the ability to score 40 points a game. We can easily win 10 games."
As impressive as Daniel was in his debut season, the Mizzou coaches are anxious to see their QB's next step in the evolution of their offense. The offense did sputter at times in the middle of the season, which they say was due in part to not being committed enough to the running game. Some of that was a by-product of coping with standout tailback Tony Temple's fumbling problems.
Expect Daniel and the Tigers to be greedier in 2007.
"We are going to use the whole field now," Yost says. "Last year it was, 'If they do this, we'll take that.' Now it's, 'If they do this, let's take this vertical route we can get. Let's not just take this hitch.' This time, we're not going to just take what the defense gives us, but rather attack what the defense does."
The more aggressive approach meshes well with Daniel's personality. Daniel, the quintessential gym rat, is fueled by a good, old-fashioned Napoleon complex.
His coach and mentor at Texas prep powerhouse Southlake Carroll High, Todd Dodge, refined Daniel's footwork and mechanics by having him throw into nets and trash cans. Dodge, a former Longhorns QB, had Daniel fire 600 passes a day. Daniel also dreamed of playing quarterback for the Texas Longhorns, but although he starred at Carroll, UT didn't offer him a scholarship.
Daniel and buddy Colt McCoy attended a summer camp in Austin, but UT offensive coordinator Greg Davis told Daniel the Longhorns were more interested in Louisiana hotshot Ryan Perrilloux. Daniel decided to commit to Missouri, the first school that offered him.
Later that summer, while attending the Elite 11 QB camp in California, Daniel met Perrilloux. They didn't exactly hit it off.
"I was so tired of hearing him run his mouth," Daniel says. "He was like, 'I'm the best at everything,' so I challenged him."
"Let's run a 40-[yard dash]," Daniel said to Perrilloux in front of all the other campers. "Back up your talk."
They raced and Daniel said he beat Perrilloux by two yards. The Louisiana QB said he slipped and asked for a rematch after he put his cleats on.
"Next time I beat him by a yard," Daniel said with a smile.
Ironically enough, Perrilloux's waffling between Texas and LSU, where he eventually signed, had UT coaches seeking their own escape routes. That winter, they dialed up Dodge and asked what would happen if they called Daniel.
"Do what you gotta do, but I'd rather you not because he's committed to Missouri," Dodge told them.
The Tigers never had many doubts about the vertically challenged QB. They liked what they saw on film and then when they met Daniel, they loved him.
"He came up with his mom and as soon as you talked to him, you knew he had that 'it' quality," said Yost, who doubles as the Tigers' recruiting coordinator. "You want him leading your tent."
It also didn't hurt that head coach Gary Pinkel had coached two other QBs who were a shade under 6-0 to all-conference status during his previous stop at Toledo. The Tigers' offensive scheme has helped Daniel, too. Missouri's gaping O-line splits make it easier to find passing lanes. MU also relies on a lot of cut blocking, although Pinkel would do that even if the team had a 6-7 quarterback.
"He's doing great," said Pinkel. "I've never been around a total quarterback like this before, and I've had five NFL QBs. And I hope the Chris Chandlers and Mark Brunells don't get mad when I say this, but he's the best natural leader I've coached and the most accurate guy I've ever seen."
Daniel's lack of size didn't prevent him from producing against the best level of high school competition in Texas. And it hasn't hurt him at Missouri, either.
"We threw the ball over 400 times and only two or three times did he say, 'I couldn't see him,'" said Yost. "I've had tall guys who had that problem. We'll take a guy who is under 6 feet. Would we take a guy around 5-10? Probably not. That's the cutoff for us.
"It scares you because if you miss on a 5-11 quarterback, what else can he do for you? A 6-4 guy could become a tight end or maybe a defensive end. I think Chase Daniel would be a hard-nosed linebacker, but I don't know if he'd ever play [that position] for us. Then again, he'd probably make himself into a good linebacker."
"I think it worked out perfectly," said Daniel. "I know I'm in the right place."
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine.