The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


Southern Miss Football Coach and Players Speak Out for the First Time on Marcus “MJ” Daniels’ Death

Jackson Kennedy

Southern Miss head football coach Will Hall and Golden Eagle football players spoke out for the first time since the death of Marcus “MJ” Leon Daniels Jr. They described Daniels as a “superstar,” “brother,” and someone who “always lit up the room” with his ferocious smile.

“They [the team] are hurting,” Hall said. “We lost a great young man who had a beautiful smile. He had an unbelievable competitive nature. He played his best when it mattered most. He was growing as a leader. We always talk about living with the end in mind and how we want it to look when it’s over. If MJ wanted to be remembered as a competitor who lifted others up, always had a beautiful smile, and always brought joy to people, then he lived well.

“I love him, and I miss him every day.”

Hall first met Daniels while recruiting him when Daniels decided to hit the transfer portal from Ole Miss. At the time, cornerback coach Dwike Wilson was at South Alabama, also trying to recruit Daniels for the Jaguars.

“It was an intense battle,” Hall said. “Coach Wilson and I were recruiting the crap out of him.”

Hall then announced the hiring of Wilson to the staff in late January 2023, and that was all Daniels needed to know to bring him to Southern Miss.

READ IT: The obituary of Marcus Leon Daniels Jr. 

“I’ll never forget when I hired Coach Wilson. I called him [Daniels] and said, ‘Man, I got some interesting news,’” Hall said. “He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘I just hired a new corners coach by the name of Dwike Wilson.’ He said, ‘Are you for real?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Awe, Coach, you know what I’m fixing to do.’ It was just meant to be.”

Daniels was an instant leader in the locker room and started becoming a voice to any players at Ole Miss or Mississippi State to bring them down to Southern Miss to play for Hall.

Among those players were Dylan Lawrence and Elijah Sabbatini.

Lawrence, a Mississippi State transfer, is Daniels’s cousin and has known him for most of his life. He took Daniels in like a younger brother, always being there for Daniels when he needed it.

“Of course, MJ was younger than me, so MJ was always around with my little brother, and I took him in as kind of like my little brother,” Lawrence said. “I’m sorry that my brother has to watch over me, but I don’t get to watch over him.”

Lawrence said that Daniels convinced him to come to Southern Miss to play football because he was so invested in the program.

“MJ was the reason I came here,” Lawrence said. “I bought into everything that he said, and this was definitely our next home, and we were going to do this together. And this is what I’m doing it for.”

Sabbatini, an Ole Miss transfer who was roommates with Daniels while in Oxford, echoed the same notion.

“He was a brother,” Sabbatini said. “That was somebody I couldn’t be without, and he couldn’t be without me. We were always together. He is a big reason I came down here to play for Southern Miss.”

READ MORE: Three charged in Southern Miss football player’s murder

Sabbatini said that Daniels was really good at “influencing people” and always encouraged players to do more than they thought they could.

“If he wanted to come out and do some extra work one day, he would call me and ask me to come work with him, and I would say, ‘Not today.’ He would be like, ‘Come on, man, get up; don’t be lazy.’ He always wanted to push you and let you know he had your back just like I had his. That was just the type of person he was,” Sabbatini said.

Chandler Pittman, another Ole Miss commit before coming to Southern Miss, said that Daniels worked like a “superstar.”

“He was a light to a room,” Pittman said. “A lot of people called him ‘superstar.’ He really lived, breathed, and worked as a superstar. From the time we were committed to Ole Miss to the time we were taking visits together in 2019-20, he was always a light, and he lived his life like a superstar, and I will remember him to death.”

Every player who spoke resoundingly stated that Daniels loved Southern Miss and wanted everyone else to buy into the program and Hall.

“He loved Southern Miss,” Hall said. “Other places offered him more money; he stayed here for less money like a lot of our kids do because it mattered to him to be from somewhere. It mattered to him to have a legacy, which he will have. It mattered to him that his family could be here and that he could get to his family. He was just an old soul from that standpoint, and those things meant a lot to him. He loved this place, and this is where he wanted to be.”

Daniels’s visitation will be on Saturday, June 22, 2024, from 11:00 AM until 1:00 PM at George County High School Gymnasium.

READ MORE: Southern Miss football player Marcus “MJ” Daniels fatally shot

The funeral service will begin at 1:00 PM, with Rev. Rondel Sinclair officiating. Burial will follow in Merrill Cemetery.

Follow Dima Mixon (@dima_mixon) for continued coverage of Southern Miss athletics.

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