Nothing significant happens on a football field for an outgoing senior just weeks from his own graduation. There are no more games, no more camps, no one is left paying attention. It’s over. You are whoever they say you are, having either celebrated or settled by now.
The opportunity for rebuttal has long since passed.
Yet, there is Daelen Menard—ever the exception to the rule—walking calmly toward a field upon which he never played a meaningful snap, his entire future hanging in the balance.
It’s the first week of May in South Florida, yet the quarterback who, last summer, Chaminade-Madonna head coach Dameon Jones unabashedly referred to as the region’s best, seems just as ‘forgotten’ now as he was then.
As Menard begins to loosen up his surgically repaired right shoulder, almost exactly five months since winning his second consecutive Florida Class 3A State Championship, his Rivals profile still displays a photo from his freshman year at Miami Pace.
Talent evaluators at 247Sports have successfully managed to ignore him completely.
Cardinal Gibbons head coach Matt DuBuc remains a believer, though; so much so that it is he who has set up an audition for Menard during his team's spring practice.
DuBuc has designed a workout for Menard very similar to the one he put former Kansas and Washington State quarterback Peyton Bender through five years ago. That workout was uploaded to YouTube and ultimately punched Bender’s ticket to Pullman.
Today, with BC’s White among the live, captive audience, Menard is slinging it. On the run, right hash, left hash, across the field on an out route—it doesn’t matter. White is the recipient of every conceivable visualization and Menard, with everything hanging on every throw, is on fire.
When the period ends, White turns to DuBuc.
“If the powers that be aren’t impressed with this,” he says, “I’ll leave my hat.”
On May 22, five months after Keontra Smith and Te-Cory Crouch signed with Miami and John Dunmore inked with Penn State, their quarterback can finally announce that he, too, has a home at the next level.
COMMITTED!!🦅 pic.twitter.com/CYRxGmxQZ4— Daelen Menard (@daelenmenard) May 22, 2019
That Menard’s path to this moment was so long and winding is practically inconceivable when you see him up close. The ball jumps out of his hand. His athleticism appears smooth and effortless. His demeanor, his calm presents itself in a way that feels remarkably mature.
Baker Mayfield as a comparison is overdone to the point of being meaningless. But Menard, at the same point in his career, is the closest thing you will find to the kid from Lake Travis who passed on Rice to walk-on at Texas Tech.
Like Mayfield, Menard is in the ballpark of six feet tall. And, like Mayfield, the lack of prototypical height worked against him during the recruiting process.
Like Mayfield, Menard can flat out spin it. And, like Mayfield, he is supremely confident in his ability to play the position—and to lead his peers.
Like Mayfield, Menard wasn’t interested in settling for a roster spot in, say, Conference USA. And, like Mayfield, he and his support system were willing to take a preferred walk-on spot if that’s what it took to “prove it.”
But, unlike Mayfield, Menard won’t have to—despite not having a Power Five offer as recently as May 16.
So, how’d it happen?
When Menard arrived at Chaminade-Madonna (FL) by way of Miami Pace, he assumed command of a run-heavy offense featuring now-Auburn running back Shaun Shivers. Shivers piled up 2,241 yards in 2017 alone—which didn’t leave much meat on the bone for his quarterback.
During the ’17 state semifinals, Menard tore his labrum. He played through the injury, led his team to the state title—throwing for 144 yards and two much-needed scores with that broken wing—but wound up unable to participate in a single camp during the most important summer of his career.
Instead, Menard spent that time rehabbing from surgery to repair the labrum and rotator cuff on his throwing shoulder. Meanwhile, he fell further beneath the radar.
Hamstrung by an offensive system that often sputtered in spite of its wealth of weapons, Menard did just about all he could do as a senior, rattling off nine straight wins after a 3-2 start and driving the Lions to a second straight state title.
Still, as the early signing period came and went, Menard was stuck watching teammates—not to mention childhood friend, Cardinal Gibbons quarterback Nik Scalzo—sign with Power Five programs, while he waited patiently for someone to take notice.
“At the end of the season, I still didn’t really know where I was going be,” Menard says. “For a few months, it started picking up. I was getting a lot of calls. I did a lot of workouts and had some meetings with coaches. But then it just slowed back down again.”
Programs like Southern Miss and Temple extended offers during the process. There was no shortage of interest from FCS and Division II programs, either. And, of course, FBS schools who weren’t offering scholarships were still interested in getting Menard—provided he paid his own way.
“We were at a basic standstill,” explains Daelen’s father, David Menard. “Everyone kept saying how great Daelen was, how he throws the ball better than anyone they’ve seen. But because of the shoulder, the height, whatever it was, Daelen was falling through the cracks.”
The Menards could have settled. They could have taken the best available offer and played it safe. They could have, but they didn’t.
Once the Chaminade-Madonna Lions @Nadeboyz started roaring, there was no stopping them from taking their place as Kings of the Jungle over Kings Academy. @FootballHotbed highlights how the boys from Hollywood went back-to-back 3A state champs. pic.twitter.com/KtVhbiPoq9— FOX Sports Florida (@FOXSportsFL) December 13, 2018
“We made a decision to play the system,” David says. “We went after everyone with interest and told them we’d consider a preferred walk-on spot and earn the scholarship. When we did that, that reignited interest from schools who thought they’d get a top quarterback for free on my dime.”
Syracuse, West Virginia, Louisville and Purdue were among the bargain-shopping Power Five programs. Boston College and Rutgers showed the most interest.
“Daelen and I went through that process,” David says. “We talked to some prep schools and were advised by friends of the family that reclassifying might really be a good thing for him. So, at that point, we went back to the preferred walk-on colleges and told them, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to take a PWO anymore. Daelen is going to go back to school for a semester and reclassify as a ’20 [graduate].”
This was the mic-drop moment for Daelen Menard; the moment when he and his team pushed their chips to the middle and tossed their cards on the table.
Football isn’t basketball and quarterback isn’t running back. There's no ageism in play. Were Menard to re-classify, attend the camps he missed a year ago, and turn heads at The Opening regional or Rivals 3 Stripe Camp, he’d flip his recruitment right side up.
The kid with no offers would have become highly sought-after. He knew it, his circle knew it, and they were willing to place their bet.
Matt DuBuc and David Menard go back a ways. There’s a mutual respect and admiration that exists between the two.
Still, shared admiration or not, DuBuc didn’t coach Menard’s son. DuBuc, who has an established track record for sending his best players to some of the nation’s best programs, did just that with Daelen’s contemporary, Scalzo, who signed with Kentucky after a season spent with Netflix’s ‘QB1’ cameras following him around Fort Lauderdale.
DuBuc’s work, as it pertains to senior quarterbacks, was done. But Menard’s developing—or not-so-developing—situation piqued his interest.
“At the end of the day, I watched him for three years and I thought he was a really good player,” DuBuc says. “You wonder why some guys don’t get an opportunity. I knew he had that injury, and when you miss that spring evaluation period, it’s tough. By the time you’re going through your senior year, a lot of these quarterbacks have committed early, so the opportunities are few and far between.”
After a conversation with the elder Menard in February, DuBuc took it upon himself to invite Daelen to workout during Cardinal Gibbons' spring practices, knowing that—as has become custom—the sidelines would likely be littered with college coaches.
One such coach so happened to be BC's White, who, during 'part one' of the Eagles' pursuit of Daelen, had to stop short of an offer because the quarterback room was full.
By the time spring practice rolled around at Gibbons, the vacancy light was back on.
Bergen Catholic (NJ) product Johnny Langan entered the portal during the spring. So, too, did Matt McDonald. And, suddenly, months after National Signing Day, BC had a need at the position.
So, there was Daelen Menard, a player who—for those paying attention—has proven and re-proven himself time and again, ball in hand, on someone else’s home field, with yet another test to pass.
“He was on the firing line, as they say,” says DuBuc. “But, when you win multiple state titles and you’re a 1,300 SAT kid and you’ve played and been through what [Daelen] has, something like that isn’t going to affect you.”
It didn’t. Daelen was electric, delivering strike after strike before all eyes in attendance. The result of his efforts, as we now know, is a place at the table at Boston College; his father's instincts about his ability, confirmed.
“I learned more about my son through this process … his back was against the wall yet again,” says David. “He had a 25-minute workout and if he was on, he kept going, if he was off, he falls to the side. So it wouldn’t have mattered what I did. If that kid didn’t step up when his back was against the wall yet again, we wouldn’t be here.”
The recruiting road was dark at times for the Menards. They will be the first to tell you that. But Daelen dared to keep it moving. And, his father, buoyed by his son’s work ethic, boldly facilitated an extension of the process.
“Here you are with a kid who fought through the injury, has surgery, does everything he’s asked to do, his grades are right … and he fell through the cracks,” says David. “It was really tough. But it could happen to hundreds of other kids. It probably happens every single year. I think Daelen’s tenacity to keep going through the adversity is the takeaway, here.
“If you’ve got a dream, dream it. Follow through. Don’t let anyone stop you."