It's been a magical ride from start to finish.
DaVaris Daniels, fresh off his graduation a few weeks ago from Vernon Hills, showed unmistakable star power from the moment he cracked the sports landscape there.
"I'll never forget my freshman year. I think it was (five games) into the football season and I got pulled up to varsity," said Daniels, who played multiple positions but shined brightest at wideout. "The first time I touched the ball, it was a kickoff and I ran it back 90-something yards for a touchdown.
"That was pretty exciting."
It (by the way, it was a 93-yard touchdown) was the first of many exciting moments to come for the Cougars' football and basketball hero.
Amazingly, the 6-foot-3 Daniels also was moved up to the varsity basketball team as a freshman and had similar success, quickly becoming a permanent fixture in the starting lineup as a slippery sharpshooter.
Four years later, Daniels' list of athletic accomplishments is long: from all-state honors to school records and plenty of team successes.
Oh, yeah, and there's the football scholarship to Notre Dame. Can't forget that.
Clearly, Daniels leaves Vernon Hills as one of its best athletes in history. But he also goes down as one of Lake County's most decorated and talented athletes, so it seems only fitting that Daniels has been named the Daily Herald's male athlete of the year for Lake County.
"This all went by so quick," said Daniels, who is eyeing a starting spot at wide receiver at Notre Dame, which opens football camp in eight days. "But it also seems like I've been in high school forever."
Could be all those weeks, months and years of varsity pressures and expectations.
Not that Daniels ever seemed flustered by them.
He was on the radar of college recruiters almost from the moment he returned that kickoff for a touchdown. Yet, Daniels stayed grounded and kept his nose to the grindstone.
"DaVaris is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete to coach when you consider his abilities, work ethic and attitude," Vernon Hills basketball coach Matt McCarty said. "His attitude has always been team first. Rarely do you see the complete package, but we have had it with DaVaris in both football and basketball."
Last fall, Daniels led the Vernon Hills' football team to a 10-2 record and a spot in the Class 5A quarterfinals. The Cougars shot out to an amazing 7-0 start, thanks in large part to Daniels' versatility.
The first-team all-state honoree was everywhere, playing some quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back. He caught 23 passes for 513 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also ran for 637 yards and 10 touchdowns and picked up 6 interceptions.
"There are a lot of great things about DaVaris, starting with the fact that he's such a great kid," Vernon Hills football coach Tony Monken said. "But the thing that probably sets him apart the most is that there are a lot of fast people. But there aren't a lot of tall, fast people.
"At 6-foot-3 with a 4.3 40 time and a 41½ vertical, there aren't a lot of people in the world like him."
Daniels' height and jumping ability certainly came in handy in basketball.
This winter, he led Vernon Hills to a 17-11 record and a share of the North Suburban Conference Prairie Division title. Daniels averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
He was an honorable mention pick on the Class 3A all-state team.
Perhaps Daniels' most breathtaking moment on the hardwood came during his junior year. He hit a long jumpshot in the waning moments of a Class 3A regional title game against Grayslake Central to give the Cougars a 1-point win.
"We were down by one and there were like seven seconds left," Daniels said. "That was pretty cool.
"I'm going to miss basketball. It was my first sport and I've been playing it since I was really young."
Then again, maybe Daniels won't have to stop playing.
He says he's been toying with the idea of trying out for the basketball team at Notre Dame.
"The quarterback at Notre Dame is doing the same thing, so I think I should at least try out for the team," Daniels said. "It would be fun."
It would also be a lot of work. But Daniels thinks he can handle it. He's done it before.
"It's going to be weird leaving everything I know," Daniels said. "But I'm really excited to get started (at Notre Dame)."