Mike Daniels: A trip from unwanted to untouchable

Colin Becht

No one seemed to want Mike Daniels after his senior season of high school football. Maybe it was the defensive tackle’s short stature – he was 6 foot 1 inches. Maybe it was his lack of size – he was just 230 pounds. Whatever the reason, Daniels was starting to give up hope of a scholarship.

“I was offered by Villanova,” Daniels said at Big Ten Media Days in July. “They basically pulled out the scholarship while I was on my visit. So that was pretty rough and it was getting close to Signing Day, and I didn’t think anything would drop for me.”

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Daniels at the time, a buzz was starting to build in the Iowa football offices. After returning from a 31-24 loss to Florida in the 2006 Outback Bowl, coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff came across a tape of Daniels.

“My question was, ‘What’s wrong with this guy other than he’s not six-foot-three?'” Ferentz said. “There was a consensus on our staff that we thought he was a good player, and we thought he might be a guy that could play in our defense as a defensive lineman.”

So while Daniels was driving back to his home in Blackwood, N.J., from his visit to Football Championship Subdivision school Villanova, which resulted in his lone scholarship offer getting taken away, Ferentz was preparing to make it all better.

“I remember calling him on a Sunday, late morning, early afternoon, and he was driving back from his visit over at Villanova,” Ferentz said. “I just asked him if he’d be interested in coming out for a visit, and he said he was.”

After an honorable mention All-Big Ten season last year and a promising start to this season, Daniels and his coach can both look back fondly on their late meeting. Daniels has been the anchor of an Iowa defensive line that lost three starters from last year to the NFL. With 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks already, Daniels is on pace to improve on his statistics from last year.

Last season, fellow defensive lineman Broderick Binns told reporters that Daniels “only has one mode, and that’s beast mode.” While Daniels still isn’t entirely sure what his beast mode is, he said it’s something that comes naturally to him.

“To me, it’s just going out and playing the game of football,” Daniels said.

Daniels’ all-out attitude is readily apparent to his teammates who are never spared from it in training sessions.

When asked what Daniels is like in practice, linebacker Tyler Nielsen said, “(He’s) pretty much like he is in interviews, scaring the sh*t out of everybody.”

Daniels may bring intensity during a play, but he’s also taken it upon himself to be a leader now that he’s a senior.

“It’s time to pass what you’ve learned from the guys that came before you and pass it on to the younger guys,” Daniels said. “I’ve learned how to be a leader, take control when things get a little haywire.”

Daniels is certainly not the same player he was four years ago when he arrived in Iowa City, nearly 1,000 miles away from his home. Though he couldn’t change his height, Daniels adjusted his size, bulking up to 280 pounds. That extra size has helped him shed blocks better and make plays in the backfield. Daniels is tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks per game and 14th in tackles for loss per game.

While Daniels’ recruitment process was by no means pleasant, the senior defensive tackle can reflect on it now with appreciation for the ultimate result.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “God couldn’t have worked more perfectly.”

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