July 28, 2011
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, July 28, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2011-12 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom. The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them. -- Proverbs 11:2-3
This biblical advice, permanently tattooed on Mike Daniels' right forearm, provides frequent -- sometimes thrice-daily -- reminders to the University of Iowa senior defensive tackle on the virtues of being humble.
Making it difficult to stay grounded is that when Daniels arrived at the UI as an unheralded project in 2007, he couldn't get into a proper lineman's stance. After adding 50 pounds of muscle along with hours of drilling, Daniels is now one of the most-feared defenders on one of the most-feared defenses in the Big Ten Conference.
And his days at Highland Regional High School in Blackwood, N.J., nearly ended with no Division I football offer. Aside from the Hawkeyes, only Football Championship Subdivision member Villanova showed interest, despite the fact Daniels excelled in a football hotbed. Ron Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner, attended Pine Hill High School, less than five miles from Highland Regional; Mike Rozier, the 1983 Heisman Trophy winner, attended Woodrow Wilson, 12 miles from Highland Regional; and Shonn Greene, the 2008 Doak Walker Award winner, attended Winslow Township, less than 13 miles from Highland Regional.
New Jersey is a recruiting zone for Hawkeye assistant Darrell Wilson, who had a connection to the Daniels family. Wilson previously taught and coached at Woodrow Wilson High School, which is next to Daniels' grandfather's law office. Wilson's father was director of athletics at Rutgers-Camden, where Daniels' father once played baseball.
"Coach (Kirk) Ferentz called and asked if I would like to take a visit to Iowa," Daniels recalls. "He was straightforward and showed that he wanted me on this team. I've never had anybody actually want me, nobody actually appreciated me growing up.
"I was always like the runt of the litter and I guess that's how I developed my attitude. I came out to Iowa and it was like, `We want you, we want to help develop you, we want to make you great, we want to make you a contributor to this football team.' That just blew my mind and I couldn't say no."
Daniels is no longer the runt of any litter. In fact he now carries a significant chip on his massive shoulders.
"I have a lot of resentment. How did I almost end up not playing college football? How does that go unnoticed," Daniels asks. "Between me and the man who made my highlight tape, I basically took care of my recruitment myself."
For the past three seasons, Daniels has taken his resentment out on opponents to the tune of 56 tackles, 13 ½ tackles for loss and 6 ½ sacks. He was named honorable mention all-Big Ten by league coaches and media in 2010.
"I couldn't care less if (opponents) didn't know who I was, or if they had posters of me in their rooms when they go back home," Daniels said. "If you line up across, it's game time. Worry about this helmet; fear this helmet. I don't want to hurt anybody, I would just like them to not want to ever play me again or anybody from this team."
There is a softer, gentler, side of Daniels. His strong Christian background was fostered through an agreement with his mother, Carlene.
"You know, I'm not going to let you go to the weight room if you don't go to church," Carlene said one unforgettable summer day.
"I couldn't care less if (opponents) didn't know who I was, or if they had posters of me in their rooms when they go back home. If you line up across, it's game time. Worry about this helmet; fear this helmet. I don't want to hurt anybody, I would just like them to not want to ever play me again or anybody from this team."
Hawkeye defensive tackle
So Daniels never missed church.
He volunteers hundreds of hours at "The Spot," part of the Parkview Church ministry in southeast Iowa City. In his eyes, becoming a well-known athlete is an influential tool to support youth who hunger for direction in life.
"I wish somebody would have helped me," Daniels said. "I would like to take my football career as far as I can because kids look up to athletes. I want to be able to have a big enough name to have kids say, `Oh, that's so and so and he plays for that team. Let's listen to what he has to say.' I want better for the youth because I've seen a lot of people with potential go down the gutter. It's a sad story and I'm tired of seeing that. I'm sick of seeing that."
Daniels is part of a defensive line that has three seniors listed as starters, but a line that must also replace three players who were selected in April's NFL Draft -- Adrian Clayborn (Buccaneers), Christian Ballard (Vikings) and Karl Klug (Titans). Since Daniels has been at the UI, six Hawkeye defensive linemen have signed with professional teams. There are 12 former Hawkeye defensive linemen in the NFL -- more than any other college.
"You look at the culture that was created here, not only with the defensive line, but every position," UI defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said. "We've had great players at every position and they look out for young guys. Our older guys want to leave a legacy and they take these guys under their wing. Looking at the path that Mitch (King) and Matt (Kroul) and Adrian and Christian and Karl took. Are they going to do the extra things? We want you giving more than just doing your job. We want you to go above and beyond. Mike saw from an early age with Matt Kroul and Mitch King that if you want to be successful here, here is the formula, and Mike was smart enough and he had enough awareness to follow these guys around and see what made them successful."
As a fifth-year senior, it's now time for Daniels to become more of a tutor.
"Now Mike's in that role of bringing these young guys along," Kaczenski said. "He's thinking about the legacy he needs to leave here at Iowa also with these young players."
According to Daniels, that role is within any veteran Hawkeye's grasp.
"I want to keep the Iowa defensive line tradition going," Daniels said. "You look at all those guys playing in the NFL, while they were here they left their mark upon the offensive linemen from opposing teams. People feared that defensive line. I want to keep that fire going."
Ferentz remembers sitting in his office following the 2006 Outback Bowl, when Daniels' highlight tape landed in his lap.
"We were really enthused," Ferentz said. "Once we met Mike and his family, our minds were made up. We're thrilled that he came here and he's done a fantastic job."
So what sets Daniels apart from other defensive linemen?
"Mike has a tremendous motor," Ferentz said. "He plays hard all the time; his feet never stop and he plays with great, great desire. That's where it all starts for an outstanding player."
A tremendous motor and a tremendous grasp on life's priorities.
When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom. The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them.
"It means that if you get ahead of yourself and you get too big-headed, that's what is going to destroy you," Daniels said. "You always have to strive to get better and you appreciate the things anybody can teach you. One thing I learned from Iowa is how to take coaching and mature. Outside of football, I've really grown a lot as a man."