Notre Dame WR DaVaris Daniels’ year-long wait turns out to be a blessing
By Mark Lazerus Sun-Times Media November 7, 2012 11:06PM
Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels (10) picks up a first down as he's tackled by Purdue safety Max Charlot (34) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: December 9, 2012 7:50PM
SOUTH BEND — Phillip Daniels almost got the picture he wanted — the one of his son living out his dream, lining up at wide receiver at Notre Dame Stadium, golden helmet gleaming under the lights.
T.J. Jones was hobbling off the field in last year’s season-opener against South Florida, the play clock was running down, and nobody had rushed on to the field to replace him yet. So DaVaris Daniels, in his first collegiate game, took it upon himself to run out there and takes Jones’ spot.
He got as far as the numbers on the field before receivers coach Tony Alford practically grabbed him by the ear and brought him back to the sideline, smacking him upside the helmet and asking, “What are you doing?” Veteran John Goodman went in and took Jones’ spot.
And Phillip Daniels didn’t get his Kodak moment.
“All my pictures from last year are him standing on the sidelines,” he said.
Tough as it was on Dad — a 15-year NFL veteran defensive end who starred for the Bears from 2000-03 and his now the director of player development for the Washington Redskins — it was even tougher on DaVaris. This was a guy who was the highest-rated recruit in Illinois after lighting it up as an all-purpose offensive weapon at Vernon Hills. This was not a guy who was accustomed to being overwhelmed, to being a scout teamer, to being on the sidelines.
“It was very difficult,” Daniels said of taking a redshirt. “Every kid has that dream of coming in and playing right away, and I didn’t. But in the end, it really helped me get to where I am right now.”
Where he is right now is at the top of the depth chart, on the field, in the mix. The 6-2, 190-pound Daniels has 353 receiving yards, averaging a team-best 15.3 yards per catch. He’s coming off his best game yet, a seven-catch, 86-yard performance against Pittsburgh that included a 45-yard heave from Everett Golson on a broken play that set up the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
“It was scramble rules, so I just ran,” said Daniels, who outfought Pitt’s Jason Hendricks for the jump ball. “I went deep. It’s kind of like recess.”
It was also the kind of instinct and determination that Irish coach Brian Kelly had been waiting to see. Previously, Daniels would “coast” the moment he realized the ball wasn’t coming his way. Now with a season of experience under his belt, he knows to burst out of his breaks, to run crisper routes and to play to the whistle. Now, with two seasons of film study and coaching under his belt, he knows how to read the defense pre-snap, how to change his tempo, how he can’t rely on the same predictable moves week in and week out.
“When he goes and runs his routes, he’s pretty difficult to defend,” Kelly said. “You’re starting to see it. He’s only going to get better and better.”
Phillip Daniels saw it years ago. As a traveling pro, he wasn’t around much to offer coaching advice, and DaVaris wasn’t one of those kids who hung around the locker room every week. But one of the perks of being an NFL player was free NFL Films DVDs. Phillip brought them home, and DaVaris popped them in, watched them over and over and over, and — through osmosis, really — watched and learned.
“I was a little kid, I just wanted to watch football,” DaVaris said.
But Phillip saw the effect.
“They put him at safety in pee-wee, to keep him out of the way,” Phillip said. “I brought home a highlight film on running backs. The next year, he was out there stiff-arming people, running around the corner, doing the things he saw on the highlight film. He taught himself by watching Ricky Watters and A-Train (Anthony Thomas).”
Daniels still is learning by watching — watching from the sidelines as Michael Floyd became Notre Dame’s all-time leading receiver, watching countless hours of game film to better learn how to read and react to defenses, watching tape of himself to see what his go-to moves are, so he can change them up for the next, unsuspecting opponent.
Dad’s still watching, too, only now it’s from whatever hotel room he’s in, live-tweeting like a crazed fan. DaVaris’ mom, Leslie, has the camera now at every game. And there are plenty of shots to get as DaVaris’ career continues to come into focus.
Just a year later than he expected.
“It was tough, but sitting out was the best thing for him,” Phillip said. “My first year at Georgia, I played only 17 or 18 snaps. It was a wasted year for me. I didn’t want him to waste a year. This way, he gets to start fresh, and maybe have a chance to break records by the time he’s done.”