Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Captain Damion Daniels Leads Blackshirt Crew Up Front for Huskers

August 24, 2021

Tony Tuioti said on Tuesday that he has five or six guys he feels comfortable with on the defensive line, and he expects them all to play on Saturday against Illinois. Four of those linemen received Blackshirts on Monday.

Ben Stille, Ty Robinson and Damion Daniels are all returning starters, so their Blackshirts weren’t a surprise. Deontre Thomas is a different story.

The 6-foot-2, 285-pound end from Mustang, Oklahoma, played in just two games last season while dealing with injury issues. He’s been a rotational player off the bench most of his career, playing as a back-up nose tackle as a true freshman then redshirting in 2018 after an injury limited him to four games.

Tuioti said Blackshirts aren’t given, they’re earned. Thomas had a big spring, summer and fall camp and the coaches saw enough to award him with that black jersey despite not starting a single game in his first four years as a Husker.

“He earned that, rightfully so, just like Damion,” Tuioti said. “Those two guys push each other and Deontre’s the same guy. He showed up every day in practice. He’s healthy. He’s a guy that empties the tank in practice too. So I’m happy for him and we’re going to need his experience and we’re going to need his leadership too.”

Perhaps the most surprising omission was Casey Rogers. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound fourth-year sophomore played in every game with one start last season and was second among the defensive linemen in tackles. Though he isn’t currently wearing that back jersey in practice, Tuioti expects Rogers to be a big part of their rotation this season.

“It’s not really what you wear, it’s what you have inside,” Tuioti said. “I think you can be a Blackshirt in a lot of different ways, just in how you prepare for meetings, how you prepare for practice, how you practice and perform, and he’s one of those guys we can depend on. I believe he’ll be able to earn his here shortly.”

The coaches awarded the Blackshirts on Monday during a ceremony that included former Huskers handing the Blackshirts out to their recipients. In-state products Garrett Nelson, Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich joined JoJo Domann, Caleb Tannor, Deontai Williams, Marquel Dismuke and Cam Taylor-Britt to round out the 12 players that received their Blackshirts.

“I’m fired up for those guys, especially some guys that have been in the program and it means a lot to them and/or guys that are Nebraska kids that get to wear that Blackshirt,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “I think having the former Blackshirts here—former’s a bad word because they’ll always be Blackshirts—but having those guys here presenting those jerseys I think made it even more special for those guys.”

Daniels isn’t just a Blackshirt, though. He’s also a captain.

“He’s really stepped up as far as his leadership and just being more vocal, but also showing it by example too,” Tuioti said. “Just the way he’s playing, playing with great energy every single day in practice. For the 19 practices or so that we had in camp, he showed up every day at camp with the right energy, with the right mindset. So the guys see him doing that, they see him making plays not only at the line of scrimmage but in the backfield constantly, that’s kind of helped him propel into a leadership role.

“He’s found his way to get the group going, bring guys up, talk to them, let them know what we’ve got to get better at.”

Daniels has waited his turn behind some pretty talented defensive linemen and has gotten the chance to learn from team leaders up front like his own brother Darrion, who was captain as a graduate transfer on the 2019 team. Now he’ll get a chance to leave his own mark on the Huskers.

“I think we always knew he was a good player,” Chinander said. “We talked to you guys about how his stamina needed to increase when he was younger. And then his brother came and his brother got voted captain and he had to take a back seat to his brother. Then his brother left and he did an unbelievable job of changing his body. A lot of times when you change your body and you change your play and the guys see how you’re changing your habits, then all of a sudden your shoulders go from here to here and I think you you saw that with his personality.

“Guys really respect him, obviously so much that they voted him captain. So I think his personality and his leadership skills have grown as much his athletic ability or football ability throughout the years.”

Tuioti said Daniels’ physical transformation and the example he’s set in the weight room and on the practice field is a big part of why teammates have gravitated to him, but it goes beyond that as well.

“The thing about being a captain is people have to feel you as a captain, it’s not something you just say that I’m a captain or a leader,” Tuioti said. “They have to feel that you care about them and you’ve got to lead by example. He’s done that in a big way for us.”

With four Blackshirts including a captain, leadership should be a strength for Nebraska’s defensive line this season as Daniels, Stille, Thomas and the others look to set the tone in the trenches.

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