On Tuesday, redshirt freshman nose tackle Damion Daniels spoke to the media for the first time. Flanking him were the Davis twins and sophomore Deontre Thomas, with fifth-year senior Freedom Akinmoladun off to the side overseeing the whole group before he got pulled aside to do his own interview.
What’s the reason for the group interview?
“Right here with my boy, DT,” Daniels said, referring to Thomas. "DT said if one of us is going to do one, we all do them.”
Thomas said that defensive line group does everything together, so why shouldn’t that include interviews?
“It’s been a blessing,” Daniels said about the support of his teammates. “These are my brothers right here.”
The players’ mindset fits perfectly with that of their position coach, Mike Dawson, who has done his best to avoid singling out any individual in all of his interviews with the media this spring.
“I think it’s good,” Dawson said on Thursday. “They’re a pretty tight-knit group and they do a good job of playing off of each other and helping each other and when one guy has a question they kind of all help them out and all that stuff. It’s a pretty cohesive group. They do a nice job with it.”
When asked about the progress of the young players in his room, Dawson spoke to the defensive line group as a whole. While the players have developed an intense bond, that hasn’t deterred them from getting after it and competing in practice.
“I think the whole group has come along together pretty well,” Dawson said. “There’ve been some guys that have taken bigger steps, some guys a little smaller steps, but as a whole the group has improved and kind of pulled each other along. The good thing is there’s a lot of competition in that room right now.
"We don’t have necessarily a depth chart that’s set in stone or written in concrete. This is something that’s going to be fluid and they all know it and they can feel it and that’s one of the good things about having a group like that, it’s going to create some competition throughout practice and is going to make practice more intense, individual drills more intense. Everybody knows everything’s being evaluated all the time in that group.”
As for Daniels, he said he spent his redshirt year reshaping his body and has continued that under the watchful eye of strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval. Daniels said he has cut 10 pounds of fat and added nine pounds of muscle. He described himself as 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds. Daniels said he is moving a lot better than he was a year ago and is ready to make an impact.
Going off of the roster without updated measurements, Daniels would be the heaviest player on the roster. However, he doesn’t want to be limited to just run-stuffing duty.
“Instead of being a first- and second-down dude, I want to be able to go first, second, third and probably on fourth too,” Daniels said.
Carlos Davis said Daniels “understands his strength and what he can do with his frame.”’
“He’s always been mean, but this year I feel like he’s more mean,” Thomas said. “He’s out there attacking.”
Daniels said the pace of practice as dictated by the speed of the offense has helped the defense as well and should continue to do so throughout the fall.
“It’s going to get the best out of us,” Daniels said. “We’re going to keep working and stuff like that because being a big boy in this scheme, you’re going to get your wind up under you because playing everybody else in the Big Ten isn’t going to be that fast. It’s good having an offense with that high tempo.”
Speed is something Dawson wants to see out of his linemen as well, especially in Saturday’s spring game.
“For me, I want the defensive line to play fast,” Dawson said. “I want them to go to the ball, get themselves running, good things will happen, be physical — I want to see them physical at the point of attack, coming across the line of scrimmage, getting their hands on people, knocking people backwards. Those would probably be the two big things: being physical — knocking people back — and getting to the ball. I think that’s what we’re looking for.”
With senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg on the shelf for the spring game, Daniels should have plenty of opportunity at nose tackle on Saturday to introduce himself to a packed Memorial Stadium and show the fans — and his coach — what he can do.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.