It was a good day for Nebraska's newest "old" guy. Old guy, very much respectively speaking here. Senior defensive tackle Darrion Daniels is only old in a college football context.
But the Oklahoma State transfer has already played 41 games of P5 football. If he plays a full season at Nebraska in 2019 he'll be over 50. That's pretty unique on its own, and Daniels hasn't just played in those games but had an impact in multiple ways.
"He's done a great job of jumping right in," defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. "He's played a lot of football. His ability to learn is pretty high, so those assignments for him weren't difficult to learn. I think he's done a good job of mastering his craft mentally."
The quick onboarding process is what many may have expected for a player who played in every game his first fall on campus, earning Oklahoma State's Outstanding Defensive Newcomer award in 2015. But head coach Scott Frost said Daniel's contributions on the practice field this spring aren't even the most impressive part.
"It would be really hard for somebody to change teams, come into a college program and be a leader immediately, but that's what he's done," Frost said. "He's brought a spark to that d-line, a sense of accountability to the d-line and the whole defense. He's going to be a real asset for us and I'm not just talking about on the field. He's going to help us off the field as well."
Maybe that’s not a total surprise either given Daniel's 2017 Vernon Grant Award (for "outstanding leadership, spirit and enthusiasm") at Oklahoma State. But hoping for the best-case scenario––Daniels is as advertised on both fronts––and seeing it unfold this spring are two very different things.
The way Frost and Chinander talked about Daniels on Wednesday reminded me of another recent Nebraska transfer. The timeline was condensed and the stay in Lincoln shorter, but former UCF safety Tre Neal was another veteran player with a limited time to make a big impact at a crucial time in the revival of Nebraska football. Neal didn't just have experience, but experience with this staff. The Huskers leaned on it hard in 2018.
"I hope that my legacy is that guys will say, ‘Oh, yeah. I remember Tre talking about this or Tre doing this,’" Neal told Erin Sorensen last December. "I hope they remember the things we talked about, like, ‘I remember Tre telling me to watch out for this on this play or this on that play,’” Neal said. “If I have that kind of legacy, I think I’m fine not going down in any record books."
With the benefit of a spring in the system and the head start a Year 2 brings for the program as a whole, Daniels has a great chance to have a similar impact on his position group. Maybe a good chance to have an even bigger one.
Chinander said Daniels' fellow defensive linemen, not an inexperienced group, respect Daniels' work ethic and demeanor. "When he talks, people really listen. They know he's done it before."
If that message reaches the defensive line as a whole, great. But Chinander thinks it is definitely reaching Daniels' younger brother, potential-packed sophomore defensive tackle, Damion.
"It always helps a lot when your brother's been there, done that, and had a successful career," Chinander said. "Now he's probably reinforcing some of the things a lot of the coaches have been saying. If your brother's saying it to you you're like 'Ah, maybe these guys aren't full of crap. Maybe I should really listen to these guys.'"
Nebraska's new staff has brought in five transfers from major college programs since arriving in Lincoln: Daniels, Neal, linebacker Breon Dixon, defensive tackle Vaha Vainuku and quarterback Noah Vedral. (Running back Dedrick Mills, yet to arrive, might technically belong in this group eventually as well given his time at Georgia Tech with a JUCO stop in between.)
At this point, I think you could say three of those five guys have filled vital roles beyond anything they've done (or have yet to do) on the field. I'd certainly put Neal and Daniels, based on early reports, in that category. Vedral, too, though that one would've been a little easier to see if not for the eligibility back-and-forth at the start of last season.
That's a pretty good hit rate in a season-and-a-half and worth keeping in mind as Nebraska evaluates potential additions this summer. Or doesn't.
The Grab Bag
- Practice goodies: full report, sights and sounds, photos and observations.
- Think Nebraska basketball is always doomed to be merely OK at basketball? Read this story from Derek Peterson first.
- New mailbag is here!
- Some good recruiting nuggets from practice from Greg Smith.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.