This story originally appeared in the October issue of Hail Varsity. Make sure you don’t miss more stories like this by subscribing today.
Tony Tuioti’s meeting room does not have assigned seats.
This is a topic of contention, as that’s more of a technicality than anything else.
There’s an unspoken rule. Guys have their spots. Damion Daniels has a seat right there in the front. He sits in it every day.
Do not take his seat.
Darrion Daniels, Damion’s older brother, broke that rule this spring.
“I sit down and he’s like, ‘Hey, D, move. That’s my seat.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean, bro, there’s plenty of seats back there,’” Darrion recalls. He tells Damion he can ask him to move, but Damion just answers back “I’m not going to ask you to move out of a seat that’s mine.”
As the story is told and retold, everyone tangentially involved just laughs.
Tuioti says he just stood at the front of the room and watched as something really pretty insignificant grew into a major argument and ended with Damion, a redshirt sophomore defensive tackle, sitting in the back of the room. Darrion, a graduate transfer defensive tackle from Oklahoma State, says it ruined his brother’s mood. “He was hot,” Darrion says.
“I didn’t say shit the rest of the day,” Damion says.
Tuioti even called the Daniels brothers’ father, Tony, a former All-America defensive lineman at Texas Tech, to ask if anything should be done and was told that’s who they are to each other.
Khalil Davis says they argue all the time.
Casey Rogers just puts his head down and smiles. Darrion doesn’t laugh when retelling the story, though. Not really.
We’re sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Lincoln. About 20 minutes into our conversation, I just look at him and say, “OK, so you’ve got to tell me about this seat situation in Tuioti’s meeting room.” He leans back, tilts his head toward the ceiling and just lets out one long, “Man.” Darrion insists it was innocent at first. An honest mistake. But it grew into something bigger.
As is the case with this version of Darrion Daniels, it became a teaching moment.
“One thing I think my brother needs to work on is, he needs to work on how he talks to people,” Darrion says before even addressing what happened. “One thing I always nag on him about is, like, ‘Bro you don’t like people talking to you that way, so don’t talk to people that way.’ That’s a huge issue I have with him still to this day.”
If Darrion hears his brother using a less-than-ideal tone, he has no issue checking him.
So, when Damion comes in to find Darrion in his seat and snaps at him — “Move, that’s my seat” — Darrion digs in. If Damion had asked him to scoot over, he would have done it, but that didn’t happen. So, both brothers held firm.
Darrion knows Damion isn’t about to haul off and hit him or start some brawl because they are, as Darrion says, at their place of work. So, Damion takes his seat in the back. Arguments in the past have led to broken couches and broken bones, but this one ended with a little bit of broken pride. Damion is the one who caved.
“It was just childish,” Darrion says. “It was a childish altercation. And it was something that, on both sides, could have been easily fixed by me either getting up or him asking me properly. It could have been settled like that. But because I refused for my brother to practice bad habits, I didn’t.”
Tony likes to tell his boys that he knows who will take care of the household once he’s gone, and it won’t be Darrion.
“Darrion I think is a cooler,” Tony says one night after he’s finished up mowing the lawn outside the family home in Dallas, Texas. “He thinks the situation out. So, for instance, if there was a confrontation or somebody was messing with his brother, he would kind of be like, ‘OK, y’all chill out,’ and he’ll tell Damion to chill out. He’ll always think about the consequences. “But you know that baby boy, that’s a different animal. He’s not gonna talk if somebody’s messing with his brother, he’s not gonna say anything, he’s just gonna go fire off on them. He’s protective of everybody in the house.”
Darrion didn’t come to Nebraska to be Damion’s babysitter or life coach, though. He came because he owed him a season.
Damion was always the football kid. Tuioti now calls him “Snacks.” Tony Daniels refers to him as the “Baby Boy,” which, for a 6-foot-3, 340-pound defensive tackle, is about as entertaining to hear as you would think. Darrion calls him the jock.
In a lot of respects, Darrion is Damion’s antithesis.
“I would consider myself a nerd growing up,” he says.
Darrion played soccer. And he was in the choir. (Darrion sang the national anthem very randomly for the Husker Road Race over the summer and absolutely nailed it, much to the surprise of all his teammates. When his academic facilitator at Oklahoma State, Emily Middlebrook, found out he could sing, she asked him to show her and he “belted” out a song without any hesitation.) And he reads.
Football was a thing he played, but he could live without it. A few times in junior high, Darrion expressed a desire to leave the sport, but Tony would always tell him he had to finish out the season. “You start something, you finish it.” So, Darrion would finish, and he would keep signing up again. Probably some competitive spirit at play there, as the Baby Boy was “destroying it” on the field.
There’s a story of when they are younger and Damion is still playing flag football but Darrion has graduated to pads, Tony calls Damion over and tells him to go make a tackle and Damion uses it as a way to show up his older brother.
Don’t mistake any of this to mean Darrion shies away from competition.
When they would play “Madden,” Tony had a rule that they had to kick extra points — they couldn’t go for two — and they had to punt on fourth down.
“My pop’s wanted us to play like it was real life,” Darrion says. Well, when Tony wasn’t looking one day, Darrion went for two instead of kicking the extra point to take a lead late.
Damion then gets into field-goal range to try and kick the winning field goal, and Darrion freezes his kicker. Now, icing the kicker in “Madden,” for those who don’t play, means the target area that you have to aim with gets incredibly small and you have to time a button press-up exactly.
This, obviously, is not the way real football works. Damion, obviously, misses the kick.
“We got in a fight and ended up breaking the couch,” Darrion says. Their sister instigates a lot from behind the scenes.
DaZha’ Jackson is the type to drop a grenade in between them and leave the room. “If I was washing my plate and my brother’s like, ‘Hey Darrion, can you wash this for me?’ I’ll be like, ‘Bet,’ and he’ll throw it in there,” Darrion says. “My sister will walk up and be like, ‘Oh, hey got you like that?’ And I’ll be like, ‘No, hey, wash your own dang plate.’ And then that’s an argument.” Jackson also unknowingly set off a race to graduate for the two brothers.
Darrion likes to challenge himself in the classroom. He took a business calculus class one summer and to this day that remains the hardest class he’s taken. “There’s been a history of college athletes taking bullcrap classes,” he says. He would meet with Middlebrook multiple times a week and even come for unscheduled visits to work ahead in classes. He didn’t set out to graduate before his sister, but when he found out he was on track to do it in three-and-a- half years instead of her four, it became a goal.
Damion now is on track to graduate even earlier than Darrion. A sore spot, though Darrion is happy he motivated his brother in the classroom.
He’s cooler now, but when they were both still in high school and Damion would challenge him, Darrion wouldn’t take it as positively.
One summer at Bishop Dunne, the boys’ high school in Dallas, they’re at a study hall session and Damion is taking little shots at his brother.
“I just wasn’t in the mood for shenanigans, and my brother said something to me and he had all his little friends there so they were gassing him up,” Darrion says. “It wasn’t one thing; it was a series of things.”
Darrion gets told to be the bigger person all the time. When he was younger, he struggled with that. On this particular day, he’s in a public spot and it isn’t just Damion challenging him, it’s his peers looking at him and questioning if he’s going to let his little brother go in on him.
“Had we been in private and been at home, I probably would have just got up and left the room and it would have been the end of it,” Darrion said. “I felt like he was trying my pride, so I was like, ‘You know what bro, when we get outside, I’m gonna give you that work.’”
So, when they’re getting ready to leave and the two are waiting for their ride outside, they start to get after it a little bit. Damion called it horse play. “It wasn’t even a fight,” he says. But Darrion says he rushed him and Damion ducked, so Darrion knocked him to the ground.
When Damion tried to call him off, Darrion thought his little brother just didn’t want to get embarrassed. But this was serious. Damion’s knee hurt. Bad.
On the car ride home, Damion kept talking about pain. “I can’t move it, I can’t pick it up,” he says. When their mom asked what happened, Darrion says “He fell messing around on the sidewalk, I think he’s straight,” but when they looked at Damion’s knee and found it swollen, they decided to go to the hospital.
Damion tore a tendon in his knee.
“I am the cause for my brother’s injury his sophomore year of high school,” Darrion says. “It caused him to have surgery, which caused him to miss my senior season, our state-winning season, and his sophomore season.”
Damion got to play in the state title game, but that was it. One game. The two brothers had played together the previous year, but they were expecting to dominate together Darrion’s last year before he left for Oklahoma State.
Damion felt like that was lost time, so the night Darrion found out the surgery to repair a tendon in his pinky finger was going to end his senior season at Oklahoma State after four games, Damion called to plant a seed.
Offensive line coach Greg Austin recently gave Darrion a book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad. It’s a 1997 book written by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter about financial literacy, with endorsements ranging from Oprah Winfrey to Will Smith. Austin told Darrion it would be useful later in life.
At first glance, that probably feels like a weird gift for an offensive line coach to give to a defensive lineman, but just as he’s a self-professed nerd, Darrion Daniels is not afraid to tell you he’s a book worm, even if his taste has evolved over the years.
When Darrion was younger, he used to check out Greek mythology from the library. He loved Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and he finished off Obert Skye’s Leven Thumps series with ease.
“Even in high school, he would have a hell of a game in high school and people would be like, ‘Oh, Darrion you had a great game,’ and he’s reading a book,” Tony says. He’d walk out of the locker room with a book. Hell, he’d sit at his locker right after a game reading a book.
Darrion still reads for pleasure now, even though it’s a bit harder to find time with school and film and football. One of the more recent books he’s read hit him differently, though.
The summer between his junior and senior seasons in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Darrion read a book about emotions.
“I know that a lot of problems with humans relies on emotions,” he says. “And one thing I’ve learned is that a lot of bad positions that I put myself in were based off of emotions, like I have emotions and I let my emotions dictate how I reacted. So,
I read the book on emotions just to read about why that was and how to control my emotions and how to help people cope with theirs. That was a good read for me.”
His grandfather would tell him the same thing. Both him and Damion. That they had a gift, but a poor attitude would hold them back. “If you did something to me, I would go zero to 100 real quick,” Darrion says, and if you were picking at him, he wouldn’t say things to make others laugh, he would say things to make you hurt.
When his grandfather passed away his senior year of high school, Darrion says he started to see a change. All those times where he could hear his mom telling him to be the bigger person, it got easier to listen. He pledged a fraternity his sophomore year at Oklahoma State. That helped even more.
When Darrion tore a tendon in his pinky in practice, he took some time away from the team to get his mind right, which was fine with head coach Mike Gundy and his staff, but he was called back in November because Gundy felt the team needed him around.
The Big 12 lets teams take 70 players on road trips. Which means injured guys don’t travel. But when Oklahoma State went to Baylor on Nov. 3, Darrion made the trip.
When Tuioti first got to Nebraska in February, he had one-on-ones with all his new players. “The first thing that comes out of (Darrion’s) mouth is that he’s definitely a team guy,” Tuioti says of the meeting. “He’ll do whatever is best for the program.” Darrion came in not wanting to step on toes and not wanting to take the team away from Damion. He didn’t want to be overbearing.
In the spring, Darrion hit redshirt freshman center Cam Jurgens with moves he’d never seen before, then spent time with him at his locker giving him pointers on how to stop them the next time.
In the summertime, Darrion left the weight room inside the stadium after metabolic training sessions with strength coach Zach Duval and ran sprints up and down the practice field inside the Hawks Championship Center. He and inside linebacker Mohamed Barry kept running into each other.
“This dude, he’s a dog,” Barry says. “He just came here and he started at Oklahoma State, and he feels like he has to outwork everyone? That’s the mentality everyone should have on our team.”
In the fall, Darrion took true freshman defensive end Ty Robinson under his wing. Increasingly this offseason, Nebraska’s vets talked about being responsible for the growth of the youth on the roster. That starts with Darrion. He took it upon himself to teach Robinson what it means to play college ball on the d-line.
“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 in the spring. “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.”
Inside linebacker Collin Miller says after the third game of the season Darrion is “making my life real easy.”
The funniest part of this whole story is twice Darrion could have gone to Iowa.
Even though he was a legacy player, Texas Tech didn’t offer Darrion until later in his recruitment. Oklahoma was his first offer, so it’s not like he wasn’t deserving. The situation rubbed the family the wrong way. But Iowa was right there throughout the entire process. So much so that when Darrion told Tony he was going to Oklahoma State after an official visit, Tony was caught off-guard.
When Darrion put his name in the transfer portal last winter, Iowa again had interest, but Darrion was locked in on Nebraska. He had wanted to have fallback options, but if he was going to transfer, he was going to play with his brother. That’s why he was transferring in the first place.
Darrion played the first four games of the Cowboys’ 2018 season. He suffered the injury to his finger on Sept. 26. After the team’s game against Kansas on Sept. 29, Gundy announced he would miss the rest of the year, and surgery was scheduled for Oct. 1.
During that weekend, Darrion was on a retreat with the school’s FCA group. On his way back, a coach called him to check in and see how he was doing.
“At the time I knew I needed surgery, but I didn’t think it was going to be season-ending surgery,” Darrion says. “I get back to Stillwater and I’m in the car with my girl and my pops calls me. He’s like, ‘Hey, how you taking it?’ I was like, how am I taking what? What are you talking about? He said the surgery and I said, ‘Yeah, I should be back in no time, it’s a small surgery.’
“He (Tony) said, ‘That’s not what I was told; I was told that you’ll miss the remainder of the season.’ And when he said that, I lost it. I cried in the car with my girl.”
So, Darrion went to see a friend who had been through something similar. They prayed together. Then he got a call from Damion.
“So, you gotta redshirt?” Damion asked him.
“Well, yeah, I gotta take a redshirt,” Darrion answered back.
“Dang, that means you have another year of eligibility, right?” Damion asked.
“Yeah, I should be back next year.”
“Then come play with me.”
Darrion thought he was joking.
“You still owe me, bro,” Damion answered back.
“You got one more year; you might as well come play with me.”
So that’s what he did.
“To be able to get a guy like him on our roster, we’re very fortunate,” Tuioti says. “If it wasn’t for the relationship that he has with his younger brother, we wouldn’t have him at Nebraska. I know that. He made sacrifices. It’s not like he didn’t contribute
at his last school. I know that what he brings to us he brought to that program and I’m just glad he’s brought his talents, he’s brought who he is, his make- up, to Nebraska.”
Consider the debt repaid.
Now Darrion just owes his brother a seat.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.