WARREN - James Daniels can sense the eyes looking at him.
Dead tired and ready to give up, he knows quitting is going to send the wrong message to the underclassmen watching his every move. A player ranked as the No. 3 center in the country garners the attention of his teammates, especially the younger ones, during practice.
So Daniels, a senior at Warren G. Harding, sucks it up, gathers whatever remaining energy he can muster and runs another sprint, finishing first among the rest of the offensive linemen.
That's the only choice he sees fit.
"A lot of the kids, they really look up to me," Daniels said. "So sometimes when we're running sprints and I'm really tired, I have to think about that they're looking at me, and if I'm slacking in sprints, they're going to slack in sprints too."
Daniels knows this because it wasn't too long ago he was one of the young kids, finishing in the back of the pack and watching the seniors dig deep for another sprint. Now it's his turn, and the role of a leader is one he's taking seriously.
"When he was a sophomore and a junior, he kind of stayed in the back, but now he's a senior, so he's come to the forefront," Harding coach Steve Arnold said. "That's what you want in a program. You want your freshmen and sophomores to learn from your juniors and seniors, and when those freshmen and sophomores become juniors and seniors, they're going to learn by example. That's what you want in a program."
Daniels, who verbally committed to play at the University of Iowa last month, is trying to do more than just lead in his final season as a Raider. He wants to bring back a mentality and an identity he felt was lost during a rough 2013 season.
"My expectation is get Warren football back where it was," he said. "Last season, some people would call us soft, and we don't want to be known as a soft team. We want to get Warren football back to that physical, powerhouse team."
That kind of toughness starts in the trenches, where the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Daniels and fellow highly recruited senior Javon Provitt (6-3, 305) are hoping to anchor the offensive line. The line underperformed a bit last year, according to Arnold, partly because of injuries but also due to players not reaching their full potential. To make sure that doesn't happen again, the men up front worked on two areas Arnold saw as weaknesses last year: footwork and conditioning.
"People don't realize that defenders, they move a lot," laughed Daniels as he explained how people can often overlook how much goes into a single block. "You can't just grab somebody and try blocking them, that's either holding or you're going to miss the block, so you really have to move your feet. There's a lot of stuff that goes into blocking.
"And you can never not be in better shape. That's something you can always improve."
As the line gets better, so should the offense, which is under the direction of sophomore Lynn Williams, a 6-2, 185-pound sophomore who recently earned the starting job at quarterback. The first-year signal-caller will have help from returning 1,000-yard running back Keemari Murry and what looks to be a powerful line. Daniels' goal is to bring it all together, as a leader and a player.
"All good football teams are known for their offensive and defensive lines," he said. "We want to be the strength of the team."