Things move quickly at Iowa for Daniels
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Life is good for LeShun Daniels Jr., but it’s going a little too fast for his liking.
Now a senior at the University of Iowa, the 2012 Warren G. Harding graduate just played his final home game for the Hawkeyes. A two-year starter who’s having his best season, Daniels is doing it with his brother, James, helping to clear his path. James, a sophomore, is the starting center for Iowa.
“It’s crazy to think about,” said LeShun about his career winding down in a phone interview last week. “It seems like just yesterday I was graduating from Harding. Now I’m getting ready to graduate from the University of Iowa and play in my last game in Kinnick Stadium. It’s crazy how fast things go.
“The older guys always tell you that you’ve got to take advantage of each moment because it goes by quick. You never really think about it until you finally get to that moment.”
It’s been a career of big moments for Daniels.
He was a big part of the Hawkeyes’ unprecedented 12-0 regular season last year, rushing for 646 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games (missing two due to injury). The Hawkeyes won the West Division of the Big Ten but lost a close battle with Michigan State in the conference championship game, 16-13.
Iowa earned a berth in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, as well. It was a dream season for a program that had not won a share of the conference title since 2004.
“Going 12-0 is something that this program has never done before,” Daniels said. “And last year we had guys continuously getting hurt, myself as well, and we just bonded together as a team. That’s one of the most fun parts of last year was everyone bonding together. We believed in each other no matter what — no matter who’s out there — we had that trust that we’d get the job done.”
The Hawkeyes are having another successful year, and so is Daniels, who leads Iowa with 1,013 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Hawkeyes are 8-4 and knocked off 16th-ranked Nebraska on Friday after a big upset over Michigan, which was ranked second in the nation before the Hawkeyes’ 14-13 victory on Nov. 12 at Kinnick Stadium.
The victory over Nebraska also put Iowa in line for another top-level bowl game, the fourth time in Daniels’ career the Hawkeyes will have earned a bowl bid. He said the win over Michigan really gave Iowa the momentum it needed.
“Honestly, it was huge,” he said. “I can’t even describe how big it was for us. Penn State really just embarrassed us the week before (in a 41-14 loss), and for us to go out there against a team as great as Michigan, that’s been playing so well the entire year, it was huge.
“The emotion in the locker room after that win was unreal. It’s something I can’t describe. It’s something where you have to be there to be able to feel that emotion with all your teammates — everybody that you’ve gone through ups and downs with.”
The win put an even bigger smile on the face of his father, LeShun Sr., who played at Ohio State in the early 1990s (alongside fellow Harding grad Korey Stringer).
“He just said how we don’t like Michigan in the Daniels family household,” said a laughing LeShun Jr. when asked about a pep talk from his father, “so you’ve got to make sure you go out there and give it your all.”
There’s been plenty to smile about for the Daniels family.
James, a 2015 Harding graduate, was one of four true freshman to play last year. He played in every game during the Hawkeyes’ run, including a start in the Rose Bowl. Sharing the field with his younger brother is an experience LeShun Jr. said hadn’t happened much before college.
“When you’re real little, you don’t have that many opportunities,” LeShun Jr. said. “In high school we only played together for one season, so to have him here, it’s fun. Not many people get to play with their sibling, let alone play with him at a Big Ten university, so it’s something where we’ve really taken advantage of these moments because they’re not going to last forever. These are moments we’re going to take with us the rest of our lives.”
Where life takes LeShun Jr. next is to be determined. He will first pursue a career in the NFL, something his father did for one year in 1997. If that doesn’t work out, Daniels, who graduates in May, plans to return to the college level.
“I would love to pursue a career in the NFL, but if things don’t go as planned, I can always fall back on my degree,” said the health and human physiology major. “I might end up going to graduate school or take an internship because I do eventually want to become a strength coach at university. I like developing people and making them better for sport.”
He spent the first part of his life doing a pretty good job of that for himself.