UND FOOTBALL: Sioux linebacker Daniels' long journey reaches good results
Johnnie Daniels had to leave a UND practice early last week. He was on his way to a late-afternoon criminal justice class. The Sioux senior also has had a hand in maintaining order on the football field this season as a UND linebacker. He ranks s...
Johnnie Daniels had to leave a UND practice early last week. He was on his way to a late-afternoon criminal justice class.
The Sioux senior also has had a hand in maintaining order on the football field this season as a UND linebacker. He ranks sixth in tackles for No. 18 UND -- a 4-2 team that has positioned itself for a run at the Great West Conference championship.
And the Sioux senior from Miami may also have a hand in keeping the peace when he ends his football career.
Daniels was an intern over the summer with the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
"I'm actually looking to get on with the Highway Patrol," Daniels said. "Hopefully, the internship went well."
His final season already has gone well, considering he was out of football for two seasons and spent much of last season playing hurt.
But this season has been his best as he's part of a front seven UND defensive unit that has been strong against the run. In Division I Football Championship Subdivision statistics, UND is ranked No. 3 in the country in run defense.
Daniels' route to UND, however, was a long one. But the journey, he said, was worth it.
After playing at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, Daniels played his first two seasons at Central Michigan, a Mid-American Conference program.
But he left there after his sophomore season. He was out of football.
"I spent two years working in Orlando, working as a sales rep," he said.
But he got the itch to play football again. So, he went to work on a highlight tape, hoping a Division I program would take notice and give him another chance.
"I actually called (assistant) coach (Josh) Kotelnicki," Daniels said. "I sent him my highlight tape. He called me back and wanted me to come up for a visit."
UND is a long way from Miami -- in distance and in culture. But Daniels made the visit anyway.
"It's a big-time school and everyone loves North Dakota," he said. "I wanted to come to a good college town. It's worked out well."
Daniels had good preparation for the college game by playing at Christopher Columbus -- a well known Florida prep school that has produced some big-time athletes.
Former Columbus athletes include Alex Rodriguez, Alonzo Highsmith, Brian Griese, Mike Shula and John Jay, the St. Louis Cardinals' outfielder hoping to lead his team to the World Series.
"Columbus is right by the University of Miami," Daniels said. "Everybody likes the school. You grow up wanting to play there."
Daniels played at Columbus in his senior season after three years at Gulliver Prep in Miami. He led the team in tackles in his one season at Columbus.
But his biggest influence in football perhaps comes from his dad, Johnnie Daniels Sr., who played a handful of seasons with the Baltimore Colts. He, too, was an outside linebacker.
"I call my dad every single day," said Daniels, who has 16 tackles, a sack and a touchdown this season. "Every time I have something going on, he gets my head straight. He's someone I really look up to."
As a senior, Daniels is someone other Sioux players look up to as well.
"We didn't know what we were going to get out of Johnnie when he joined us, but he's been a nice addition to the program," UND coach Chris Mussman said. "He's a great kid. He's fun to be around. He always has a smile on his face. He's always talking.
"His leadership has been great. We're young at the outside linebacker position and to have an older guy in that room is important for guys like Cordero Finley, Dominique Bennett and Damon Andrews."
Daniels said the big goal in his final season of football is winning a conference championship.
The Sioux, who had a bye Saturday, return to Great West play this Saturday against Cal Poly.
UND is 1-0 in the league. And in a four-game conference schedule, there is little room for error.
"Hopefully, in six weeks we'll have that championship," Daniels said.
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Who: Cal Poly at UND.
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, Alerus Center.
TV/radio: FSSN, The Fox (96.1 FM).
Records: UND 4-2; Cal Poly 2-3.
Of note: UND and Cal Poly both will become Big Sky Conference programs next season.