Photo by Nebraska Communications

Daniels Brothers Reunited, Ready To Push

By Brian Rosenthal

Only 5 years old, Damion Daniels had to begin his youth football career playing flag football. He wanted more, though.

Playing with the Oak Cliff Hurricanes, a youth football organization in Dallas, Damion watched on adjacent fields, where older boys wore pads and ran through pillows. They were more physical. They tackled.

One day, an envious Damion looked over and noticed those players, including his 7-year-old brother, Darrion Daniels, running what he called “big man” or “tough man” drills. Their father, Tony Daniels, a former All-American defensive lineman at Texas Tech, coached Darrion’s team.

Whereas Damion craved the physicality of football, Darrion would have rather been reading, or maybe playing soccer. A teddy bear, Darrion described himself.

That explains why, on this day, Darrion failed to meet his father’s expectations in this particular drill.

“I was just getting destroyed,” Darrion said.

So Dad used a motivational tactic.

“My pops,” Damion said, “he was like, ‘I’m going to call your brother over here from the flag field. Don’t make me have him come over here and show you up!”

Sure enough, he did.

“My pops, he looked over and he called me," Damion said, "and I ran over there, and he took my brother’s pads off of him, and he sat everything on me. Everything was big and baggy.

“I got down and my pops said, ‘Hey, Son,’ he said, ‘Don’t be scared. When I blow this whistle, you get up and run through him.’ I’m like, ‘All right,’ so I got down, my pops blew the whistle, I got up, and I took off running, and I ran right through the dude and drove him down into the dirt.”

Said Darrion: “My brother, he came through just thrashing people.”

The next day, Damion wore pads that actually fit. His flag football days, gone. Darrion, meanwhile, had an epiphany, of sorts.

“I can’t let my little brother outdo me in anything,” he said, “so I took the pads back and put them back on, and just found out I was pretty decent.”

The Daniels brothers have been playing football – and one-upmanship – ever since.

They shared that story because all kinds of memories have come rushing back now that they’ve been reunited at Nebraska.

Damion is a sophomore entering his third year in the program, while Darrion joins the Huskers as a graduate transfer from Oklahoma State. They’re both defensive linemen intent on making those around them better, in the same manner they have each other.

“He’s been setting the bar high,” Damion said of his older brother, “and I’ve been trying to set the bar even higher.”

When Darrion decided to play high school basketball, Damion had to, as well. Just because.

Turns out, Darrion was better.

“He actually scored,” Damion said, laughing. “He played varsity. I played my freshman year, and I fouled out in like less than 2 minutes.”

Their competitiveness carries off the field, too. Darrion went to Oklahoma State intent on graduating in three years. Damion saw that and asked if he could do the same at Nebraska. He also saw his older brother on the Dean’s List and honor rolls.

“I’m trying to meet that standard,” said Damion, who said he carries a 3.2 GPA while majoring in communications and minoring in criminal justice. He’s twice made the Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll.

Back home, the Daniels brothers would join forces in giving clothes and helping feed the homeless in downtown Dallas through their church at the time, New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church.

“It was good going down there and seeing how we’re blessed to have the things that we have,” Damion said. “It just feels good going back every now and then and giving back to the people who are less fortunate than us.”

Suffice it to say, the brothers grew up having a close relationship.

“Like two peas in a pod,” Darrion said.

You might be surprised to learn, then, that Darrion joining his brother in Lincoln wasn't a slam-dunk decision.

“It wasn’t my intent at first,” Darrion said. “I kid you not. I literally just took a leap of faith.”

All Damion knew is that Darrion suffered an injury that limited his senior season at Oklahoma State to four games.

An injury to his pinkie, of all things.

“I’d mess with him from time to time,” Damion said. “At first I’m like, ‘You can’t play with no finger injury? You couldn’t club it or nothing?’ Then my pops said it was a ligament, and his pinkie was like limp, like hanging. I was like, ‘Dang.’

“I called him and said, ‘How you feeling? And he’s like, ‘I’m good, I’ll be good,’ stuff like that. He said he’d have to redshirt a year. After he told me, I threw it out there, ‘You gonna come play with me your senior year?’

“He blew it off, 'Man, I’m good. I’m going to finish it out here.’ I said, ‘OK, keep God first. God has a plan.”

That’s when Darrion remembered his senior year at Bishop Dunne High School, when Damion was a sophomore but missed that season because of a torn tendon in his knee. Playing one more year with his brother, Darrion, thought, could make up for lost time.

Toward the end of last season, Darrion phoned Damion. “Were you for real about me playing with you one more year?”

He discussed it with his coaches at Oklahoma State, who said they wanted Darrion back for another year but also supported his decision to follow his heart.

“I think it was God’s doing, to be honest,” Damion said. “I missed my sophomore year to play with him his senior year, and this is like making up for that time. We have a chance to make up for that.”

Plus, Darrion had a favorable impression of the Nebraska team and its culture while he was at OSU. Damion would be calling with funny stories or sending videos on his phone of players joking around in the locker room.

“So when I got here and saw it firsthand, it was just 10 times funnier, knowing all their personalities,” Darrion said, adding he’s a “pretty goofy” person himself.

“It’s really a family feel here. When I came here, I really adopted their culture as my own. We share a lot of the same values, so when I came here, it was a really easy transition. The guys in the locker room, we all hit it off from the jump. They really brought me in with open arms.”

Darrion is certain to point out that this is Damion’s team, that he was here first, and Darrion didn’t come here to steal the spotlight. He simply wanted one more opportunity to play with his brother.

“I don’t do anything for recognition,” Darrion said. “I just really go out there and do everything because I’m supposed to do it.”

Even so, the affable, outgoing and vocal newcomer has become a team leader in the few months he’s been on campus.

“I tell you, Darrion is making plays on the field, but that’s not the most impressive part of Darrion,” second-year Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “It would be really hard for somebody to change teams coming into a new college program and be a leader immediately, but that's what he’s done. He’s brought a spark to that D-line and I think a sense of accountability. He’s going to be a real asset for us, and I’m not just talking about on the field.”

That’s no surprise to Damion, who remembers Darrion and his vocal leadership in high school. When Bishop Dunne lost to Trinity Christian Addison to ruin its perfect record late in the season, Darrion took it to heart.

Bishop Dunne still had a first-round bye in the playoffs, giving the team a chance to work out its kinks and clean up some issues. Pity the players Darrion caught laughing and joking during one practice that week.

“My brother came and said, ‘We just lost a GAME! You want to sit on the sidelines and talk?’ ” Damion said. “ 'I’m telling you, we’re going to state! We’re going to state!' ”

Bishop Dunne not only went to state, but won the title in a blowout, defeating Plano Prestonwood, 41-14.

“He goes out there, and he shows people, and he’s vocal, tool,” Damion said. “Me, I’m not a vocal person, but I can show people. But my brother, he can do both. He just leads. That’s something the Lord has blessed him with, because he’s always been like that.”

Damion, like Frost and other assistants, has already seen such leadership take hold during spring practices.

“I feel like the D-Line has been more locked in that we’ve ever been,” Damion said. “Since he got up here, we’ve both been in a tunnel vision. Like, I’ve always been in tunnel vision, but I want to send him out on a good note.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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