Iowa center from Harding prepares to hear his name called
By Dan Hiner
After playing three years at Iowa under Kirk Ferentz, former Warren Harding football player James Daniels is taking the next step in his career.
Daniels declared for the 2018 NFL Draft on Jan. 5 and will forego his senior season with the Hawkeyes.
“It’s crazy. High school went by really fast and college went by really fast,” Daniels said. “It’s crazy because in high school I used to watch college football games on TV. But when I got to college, people watched me when I was playing on TV.
“It’s been really cool to be able to play. I should get drafted. To play in high school, college and the NFL — when I was a kid, that’s all I used to talk about with my friends.”
LeShun Daniels Sr., James’ father, played for Ohio State in the 1990s and played one season with the Minnesota Vikings in 1997.
LeShun Daniels Jr., James’ brother, played running back at Iowa. He graduated in 2017 and bounced around the NFL as a rookie free agent before signing with the Washington Redskins in November.
After meeting with the NFL Advisory Committee, James Daniels was given a second-round projection. But this doesn’t mean he’ll be taken in the second round in April.
The committee simply looks at an underclassman’s college film.
If the projections are correct, Daniels would be considered one of the top offensive linemen and potentially the second center taken come April. He will join former Austintown Fitch graduate and Ohio State center Billy Price.
“It’s pretty cool,” Daniels said. “It shows that the Warren, Youngstown area has a lot of football talent in the area. It shows that there are good players in this area.
“It’s also pretty cool because I’m good friends with [Price]. So to have me and him get drafted as the first centers, it’s pretty cool. I can’t be mad at that.”
Price is considered the top interior offensive lineman in the 2018 class and the only center to be taken in the first round of the draft.
Daniels wants to improve his draft stock as much as possible over the next couple months.
“The only thing they’re looking at is tape,” Daniels said. “They’re not looking at your character, they’re not looking at how old you are or what injuries you’ve had in the past — it’s just your game tape.
“If you have good character, you’re a hard worker and all of those things, I feel like that will push you up.”
Daniels said he doesn’t really care about the committee’s projects because a number of former players had lower grades and were drafted in the first round.
Daniels had two reasons for leaving early: potential injury and his current draft stock.
He said an injury could set him back and he’s aware that center isn’t considered a “hot position” in the NFL. He said the scouts rarely hand out first-round grades at his position, and even if he played his best season, might not get a higher grade.
During his freshman season, Daniels relied on his former coach, Steve Arnold.
After getting significant playing time the first half of the 2014 season, Daniels suffered an injury and didn’t see the field much in the second half of the year.
But Arnold reassured his former lineman. He told Daniels that losing playing time happens to many freshmen when they get to college.
Daniels’ former coaches still keep in contact and text him prior to big games. He said former coach would talk to him before playing schools like Ohio State and is “really glad” Arnold was his high school coach.
Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek said Daniels has all the tools to succeed at the next level.
Polasek said Daniels is a very athletic and long for the offensive line, which will help on Sundays. But his experience making line calls in the pro-style offense has given him knowledge most collegiate offense linemen lack when they make the jump to the NFL.
“James is everything [NFL scouts] could want from the center position,” Polasek said. “He’ll check the front, make the proper identifications as far as getting our count system going and those kinda things. IDing the front, IDing the defense, those things I think he’s gonna handle pretty easily the rest of the way. He’s head and shoulders what you’re looking for from a center.”
Daniels will continue to train on the Iowa campus until the draft.
This isn’t new at Iowa. The Hawkeyes have developed their fair share of NFL offensive linemen during Ferentz’s tenure.
The Hawkeyes have training schedules developed for their NFL prospects to better prepare them for the combine and draft. But James Daniels also wants to finish his education.
“I feel like our strength coach [Chris Doyle], that’s our trainer, is the best at getting people ready for the 40 [yard dash],” Daniels said.
“Also, I’m taking mostly online classes, but I’m getting closer to my degree. After this current semester, I’ll just need six semester hours to graduate.”