The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

LeShun Daniels pays it forward

Iowa running back Leshun Daniels Jr. runs the ball in the third quarter during the Purdue vs. Iowa game at Ross-Ade Stadium. The Iowa Hawkeyes defeated Purdue 49-35. (The Daily Iowan/Jordan Gale)

Iowa running back LeShun Daniels Jr. gives some good advice to his brother at the end of a whirlwind career as a Hawkeye.

By Jordan Hansen

[email protected]

TAMPA, Fla. — On the afternoon of Dec. 29, just after the Iowa football team finished its daily practice, Hawkeye running back LeShun Daniels Jr. was asked what, if any, lessons he had learned while playing that he would like to pass on to his younger brother, James, a Hawkeye offensive lineman.

It’s a subject that’s been covered extensively this season and Daniels Jr. has graciously answered every question about it. The brothers are, after all, best friends, and they both liked to use any and all reporters’ questions to poke a bit of a fun at each other. There were serious answers when the situation demanded it, of course, but each player has a unique personality (and outlook on life), which he doesn’t hesitate to show.

This day, however, the elder Daniels took a second before responding. He usually fires into his response instantaneously after he’s asked something. He is a quick thinker and often knows exactly what to say and how to say it. In the moments in which a question takes him by surprise or he just wants a second to ponder a good response, he’ll take it.

At that moment, he did just that, looking all the world like an older brother — or elder statesmen — a thoughtful expression plastered on his face.

This wasn’t going to be a quick, witty retort or toeing the party line and repeating basic, canned, PR answers. This was going to be something else, something deeper. Something he’d obviously given some thought to.

“The one thing I learned was persevering, no matter what,” Daniels Jr. said. “I’ve had lots of ups-and-downs in my career.”

That, perhaps, might be understating things.

His first high while in a Hawkeye uniform almost had to be immediately playing his freshman season; he racked up 36 carries for 142 yards. He was the fourth running-back option behind Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri, and Damon Bullock, yet still managed to find himself some room in the offense.

It wasn’t a ton but enough for the excitement and hype to build around him.

His sophomore year, however, was taken away by injuries. Daniels Jr. played in just five games, totaling only a measly 49 yards. Last season was better, though it was obvious he just wasn’t right. He played it down, of course, for the team’s sake. Perhaps it helped that other teams were left guessing if they’d see more Canzeri, Akrum Wadley, or Daniels Jr.

Even so, Iowa ended up in the Big Ten Championship and, eventually, the Rose Bowl. Say what you want, but there’s hardly a higher-high than being a play away from playing in the College Football Playoff.

By the time his senior year rolled around, Daniels Jr. was labeled something akin to an injury risk. It wasn’t his fault, really, and he wasn’t left for dead — Iowa needed him too much for that — but there was a certain wariness every time he touched the ball. While Wadley has fought off his “fumble risk” reputation to some degree of success, it seemed reasonable to wonder what the Iowa running offense would look like if he ended up sidelined for a significant amount of time.

Those worries, however, went unfounded, and Daniels Jr. responded by rushing for more than 1,000 yards, the first Iowa running back to do so since Marcus Coker in 2011.

“For the first time, we’ve seen Daniels healthy for the whole season,” Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis said on Dec. 29. “The season he had, it’s honestly just a byproduct of him being healthy the whole time.”

Daniels Jr., however, wasn’t the only brother to miss time this season. Lineman Daniels missed two games early in the season, which while not at all uncommon for an offensive lineman, still seemed to frustrate him. He recovered quickly enough, however, and had a solid regular season, which culminated in the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s best offensive line.

“LeShun’s a really good running back, and he’s been hampered by injuries almost his entire career,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “It’s been nice to have him and Akrum around this year and has really helped the offense.”

Perseverance, patience, whatever the term used, there’s something to be said for the advice passed down from one brother to the other. And as Daniels Jr. takes his final snaps, the time running out for them to play together, to be together as much as they are right now, is going to probably be limited.

Daniels has his sights set on the NFL and while he was hesitant to divulge his exact plans, once his time training in Iowa City is over, there’s no way he won’t be successful in whatever path he decides.

But the advice to the younger Daniels — and the blood, sweat, and perhaps even tears put into acquiring the wisdom won’t be forgotten. As much as they sometimes hate to admit it, little brothers usually do look up to and listen to their older siblings.

Trust me; I have two.

Follow @JordyHansen for Iowa football news, updates and analysis.


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