One on one with LeShun Daniels Jr.

DI Pregame Editor Robert Read spoke with the former Hawkeye running back about his memorable performance against Minnesota in 2015 and other topics from his Iowa career.


The Daily Iowan; Photos by Josep

Iowa’s LeShun Daniels, Jr. speaks with members of the media after Iowa’s Pro Day in the Stew and LeNore Hansen Iowa Football Performance Center on Monday, March 27, 2017. Members of the Iowa football team who are eligible for the NFL draft were allowed to participate in Pro Day.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Daily Iowan: I know you dealt with some injuries throughout that 2015 season, did you feel healthy going into the Minnesota game that week?

LeShun Daniels Jr.: It was probably the healthiest I had felt since the Iowa State game. Coming into that game I was back playing for a few weeks. I know I missed two games. I had missed the Northwestern game and the Illinois game. Then we had a bye and I came back and played against Maryland and Indiana. I was healthy enough to play but I still didn’t really feel totally like me. I honestly really didn’t feel like me for the whole season after my ankle sprain. When the Minnesota game came around I was feeling pretty good. I was feeling pretty close to myself, like 90 percent healthy. So I was like, ‘OK, I think I’m good to go.’

DI: A big thing from that Minnesota game was you guys wore those alternate uniforms. Were you a fan of those? They were pretty popular among the fans.

Daniels Jr.: Yeah, I love all black uniforms. They just look so clean. Especially whenever a team wears them in a night game, I think it just helps the atmosphere. Coming out in new uniforms was awesome. Because obviously Iowa is one of those traditional schools where you kind of just wear the same thing every single week. It was nice to get a different set of uniforms out there. Because you know what they say — look good, feel good, play good. That’s kind of how I felt. I was a huge fan of those uniforms for sure.

DI: Iowa had a lot of talented guys in the backfield that season with you and Jordan Canzeri and Akrum Wadley getting touches. But when you have a game like you had against Minnesota when you’re getting a majority of the carries, does that help you get into a rhythm a little bit better?

Daniels Jr.: Yeah, it definitely does. Obviously we knew that we were a backfield by committee. So we knew that coaches were gonna just roll with whoever was playing well. And if everyone’s playing well there’s going to be a consistent rotation going through. When you know that you’re the one that’s going to be in there for most of the game and that you’re going to be getting the bulk of the carries, yeah, it definitely helps you get into a rhythm. That season we understood with how talented our backfield was, you might only get a few plays here and there, so you’ve got to make the most of it. With that being said, definitely having a feeling where you’re playing well and the coaches are feeding off that and can feel that, and they let you take that opportunity and run with it, you get into a good rhythm. As long as you’re keeping the ball moving and you’re making plays.

DI: You scored three touchdowns in that game against Minnesota, but I think the one everyone remembers was the last one with a couple minutes left. What do you remember from that play?

Daniels Jr.: We were drawing up a quick play and coach Brian [Ferentz] comes in. We were running a certain type of stretch zone for basically the entire game. We decided to switch it up a little bit, the fullback going to block the middle linebacker. I remember going into the play, obviously coaches were saying, ‘Make sure you stay in bounds’ and this and that. ‘Hold onto the ball.’ All that good stuff that everybody hears in a four-minute offense. I just remember that the hole opened up and there was so much green grass before I even had to make a move on someone. I just felt like, ‘I have to do something with this ball.’ Low and behold, I make a guy miss, and they had everyone up [at the line of scrimmage] trying to stop the run. So you make one guy miss, you’re off to the races. That’s how our offense was kind of dictated when it came to the run game. It’s one of those things where if you can get to the second level, and you can make a guy miss, you could have a big play. That’s something that was always preached to us, especially by our running backs coach, coach [Chris] White. I just wanted to make a play. I was having a pretty good game up to that point. I just wanted to make a play to help the team. Looking back at it, yeah, I probably should have went down at some point when I got past the safety. But in my head I was just thinking, ‘Don’t get caught. Don’t get caught.’ I didn’t think about going down or anything like that. It was definitely an awesome play for me. We were having success on the ground all day. To have the opportunity to go out there and make a big play for the team, and to do it on such a memorable night, is pretty crazy.

DI: You mentioned maybe you should have gone down. Is that anything a coach said, “Well if you break free, go down” or were you just focused on scoring at that point?

Daniels Jr.: No we didn’t even cover that situation. It was actually shocking. We covered so many situations in training camp and in the season, but we never talked about going down in that situation. Obviously, if I go down, the game is over.  It was a tough situation because the defense didn’t have their best night. So me scoring obviously gave them another opportunity to score. But it wasn’t something that we had talked about. All we covered was just to make sure that you stay in bounds, hold onto the ball. And that was pretty much it. Obviously for the coming weeks, we talked about that situation. I mean, all the coaches on the staff, they didn’t expect me to be able to break through for a run like that. Up to that point, I don’t think I had any big runs honestly. So they didn’t expect it, and I don’t think anybody else in the stadium was expecting it either. But we definitely hit on that in the following weeks and the following season, just because the defense was put in a bad spot. Coach [Phil] Parker was definitely not happy about that.

DI: When you make a move on a guy and then it’s just green grass in front of you, what’s going through your mind in that situation?

Daniels Jr.: Don’t get caught. That’s pretty much it. Pump your arms, get your knees up, get to the end zone. That’s pretty much all you can think about. Sometimes I’d look up at the board just to see if anyone was close to me. But once you do the move, all you’re thinking about is, ‘Now I’ve got to go score.’ There’s no other thought in my head. All there is is green grass. So if I get caught that means I’m slow.

DI: After the final second ticked off the clock, Kinnick got pretty loud. What was the celebration like in the locker room after the game?

Daniels Jr.: Oh it was great. The stadium was just going crazy. The stadium was electric really the entire night. Literally after I scored, they were doing the I-O-W-A chant for what felt like 10 minutes. That energy was there throughout the entire game. At the conclusion of the game, everyone was feeling awesome. [Iowa was] 10-0 for the first time in school history. We get in the locker room and everybody’s jacked, we were going crazy. Rivalry games are big. We definitely love beating Minnesota. Whenever you get a chance to beat Minnesota and win a trophy game, the locker room after the game is always a great atmosphere. All the guys are bouncing around. And obviously the fans kind of felt the same way. It was definitely one of those things where I could tell you as much as possible what went down after winning a big game like that and hitting those milestones, but you really had to experience it firsthand. There’s no way to explain beating a rival team, winning a trophy, and celebrating with your guys in the locker room. You’ve spent years working up to this point. Grinding in the offseason, training camp. I don’t think I could possibly explain it well enough to do it justice.

DI: You mentioned that the victory pushed the team to 10-0. You always hear about taking things one game at a time, but how much was being undefeated and keeping that streak alive, going for 12-0, how much was that on your guy’s mind going through that regular season?

Daniels Jr.: As much as people try to say that we’re taking it one game at a time and this and that, which a lot of us were — the coaches were doing their best to make sure that we’re focused on every game — but how often are we 10-0 with the opportunity to finish the season undefeated, Big Ten Championship Game, [College Football] Playoff, all that. It’s just human nature for guys to go, ‘Man, we’ve really got a chance to go undefeated. We have a chance to go to the playoff and compete for a national championship.’ When someone tells you that it never comes into their heads, they’re lying. It definitely did creep in our heads. Because you want to meet that goal. You want to be the best, especially when you actually have the opportunity to make it to that point. The coaches definitely did an excellent job of making sure we were focusing on every week.

DI: That Minnesota game, 195 yards and three touchdowns against a rival, is that you’d say maybe the best performance you ever had or is it just up there somewhere?

Daniels Jr.: That’s definitely the best I had in college for sure. I’ve had a number of different 100-yard games, multiple TD games, but that was definitely the best one. Nebraska in 2016 was definitely another pretty big personal milestone — going over 1,000 yards, Senior Day, [158] yards and two touchdowns. That was obviously another big day. But I definitely think the Minnesota game was probably my best game. Most fans would probably agree with that, coaching staff would probably agree with that as well. There were some close ones where I had some performances that might not have been noticed. But as far as being the guy and making plays, that was definitely my best performance.

DI: What was it like playing in the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry?

Daniels Jr.: We obviously know that they don’t like us. They have their whole ‘We hate Iowa’ nonsense. [The coaches] always played that ‘Who hates Iowa, we hate Iowa’ every single year when we were in the locker room that entire game week. We know it’s a big game. We know the guys who were on staff that played at Iowa, they always let you understand how big of a game it is. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get playing in those games. There’s not too much you can really compare it to. If you played sports in high school, there’s some big rivalries, cross-town rivalries. But when you’ve got two Big Ten programs that have been doing it for a long time, that have a long history with each other, you have a trophy on the line, you have two states that don’t like each other — it’s hard to explain that feeling that you get. If you’re a competitor, it’s something that you love. Those butterflies that you get, I wouldn’t call them nervous butterflies, but more like you’re so excited having a challenge against a team that you don’t really like. It’s truly a good feeling if you’re a competitor.

DI: We’ve touched on the big stuff from your performance that day, but is there something smaller that you remember from that Minnesota game?

Daniels Jr.: I actually do have kind of a funny story. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, one of her friends who was a big Iowa football fan, literally like three plays before I scored my last touchdown, tells her, ‘LeShun is going to get the ball, juke a guy, and he’s gonna go score a touchdown.’ No one would ever know that. My wife said that when it happened, they just looked at each other and smiled, then obviously started going crazy. Because what are the odds of that happening.

DI: Have you had a chance to watch Tyler Goodson play and what do you think of him so far in his Hawkeye career?

Daniels Jr.: Yeah, I think he’s a great player. Obviously being a young guy, he definitely shows a lot of maturity. You see all of his talent, but one of the things I love is whenever he makes mistakes, he always bounces back. I know it’s tough for a young guy when they make a mistake. When they fumble the ball or something like that. I just love the way that he bounces back. I know he’s got a great support system, great teammates and coaches. I love the way he plays the game. He kind of does everything really well. He’s a good runner, can catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there to block a linebacker on a blitz pickup. And that’s another guy that young guys tend to struggle with. I love seeing him play. He’s only going to get better as his career goes on. So I’m definitely excited to see him take the next step. Because everyone knows he’s talented. You see him work every single week. So I’m definitely excited to see his career grow and for him to establish himself as one of the best running backs in the Big Ten. He’s definitely one of the young guys that I love to watch play. Because obviously I love to watch running backs.