LINCOLN — Darrion Daniels isn’t a reluctant captain for the Nebraska football team.
He is, however, a bit of an unusual one.
Daniels arrived in Lincoln in January as a graduate transfer from Oklahoma State. A few months later he’s not only the starting nose guard for the Huskers, but also one of four captains voted on by his teammates.
Daniels admitted he didn’t know why he was picked as a captain.
“I have no idea to be completely honest,” Daniels said. “Coach (Scott) Frost doesn’t have many rules, but one of them is to do the right thing and that’s something I strive to do every minute of every day.
“I try to do the right thing, work hard. I try to lead by example and just do what I’m supposed to do and bring as many people along as possible and just for that to be enough for everybody to vote for me, that was huge.”
Daniels first realized he might be a captain the night before it was announced. Defensive lineman Casey Rogers, who is also a roommate to Daniels, brought it up.
“On the ride home, he’s like ‘you know you’re going to be a captain, right?’” Daniels said. “And I’m like, ‘Nah, man, there’s a lot of other people on the defense who are highly respected and are great leaders.’”
Daniels’ younger brother Damion, No. 2 on the depth chart behind Darrion, thought big bro was a great candidate.
“My brother he was like, ‘I don’t see it. I don’t think anybody else can be as good a captain as you,’” Darrion said.
Darrion found out what his teammates thought of him the next day when he and linebacker Mohamed Barry — along with quarterback Adrian Martinez and offensive lineman Matt Ferniok — were named captains.
“When they announced it, you know I stood up, and I just saw all the faces of the D-linemen...just lit up and everybody was just as excited as I was,” Darrion said.
If there were doubters when he first showed up, Darrion eliminated them with words and his work ethic.
“He was in the gym, he was in Hawks (Championship Center) running extra sprints. He came here to prove something,” Barry said. “I was in Hawks three days in a row (in the offseason) working on footwork, and I (saw Darrion) running sprints.
“That’s what you want in a leader, you want him to be the hardest worker. He proved it to everyone and earned their respect and now everyone loves to follow him.”
His offensive teammates saw it as well.
“It was something you could probably figure out within months of him being there,” Martinez said. “In spring ball you could just tell there was a different feel, and I think he’s a huge part of that confidence that the defense has gained. They respect him a lot and there’s a reason. He always brings it.
“He’s a great vocal leader and he’s a good football player. I think it speaks volumes to the type of man he is and the type of player he’ll be this season.”
The rules that allow a player to participate in up to four games and still redshirt has changed the way coaches look at things.
For instance, Husker freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey, who has shown great promise in fall camp, could play in four games and still save a year of eligibility. That rule, which went into effect a year ago, gives the coaches great flexibility with their rosters.
McCaffrey isn’t the only Husker who might play in games and still redshirt. The freshman class is loaded with them.
“There’s a bunch of guys I think that fall into unique categories that fall into the four-game redshirt rule,” Frost said. “There’s some guys that we need to play now or have earned the right to play and play the entire season. Some other guys we’re still kind of in wait-and-see mode if we want to use the year or not. Ideally it would be to play them in four games and save the year.”
Some players might play in up to four games just to give the Huskers depth at a certain position. When one gets four games in, one of his freshman teammates at the same position could take over as a game-day backup for the next four games.
But there are a few who have earned the right to play — like freshman Wan’Dale Robinson, who is a starting wide receiver — and they will be in there from the start.
“There are some that are clear that they’re going to play, some that are going to redshirt,” Frost said. “There are others that we’re going to be in a holding pattern and at least get four games out of them.”
Martinez provides ‘wow’ moments
Martinez has been good — very good — in fall camp.
Frost said he provides a “wow” moment every day. One in particular stands out.
“He made a throw the other day that I’ve never really seen before,” Frost said. “Maybe watching the Chiefs play last year.”
Frost is referring to NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, who nearly led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl last season.
Frost just wants to see Martinez keep doing what he’s been doing.
“We just need him to play like he’s been practicing,” Frost said. “He’s way more comfortable in the offense. Obviously he has the talent to make any play he needs to on the football field. Now we just need to be efficient and have that at a high rate.”
Early kickoff Saturday
Frost doesn’t mind the 11 a.m. kickoff for Saturday’s game against South Alabama. If there is any lightning like the kind that canceled last year’s opener against Akron, there will be plenty of time to get the game in.
“We are excited to get the game kicked off,” Frost said. “Coaches kind of like the 11 o’clock slot because we are able to get up, get the game played, and get onto other things rather than sitting around waiting for it all day.”
Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Independent.