LINCOLN — Darrion Daniels has risen to a lofty status in his short time with the Nebraska football program.
The senior nose tackle was the second player in the interview room following the annual spring game at Memorial Stadium. The first was quarterback Adrian Martinez.
In just a couple of months, Daniels has turned into a leader on the Husker defense.
It was Daniels’ first spring game at Nebraska after transferring from Oklahoma State, and his first game ever on the same field with his younger brother Damion.
“It kind of exceeded (my expectations),” Darrion said of the 24-13 win by the Red in front of an announced crowd of 85,946. “It was probably the most fans I’ve seen in a stadium my whole time in college, and it’s just a spring game. I can only imagine what it’d be like for a real game.”
He’ll find out what it’s like when the Huskers open the season Aug. 31 at Memorial Stadium against South Alabama.
That will truly be the first real game the two Daniels brothers will get to play in together. Damion was an eighth grader when Darrion was a senior in high school in Dallas.
“It’s just a good feeling to see my brother with the same color of jersey again, being on the sideline with him, coaching him up, him coaching me up, giving each other tips, calming each other down when we get heated,” Darrion said. “It’s something special.”
Darrion (6-3, 320) and Damion (6-3, 340) will likely split time at nose tackle this fall, although Darrion did line up as a defensive end at times in the spring game.
Darrion had three tackles, including one for a loss, on Saturday. Seeing all the fans in the stands justified his decision to forgo his final season at Oklahoma State and move on to Nebraska as a graduate transfer.
“Yeah, it was really nice to come out and see that,” Darrion said. “Coming over here I really didn’t know exactly what to expect, but just being out there with my brother and with the team, the fans... it was something special.”
Darrion also thinks this Husker defense can be special. He played at Oklahoma State in the Big 12, a conference known for its wide open offenses that make it tough on the defensive players.
Darrion said has been impressed by what he’s seen with the Husker defense.
“We’re really good, like really good,” he said. “The teams I’ve played on that were really good had a lot of leaders in older guys, but on this defense there’s leadership all around. We’ve got a lot of young guys holding a lot of older guys accountable and the same vice-versa. I feel like there’s a really good balance of everybody keeping everybody right.”
Darrion could see the defensive chemistry building at Nebraska from the time he arrived. There aren’t any secrets. That leads to trust and loyalty between the players.
“I came in, they came with open arms... and I just came in and everything just jumped right together,” Darrion said. “Being out here working hard and seeing people working just as hard as I am really makes me want to put more out there. I feel like that played a huge role among us, all coming together.”
That includes the offense with the defense. It wasn’t like that at Oklahoma State where the defensive players seemed to stick together and the offensive players did the same.
“Here, one team in a heartbeat,” Darrion said. “Even in the locker room, there’s not a D-line section or a cornerback section. Everybody in the locker room mixes and mingles. Here, the one thing that’s really special is how everybody is. You’ve got DBs hanging out with linemen, you’ve got offensive linemen hanging out with linebackers, and I think it’s beautiful.”
Nebraska coach Scott Frost was pleased but not surprised with the performance of the defense in spring practice. The defense seemed to be ahead of the offense, but Frost said that’s pretty common for his teams.
Frost said the Husker defensive players improved, they played freer and pursued to the ball better.
“I think almost position by position, I saw improvement,” Frost said. “With that being said, it’s kind of supposed to be that way. As long as I have been in charge of running this offense as receiver coach, or coordinator, or head coach, defense is always ahead in the spring.”
Now the Huskers will soon head into their summer conditioning program. Darrion Daniels just wants to get a better feel for the defense as a whole heading into fall camp.
“I know this spring I was really trying to get a hold of my position as a defensive lineman,” Darrion said. “Just trying to get my plays down and always telling them to see the whole scheme of the defense, trying to understand the coverages and the way the linebackers are doing it. So, I feel like it’s trying to understand the whole defense instead of just the D-line.”