AMES, Iowa – A comment from Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell at his signing day press conference stood out among the rest.
When asked about his recruiting philosophy in regards to the defensive side of the ball, Campbell simply said, “If you know me, I’m never going to turn down a great defensive back or great defensive lineman.”
Campbell held true to his word, adding 12 defensive backs/defensive linemen in a recruiting class which was ranked No. 46 nationally by Scout, the highest-rated Cyclone class in Scout history.
Two defensive backs in this class have already enrolled in school and are currently prepping for spring drills in Thadd Daniels and D’Andre Payne.
Both have a chance to make an immediate impact, especially Daniels, who will be a redshirt junior in 2016 after a stellar career at Cerritos Community College in California.
Daniels, who hails from Compton, Calif., was ranked as the fifth-best junior college safety by 247Sports. His suitors included Brigham Young, Purdue, Illinois and Utah. A change in scenery was one of the reasons he chose Iowa State.
“I’d never been out here (in Iowa) until I came on my visit,” Daniels said. “I really enjoyed it. I felt like it was a new experience to get away from all of the stuff that I’ve been through and where I came from.”
Some of the ‘stuff’ Daniels was referring to was a life-altering event which occurred in his second season at Cerritos. He had just ended a solid freshman season where he posted 26 tackles and eight pass breakups. An injury was going to force him to take a redshirt in 2014, but even worse news occurred. His father, Rickie, passed away.
Daniels knew he had to mature quickly. He had to be there for his mother, Angela, and his siblings to help with the coping process.
“He is very mature beyond his years,” Campbell said. “When his father passed away he took over many family responsibilities. He was a father figure for his brothers and sisters, and he made sure he was around to help his mother.”
Daniels only did what his mother taught him to do.
“It was in my third semester in junior college when my father died,” Daniels said. “I adapted pretty well. My mom raised me right, and she always told me to do the right thing. That’s all I was doing. I was making sure I needed to take care of the people who were important to me. I just had to make it happen.”
His injury and redshirt season afforded Daniels time to reflect and be with his family. He came back for his final year of junior college football even more focused, racking up 29 tackles and a team-leading eight pass breakups to help his team claim the National Division Northern Conference title with an 8-3 record.
Division I recruiters liked his stats, but his versatility and toughness is what really popped out on film. He can play either the safety or cornerback position and he competes with a chip on his shoulder.
“To me, if you come out physical and hit them in the mouth, right then and there, you have their attention,” Daniels said about his style of play. “I want the opponent to be thinking about it for the rest of the game.”
Campbell wants his defensive backs to be quarterbacks on the field. They must possess outstanding communications skills, and it’s something he noticed right away with Daniels.
“Recruiting in the secondary is a lot like recruiting a quarterback,” Campbell said. “Those guys have to be special. They have to be communicators, and they have to do a great job getting guys lined up and have passion. Thadd has that.”
Spring practice is officially less than a month away and Daniels knows the importance of being a mid-year enrollee. He can get a head start on his career at Iowa State and build a rapport with his teammates and coaches, something he has already accomplished in his first month in Ames.
“I get along with Coach Campbell very well,” Daniels said. “That’s part of the reason I came here. He’s a real good guy. He’s one of the youngest coaches, and he kept it honest with me throughout the recruiting process. I’ve just had to get familiar with the campus a little bit. Other than that, everything is going fine with me.”
The kid from Los Angeles still closely monitors on all of the happenings in the City of Angels. A die-hard Lakers fan, he’s sad to watch Kobe Bryant on his farewell tour.
L.A. will always be home, but Daniels has already felt a warm welcoming from the Ames community.
“It’s a major difference from L.A. to Ames,” Daniels said. “Where I come from, a lot of people won’t even talk to you. Once I got here, everybody smiles, and everybody introduces themselves. It was something that I had never seen before. It amazed me and it felt like something I liked to be around.”
Cyclone Nation likes having you around, too, Thadd.