IOWA CITY — Lebron Daniel is the last man standing, in a couple of different regards.
First, in the wake of sophomore Dominic Alvis’ season-ending torn ACL, Daniel is the unchallenged starter at defensive end for the first time in his five-year career at Iowa. The second “last man” scenario takes a little digging into past recruiting classes.
Starting in 2006, Iowa coaches had a pipeline into talent-rich Glenville (Ohio) High School, the same school that produced Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, a Heisman winner, and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who’s still making waves into the NFL and former Buckeyes safety Donte Whitner, who signed an $11.75 million deal with the 49ers this offseason.
So yes, Glenville was a place college coaches wanted to connect with. And Iowa did, pulling in five Glenville recruits.
Six years later, Daniel is the one from that group and will be the only one to complete his four years of eligibility.
“I think about it, I think that’s just the way of life,” said Daniel, a 6-foot-2, 256-pounder. “Sometimes, things like that happen. I remember when I came on my visit, the two guys who were here who made me like it here, they were gone a year or two later.”
Daniel is talking about Arvell Nelson and Derrick Smith. Nelson was arrested for possession of marijuana and dismissed from the team in February 2008. Smith left Iowa before his redshirt freshman season.
The other two were in the news more recently. Defensive back Willie Lowe was one of 13 Hawkeyes stricken with rhabdomyolysis last January. He decided to sit out of football this season, but is still going to school at Iowa. Linebacker Bruce Davis quit the team after the Pittsburgh game on Sept. 17.
Daniel is the last Glenville man standing.
“I really just tried to stay the course and stay positive and do my part to be a good teammate,” said Daniel, “and not really cause anything bad myself because I represent the University of Iowa and this football team.
“Everything that happened to those guys is unfortunate, but there’s nothing I really could do.”
And now, Daniels is it at the defensive end spot opposite Broderick Binns. After three seasons of backing up all-American Adrian Clayborn, Daniel has a career game nearly every time he steps foot on the field.
Daniel came into the season with eight career tackles and one sack. So far, he has 18 tackles and a sack. He played last week against Michigan after missing two weeks with an ankle injury.
Technically, Daniel isn’t the last man standing on Iowa’s D-line. There still are some able bodies in senior end Joe Forgy, junior tackle Joe Gaglione and redshirt freshman tackle Carl Davis, who, coach Kirk Ferentz said, is close to 100 percent after dealing with a knee injury.
“He’s still a young guy who’s barely played, but at least we’ll have someone to practice with so we’re not just wearing everybody out, so that’s a positive,” Ferentz said of Davis. “At least if we can have a good week of practice, we’ll see what we can throw out there Saturday.”
At the beginning of the season, Ferentz and D-line coach Rick Kaczenksi hoped for a rotation of six to eight. Counting junior Steve Bigach, who’ll slide out to end from tackle this week, the Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) will face Legends Division leader Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) with seven healthy bodies that have any real game experience.
“The guys we have are young, but I feel like they’ve done their part,” said Binns, who’s tied for the Iowa lead with four sacks. “The coaches are asking for five, 10 and 15 or so plays a game out of them. It seems like when they get in the game, we don’t skip a beat.”
Sounds the perfect time for a player with survival skills. Daniel has spent the last couple of offseason working on that skill, sort of literally.
He and defensive tackle Mike Daniels spent time in the Iowa Fieldhouse learning martial arts skills, including punches, flexibility and hand fighting.
“We wanted to learn how to be efficient and powerful with our hands,” Daniel said. “We thought it would translate on to the field, some way or some how.
“It wasn’t like ‘boxing’ boxing, but all the guys we go up against are bigger than us, taller than us, so technique is important.”
With the Iowa D-line in 2011, every little bit helps.
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