Hit Me Baby, One More Time
Oct. 21, 2000
There are some things that Husky fans can count on. When sitting in Husky Stadium in September, temperatures will be mild with a slight breeze coming off the lake. Come late October, the rain will pour from the sky and it will be hard to remember that just six weeks ago, the student section was filled with shorts and sandals, instead of waterproof purple and gold. Gallons of coffee will be consumed, the band will play "Bow Down to Washington," and Montlake will be a frenzy of fans following the game.
And Derrell Daniels is going to tackle some people. In fact, he is going to tackle a lot of people.
The senior from San Fernando, Calif. -- who has made quite a name for himself inside Pac-10 stadiums and caused many sleepless nights for offensive coordinators -- is bewildering not only his opponents, but his teammates, too.
"You never hear him," says defensive lineman Larry Tripplett. "You just see him, and you never really see Derrell until you're getting off the pile. The next thing you know, there's No. 24 on the tackle. He's almost like a shadow -- he's always there."
Daniels finished the 1999 season with a team-leading 81 tackles, 46 of which were solo, the latter total second only to safety Curtis Williams. The consistency in his game is evident in that he was either first or second in tackles in nine out of the 12 games last year. Daniels learned this endless dependability early on, not only is he a staple defender in the Husky defense, he also had perfect attendance in school from kindergarten until graduation.
"Never, ever did I miss a day of school. I just wasn't allowed to," Daniels says with a laugh. "My high school was right across the street from my house, so I had no option but to go. Even if I was sick, it wasn't like I couldn't make it."
Daniels was recruited out of high school by many top programs, including California, Oregon State, and Arizona, the latter of whom, like Washington, hoped to eventually switch Daniels to inside linebacker. Cal was at the top of his list until the rumors of first-year coach Steve Mariucci's departure for the San Francisco 49ers grew ever more apparent.
"I took my trip to Cal and talked to Mariucci about it and he said, `I guarantee I will be here for the next four or five years that you are here," Daniels explains. "A week later he was gone."
Daniels made his first return to Berkeley a memorable one. Playing on special teams, Daniels recovered a fumble by Cal's Deltha O'Neal that led to a UW touchdown, sparking a 30-3 Husky victory. It would turn out to be a play Daniels would have to talk about for years to come.
"All I remember is that I was running down the field and I got blocked," he says. "I was a little knuckle-headed freshman running wild. I turned around a saw O'Neal and I started chasing him. The ball popped out and I just jumped on it. It felt pretty good knowing that I started off the rout with a fumble recovery."
Daniels' success in his freshman year continued as he saw more and more playing time. He was one of 10 true freshmen to play for the Huskies in 1997, and appeared in every game but one. He continued to improve in his sophomore season, registering 19 tackles as a backup.
Daniels' junior season was a little bit more complicated. After playing outside linebacker for two years, the coaches moved him inside, a move that would prove beneficial for both Daniels and the team. He had his best season yet, racking up two sacks, his first career interception and many defensive awards to go along with 81 tackles. The accomplishments, however, came with a heavy price.
"The hardest part about switching from outside to inside is the physical beating," laughs Daniels. "At outside linebacker the play goes away from you. At the inside position, you're in there and someone is coming to get you on every play. It's just different trying to take on all of these 350-pound linemen."
The experience that Daniels gained on the Husky defense has made him a leader in the eyes of his coaches and teammates. Although his coaches would like him to speak up more on the field to help some of the younger and less experienced players, Daniels prefers to lead by example.
"The coaches tell me quite a bit that I need to be the one to take control vocally," Daniels says. "It really isn't my style, though. I just like to go out there and play the game. I like to play more than talk. I figure if the other guys want to do things right and not make mistakes, they will on their own. They don't need me to get on their backs."
While he has garnered the respect of those who play around him, he has also impressed the coaches in his ability to be successful at different positions.
"Derrell Daniels has led us in tackles almost every game since I have been here," says second-year head coach Rick Neuheisel. "He is a magnificent football player. You have to about scream at him to get him to say anything, because he is such a quiet young man. But he is, without question, one of our most valuable football players, and we are very fortunate to have him. We look forward to see where he will end up."
True to form, Daniels cannot talk too long about his own goals before deflecting attention to the team as a whole.
"For my personal goals, I want to have double-digit tackles in each game, and lead the team for a second year in tackles," he says. "But more importantly, as a team, we want to get to the Rose Bowl. That is our goal every year. As a defense, our goal is to be better than we were last year, and also to be a better defense than we were a week before."
For Daniels and the rest of the seniors who take the field this season, it is a time to accomplish what they have hoped for since they started playing Husky football -- a trip back to Pasadena. They are ready and waiting, and when the pile of players starts unfolding, Derrell Daniels will be at the bottom.
Count on it.