ESCANABA Some of Jace Daniels' oldest memories revolve around the game of football.
When he was in just fifth grade, he was the water boy for the Escanaba Eskymos. Daniels' brother, Nick Anderson, was playing football at Northern Michigan University at the time. Needless to say, it didn't take him long to realize his passion for the sport.
"I've always kind of been around it, for as long as I can remember," Daniels said. "When I was young, I remember saying to myself, 'I can't wait to get out there.'"
Photo by Chad Pepper
Escanaba native Jace Daniels (right) and Zach Anderson of Sault Ste. Marie pose for a photo at their pro day at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Daniels, a 2009 graduate of Escanaba High School, was selected to the All-U.P. and All-Great Northern Conference teams during his time there. He then followed in the footsteps of his brother, enrolling at NMU and playing for the football team at left tackle.
During his career as a Wildcat, he has been selected to the First Team All-GLIAC, and he was one of the team captains this year. Daniels is slated to graduate in December, and he has been training with AdvantEdge Sports Training in Marquette to prepare for him for what he wants to do after graduation: play more football.
For the past four months, he had been working out virtually seven days a week to prepare himself for the Grand Valley State University pro day on March 11 in Saginaw. He did intense upper and lower body workouts five days a week, and then position and combine drills for the rest of the week.
"We did a lot of lifts that targeted explosiveness," he said. "Everything we did was fast."
Daniels made the trip to Saginaw with NMU teammate Zach Anderson, a Sault Ste. Marie native that played on the Wildcats' defensive line, and was also a captain of the team.
"It was nice having a teammate there going through it with me," he said. "We kind of rooted for each other."
Whatever he did seemed to work. For his size (6-foot-4, 305 lb), Daniels put up some impressive numbers at the combine. His 40-yard dash time was 4.97 seconds, and he got a 30.5 on his vertical leap test. Despite an injury to his pectoral muscle last year that he is still rehabilitating, he put up 18 on the 225 bench test.
"I thought I had a pretty good day," Daniels said. "I put up good numbers in certain areas, and I felt really good during the position drills."
Before he left for the trip, he humbly acknowledged that getting into the NFL is no easy task, but he also knows his love of the game isn't going away anytime soon.
"I'm either going to hear a lot back, or I'm not going to hear anything," he said. "If I never end up playing somewhere, I'd want to be a coach. But if I do hear something back, it would mean the world to me.
"It's what I've been dreaming about and working towards from the start. I'd be ecstatic."
Since his return, Daniels has received calls from the New York Giants, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers. They asked him questions about his family, his upbringing, and his injury history. The Jaguars asked him where they could get more footage of him playing. And then, they said they would be in touch with him or his agent, John Perez.
"I was happy to see that teams are starting to see who I am," he said. "These calls make me work even harder in the weight room and the field."
Daniels said that even if he isn't picked up by someone or drafted, he will continue to push forward toward his goals.
"I'll come back to school and continue to work out, and try again next year," he said. "It might not be the NFL, maybe arena football, but I'll definitely continue to work hard."
He remembers the long path that brought him from a water boy in Escanaba to this present moment, and how it felt to look upon the field and just want a chance to suit up and play. To any young kid out there that dreams of playing football at the next level, Daniels says, "You need to work hard, every day, inside the classroom, as well as on the field."