Why Iowa's LeShun Daniels is poised for a breakout season

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY Chris White spoke for more than 20 minutes about his running backs Wednesday. He was complimentary across the board, but one name kept popping up more than any.

Based on his health, physique and practice performance LeShun Daniels Jr. seems poised for a breakthrough junior season with the Hawkeyes.

"He looks fantastic," White said. "He really does."

This is White's third year as Iowa's running backs coach. It's Daniels' third year in the program, too. The first two for the Warren, Ohio, native have been a story of limited snaps (51, for 191 yards) and injury.

Now fully recovered from foot surgery that cut his 2014 season short, Daniels is turning heads – and not just because he's listed as the co-starter alongside senior Jordan Canzeri.

Daniels was asked to cut about 10 pounds, something strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle recommended to help highlight his athleticism.

"He's down to about 225 or so. He just looks unbelievable," White said. "And it shows on the field. His speed, his pad level. ... Matter of fact, I think he broke the running back's shuttle record for Coach Doyle, which is pretty amazing."

Iowa now lists Daniels at 6-foot, 225 pounds. He's been held out of tackling drills so he doesn't get re-injured; the same goes for Canzeri, who played through injuries most of last year, including in the TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Tennessee when he ran for 120 yards on 12 carries.

"You need at least two backs in college football," White said. "I'd love to sit here and have (former Wisconsin star) Melvin Gordon run it 50 times a game for us. We don't have that right now."

White mentioned sophomore-to-be Akrum Wadley as the third guy and that converted wideout Derrick Mitchell has picked up his new position quickly. C.J. Hilliard and Marcel Joly, a newly converted defensive back, are further down the pecking order.

"Coach Doyle is extremely happy with the winter program, and it has shown up in the first six days of practice," White said. "And it's been fun to coach these kids."

Daniels' total package makes him the ideal candidate to replace the numbers generated by Mark Weisman, a former walk-on who became sixth all-time at Iowa in rushing yards (2,602) and No. 3 in rushing touchdowns (32).

In fact, Daniels is potentially an upgrade — if he can stay on the field.

"LeShun is a workhorse type of guy that has a little bit more speed, and jump cut, agileness," White said. "We all know Mark, what he was. He was a fullback playing tailback, and he was pretty good at it. But he had his limitations, and he'll be the first one to let you know that.

"LeShun is a little bit different. He can hit a little bit longer run, and he can make a guy miss in space a little bit more than Mark can, I think."