IOWA CITY, Ia. — James Daniels played in all 14 games as a true freshman on the Iowa football team last year.
And if that wasn’t a grueling enough undertaking, the gregarious giant did so without being able to talk to reporters. He’s as verbal as he is mobile, Daniels’s older brother and college roommate, LeShun Jr., was quick to point out.
“Once you get to know him, he won’t shut up,” said LeShun, a senior tailback who is no shrinking violet himself. “He just keeps going on and on about whatever. That’s probably easily the biggest difference between the two of us.”
Welcome to the Daniels Show, starring the two most affable Hawkeyes, who happen to be siblings and who aren’t afraid (at least in the media) to try to upstage each other. They also happen to be talented enough to start for a team ranked 15th heading into a 2016 season that begins with a Sept. 3 home game against Miami of Ohio.
LeShun was first to arrive at Iowa, leaving their Ohio home and smiling through the pain of two seasons that saw him rush for a mere 191 yards. Last year, big James arrived at the tender age of 17, turning down a scholarship offer from Ohio State to come to Iowa City and making a surprising immediate impact. James played both guard and tackle, started twice and helped his brother gain 646 yards while scoring eight touchdowns.
Not that that was the plan. James Daniels turned down a chance to play at Ohio State, where his father, LeShun Sr., was a starting offensive lineman from 1994-96. But James said he didn’t choose Iowa just for the chance to move in with his older brother.
“He barely recruited me to come here,” James Daniels said. “If you think about it, this is his senior year. So after this January, he’s going to be gone. So I’m going to have two years here by myself, and if I would have came to a college just because of my brother, he would have to be pretty much my age. Because I’m going to be here alone while he’s gone.”
Neither did father pressure James to stay at home, he said.
“He pretty much let me do what I wanted to do,” James Daniels said at Iowa’s media day in his first extended interviews since hitting campus last summer. “He realized that he wasn’t going to college, but I was going to college. That was his thinking.”
The Daniels brothers are sharing living quarters with offensive lineman Boone Myers and cornerback Michael Ojemudia. And LeShun’s dog, Mocha.
James is proud to say that LeShun lets him babysit Mocha whenever he goes out of town with his girlfriend. That’s a sign of trust, James said, not an indication that big brother is giving him chores.
“He’s never bossed me around,” James Daniels said.
LeShun had a slightly different take.
“I’m kind of just giving him orders,” LeShun said. “He didn’t even really watch her, really. He just kind of like threw her on the leash outside and kind of let her run around. But I mean, yeah, I guess I’m kind of trusting him, thinking that he’s going to do an all right job, feed her and give her water. I guess it’s somewhat of a compliment. That’s all I really needed him to do.”
The Iowa running back is already entering his final season.
Away from football and studies, the brothers love to battle at the FIFA soccer video game series. LeShun is a much bigger fan, James acknowledged, but he claimed the two each win about half of their matches.
“I have more talent,” James said with his ever-present smile, “but he plays fundamentally sound, and that’s what gets me beat.”
Again, big brother begged to differ.
“I probably win about 95 percent of the time,” LeShun said. “You can pull up the record on my PlayStation. … Don’t let him lie to you. I’m probably the best FIFA player, easy.”
Such good-natured exchanges aside, the Daniels brothers both say they are thrilled to be able to play big-time college football together, at least for two years. They know they’ll still be talking about these memories decades from now.
James credited LeShun with taking him under his wing when he arrived at Iowa and helping him ease into the life of a college student and athlete.
“He really told me how to balance my schedule,” said James, a biology major. “He would tell me that even if you have 6 o’clock workouts, you’re still going to have to go to class. You’re still going to have to work hard in workouts. You’re going to have to hydrate, all those little things. Make sure you get eight hours of sleep every day.”
LeShun was impressed that his little brother was able to earn playing time right away, becoming one of only four true freshmen who saw action last season as Iowa went 12-2.
“I’ve just got to give him plenty of credit,” LeShun said. “He came here and he worked his butt off to get on the field, and the coaches obviously trusted him enough to put him out there.”
James said he was expecting to redshirt his first season. But the 6-foot-4, 295-pounder was too talented to ignore. A natural center, he adapted to every challenge, even starting at left guard in Iowa’s Rose Bowl loss. Offseason surgery kept him out of spring practices, however, and he entered the summer as the listed starter at right guard.
On Saturday, with center Sean Welsh limited by a minor injury, Daniels started at that position during the Hawkeyes’ Kids Day scrimmage. He made a powerful impression, and coach Kirk Ferentz conceded afterward that both Daniels and Welsh have made strong cases to be the starting center. The other will line up at guard.
James Daniels downplayed his athletic ability, the one topic he was hesitant to broach, when asked about it at media day.
“I think being a decent athlete and being decently strong, and I can learn quickly. Those three things helped me play my freshman year,” he said. “I’m not as good as I think I am or as good as you guys think I am.
"Nobody’s that good.”
Daniels laughed again as more reporters gathered around him. Now a sophomore, he’s free to talk, and it looks as if the Daniels Show is destined for a candid three-year run.