by Sam Chandler
Following his lead
Two activities consume the majority of C.D. Daniels’ thoughts: watching film and making plays.
His devotion to one has enabled him to excel at the other.
Daniels, a 6-foot-3 senior cornerback at Homewood High School, has hawked 11 interceptions over the course of his two-year varsity career, just seven short of the Patriots’ all-time record. A University of Memphis commit, he enters the fall as one of the area’s top players, and a Homewood squad with playoff aspirations will be counting on him.
“C.D. is our team leader, our team captain,” Patriots head coach Ben Berguson said. “He’s everything, and our whole team kind of rallies around him.”
C.D. is short for CarDamien, Daniels’ first name that has long been traded for its more efficient abbreviation. The attention-grabbing initials match his athletic personality.
Daniels plays with charisma and swagger, and he’s not afraid to turn up the volume. He’s the hype man in the pre-game tunnel. On the field, he’ll chirp.
“If I’m trying to get in somebody’s head, I’m going to talk,” said Daniels, grinning through red braces one summer morning. “I’m going to have a little fun with it, get my teammates excited.”
But his play backs up his provocation, and he has a steady diet of film to thank. Daniels spends time each day — both in and out of season — studying game footage.
Routinely, he alternates between dissecting the tendencies of his opponents and analyzing the movements of players he admires. One defensive back he views frequently is Vernon Hargreaves III, the cornerback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who starred at the University of Florida.
Daniels identifies with the former Gator, who recorded 10 picks during his time in Gainesville.
“He makes plays just like me,” Daniels said. “I try to be around the ball all the time.”
College coaches haven’t been able to resist Daniels’ own tape. Before committing to Memphis in July, he had fi elded 13 offers from schools across the Southeast.
“If I’m trying to get in somebody’s head, I’m going to talk. I’m going to have a little fun with it, get my teammates excited.”
The extensive list was scrawled across a whiteboard in Berguson’s offi ce, and it included the likes of UAB, Tulane and Mississippi State.
The flurry of college interest didn’t surprise Berguson, who saw Daniels’ potential from the time he stepped on the fi eld two seasons ago. In his first varsity start, he recorded a pick-six to key a win over Decatur.
C.D. scored a TD.
“He was phenomenal as a sophomore, and we knew we had a big-time player on our hands,” Berguson said. “He’s long and rangy and can run. He’s just gifted.”
Many traits set Daniels apart, but his aforementioned length is one of the most conspicuous. There are few corners of equal size — and even fewer with equal ability. Daniels, who transitioned from safety to corner last season, can control his hips in coverage and blanket opposing wide receivers.
When he recognizes a route, he pounces.
“Basically, I see what’s going to happen,” Daniels said, “like my instincts just take over and I make a play.”
The corner intercepted seven passes last fall, up three from his sophomore year, and will almost certainly add to that total this season. But his impact won’t be limited to one side of the ball.
Daniels also will serve as a return man on special teams and, at times, line up at wide receiver.
“He’s just so athletic,” Berguson said. “He’s like a gazelle once he gets the ball.”
Daniels’ overall growth as a player has correlated to his growth as a leader. Jaden Alexander, a Homewood junior cornerback, noticed the transformation begin last season when Daniels filled a leadership vacuum created by a lack of returning depth in the secondary.
Opportunity beckoned. Daniels answered.
“He’s just like a dynamic player with tremendous playmaking ability,” Alexander said. “You can follow his lead.”
Daniels is aware of his position in the locker room, and he said he tries to set an example through his actions and words. If one of his teammates is down, he’ll pick them up. Similarly, a smart play by a fellow Patriot elicits a slap on the pads and a token of verbal encouragement from their vocal teammate.
Daniels’ performance has given him this platform. His play has spoken for itself.
“I have a lot of offers, and I think people look up to me more,” Daniels said, “so I’ve got to lead the way.”
This fall, he plans to continue setting the tone. He has been studying film and envisioning picks, exercises meant to prepare him for the fi nal chapter of his high school career.
He’ll be chasing a record. He’ll be guiding a team. But more than anything, he’ll be focused on making the next play.
“I’ll be in the zone,” Daniels said. “There ain’t nothing like a Friday night.”