Mike Daniels has quietly emerged as another in a long line of diamond in the rough success stories that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has produced in his 11-plus seasons at Iowa.
The 6-foot-1, 275 pound junior was largely ignored by most schools coming out of high school in New Jersey. He was likely headed to Villanova, a school known more for it's basketball prowess than gridiron success.
But things all changed for Daniels with one phone call.
It came from Ferentz who liked what he saw after viewing a highlight tape of Daniels one cold January day.
"A couple guys looked at it and it got passed on to me and the obvious question is why isn't this guy being recruited?" Ferentz recalled last Tuesday.
"But my Kodak moment with him was calling him - I called him on a Sunday, he was driving back from his official visit at Villanova and we asked him if he would be interested in coming out to take a look at our campus, we liked what we saw on tape and thought he was a good football player and for whatever reason he wasn't being recruited by any BCS schools and I think he was getting ready to go to Villanova."
He was, at least until that fateful call.
"That was a really big shocker," Daniels said. "Such a great program, and getting a call from somebody as legendary as Coach Ferentz asking you if you'd like to come play for him.
"It was great. A very great thing."
Ferentz speculated that Daniels' size was a likely deterrent for others. It's the same knock that has helped the Hawks land players like Bob Sanders.
Undersized and underappreciated are two of the most popular chips to wear on the shoulders of an Iowa football player and Daniels sported both when he arrived in Iowa City.
He spent the majority of his first three years on campus getting acclimated to the college game, breaking in on special teams in 2008 and working his way onto the depth chart last season.
There were hints of what was to come when Ferentz continually mentioned Daniels in the weeks leading into the season.
"Coming out of spring football we felt like he was right there with the other four guys," Ferentz said. "That's not coach talk. In our minds he was a starter just like the other four guys."
The other four guys are Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Broderick Binns and Karl Klug, arguably the best defensive line the Hawkeyes have fielded.
While others may have looked ad the depth chart and started filing transfer papers, Daniels went to work in the weight room - where he leads the team in the bench press at 470 pounds - and on the practice field. It's paid off so far in 2010 as he's second in the Big Ten and 13th nationally in tackles for loss with 7.5. He was named the National Defensive Player of the Week and Lineman of the Week for his work against Ball State which included four tackles for a loss as well as a sack.
Critics will argue that Daniels has looked so good because opponents are focusing on Clayborn. That may be the case but you still have to execute when given the opportunity and for the most part that's what Daniels has done.
"He's, I don't want to say self-made, but he really has worked hard to become a very good player," Ferentz said.
And he'll continue working hard.
"Weight room, classroom, whatever I have to do I try to go as hard as I possibly can," Daniels said Saturday.