DeKALB – Akeem Daniels was supposed to be a big part of the 2013 Huskie football team.
However, those plans changed when Daniels had to undergo foot surgery in July.
He never got healthy enough to get on the field last season, and eventually Daniels, who played as a true freshman in 2010, took a redshirt year.
This spring, Daniels is working his way back, and his practice reps have increased as the spring has gone on. He’ll compete in the Huskie Bowl on April 19 to close out spring practice.
He’s not fully healthy yet, but said he will be by fall camp, when Daniels’ fifth season will begin.
“It was hard,” Daniels said of the 2013 season. “It was like your girlfriend was sitting in front of you but there was a glass mirror just keeping you from getting to her. It was a difficult process. For every negative there’s a positive. I took a lot of positives out of it.”
Daniels said he used the time off the field to learn to get in touch with the mental aspect of the game from watching film – things like keeping his shoulders square and looking for the first vertical cut.
He also became more of a coach as well.
“I think he’s stronger and a little faster. He’s got better vision right now than I’ve seen from him,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “Sometimes perspective is a beautiful thing. You sit back and see things that, when you’re in [the game] you can’t. I think he’s really taken that perspective to the field.”
Daniels said he injured his foot during the 2012 Mid-American Conference Championship game against Kent State. He said he didn’t really feel it until the next day, and was not 100 percent for the Orange Bowl, where he only had three carries for 15 yards.
Daniels sat out last spring and had surgery in July to try and play his senior year. He would end up having another surgery in January, but has been on the field all spring and is taking part in full workouts.
Carey said the decision to have Daniels use a redshirt year was made around when conference play began, saying the tailback’s rehab just wasn’t where it needed to be.
“If we were at the same point when we made the decision and his rehab was close to being finished, we probably would have played him,” Carey said. “His rehab wasn’t at that point where we could. That’s really where we made the decision.”