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IOWA CITY — James Daniels wasn’t super talkative on Tuesday at Iowa’s weekly media availability. He was focused ahead, on the Hawkeyes’ upcoming matchup with Northwestern for Homecoming on Saturday.
But in response to a question about how he’s recovered from surgery for a partially torn meniscus, what seemed like a nonchalant mention of an old friend from high school’s much worse circumstances revealed quite a bit about the 19-year-old’s perspective on life.
“For my knee, I can’t really complain about it because the day before I hurt my knee, one of my friends back home, one of my teammates, he got shot in his head,” Daniels said. “So I’d rather have surgery to get my knee fixed than get surgery to get a bullet out of my head. I can’t complain about it.”
Daniels, who along with his brother LeShun Daniels Jr. played at Harding High School in Warren, Ohio, was referring to former teammate Elijah Cofield. Cofield was shot on Sept. 7 and rushed to Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren to have the aforementioned surgery. James said Tuesday Cofield is “doing fine now.”
The Hawkeyes’ starting center also downplayed the impact his friend’s situation had on him, saying simply, “it really doesn’t change me at all.”
Maybe that’s because who he is as a person and how he was raised put him in a position to be able to cope with dire circumstances — his own or someone else’s — and be able to keep a level head.
His brother, who knows Cofield, just not as well as James does, said the shooting was a big deal for everyone back home and James’ perspective on it reflects how he feels, too. LeShun even related it to Matt VandeBerg’s injured foot — though with the caveat of seriousness of injury tossed in there, to be sure.
“It says that (he knows) you can’t take anything for granted,” LeShun said. “You’re going out in practice or in lifting sessions, that you’re giving it your all so that on Saturdays you’re not wasting any reps. You only get so many opportunities, and they can get taken away from you just like that. That’s the perspective he has on it and a lot of us have on it.”
The Daniels brothers’ view and the maturity with which they’ve handled all manner of injuries can be traced back to youth.
Their high school coach at Harding, Steven Arnold, had LeShun for his senior year and James for his last three years of high school. In a phone interview with The Gazette on Tuesday, Arnold said how their parents, LeShun Sr. and Alice, raised them has a lot to do with that.
It’s always gratifying for a former coach to see success on the field in former players, but in hearing what James had to say about Cofield’s situation, Arnold was even more proud of his former lineman. Arnold said James’ maturation took him from a young man who didn’t have the best work ethic to someone who could be special and didn’t want to waste a chance.
A mindset like that is about all you can ask for, he said.
“James’ perspective on life (is), when you talk about having a former teammate shot in the head, and James is going through knee surgery — that tells you how precious life is,” Arnold said. “He’s going for surgery and a former teammate is getting a bullet removed from his head. James keeps everything in perspective. That’s James.”
Add Kirk Ferentz to the list of people proud to hear James Daniels’ take on his friend’s surgery.
In Ferentz’s now 18 years at the helm of the Iowa program, he’s encouraged players to find perspective in a few different ways — notably, visiting the children’s hospital across the street from Kinnick Stadium and other patients at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
Ferentz even alluded to the flooding in Cedar Rapids in an effort to make the point that while football injuries like James’ or VandeBerg’s are difficult to deal with, they’re not as dire as they can be made out to be. James saying what he said about his friend was the perfect example.
“We can all cry about things, geez, my coffee is too cold or it’s not the right brand or whatever. We’ve all got a pretty good deal here,” Ferentz said. “I’d much rather be trying to get ready for a game, make a couple first downs or stop a couple as opposed to sandbagging (for the flood).
“I always try to remind our players all the time that we all do this, A, because we choose to, and secondly, because we’re able to. We’re pretty lucky. We’re playing games as opposed to some things that could be really serious.”
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
Iowa may have been dealt a blow with the Matt VandeBerg news, but they did get a few backups and role players back to practice this week, coming off injuries.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday running back Derrick Mitchell is back practicing and that “(Monday) and (Tuesday) he practiced full speed but in the backfield.” Mitchell’s presence in pass protection has been something Iowa has missed while he’s been out.
Wide receiver Jonathan Parker is also back full speed. Ferentz said, “(Parker) got a lot of good work in last week, but it’s been a gradual progression, and hopefully he’ll be able to be with us sooner than later.”
Additionally, Ferentz said defensive lineman Michael Slater and tight end Jon Wisnieski are back practicing. Ferentz added defensive lineman Jake Hulett is “out of his cast, but he’s still weeks away from actually being able to do something here.”
CAPTAINS STAY THE SAME
A week ago, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz caught people’s attention with a change in captains for the Rutgers game, notably because cornerback Desmond King was no longer among them.
Ferentz announced Tuesday at his weekly availability the captains for the Northwestern game would remain quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back LeShun Daniels, linebacker Josey Jewell and wide receiver Matt VandeBerg, who stays despite his foot injury.
Ferentz said last week there was no specific reason for the change.
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