Iowa Football

"Dork" Mike Daniels is anything but one

Pro Bowler/former Hawkeye is subject of documentary

Mike Daniels is one cool nerd.

The former Iowa Hawkeye defensive end from New Jersey played in the NFL’s Pro Bowl last season, his seventh with the Green Bay Packers. He had five quarterback sacks last year, and has 27 in his career. OK, those are no small things.

But here’s where Daniels stands out:

“He has a platform to show the world it’s OK to be you,” said Mike Saenz, Daniels’ best friend. “The fact that’s the message he’s just trying to show everybody — ‘You be you. It’s all right. It’s OK. You’re good enough.’ — I can’t ask for a much-better brother than that.”

That comment came from the just-released 11-minute documentary about Daniels by entertainment website Crunchyroll called “He Was Anime.”

Animé is computer animation. It originated in Japan. Daniels was hooked on watching animé long before he became a football player, and is happy to let the world know it.

“I’m a huge animé fan first,” Daniels said in the film, “and a football player second.”

If you put “Mike Daniels” and “animé” in a search engine, you get all sorts of results. Daniels appeared at San Diego’s Comic-Con — one of America’s largest “nerd” conventions, as Raikage, a powerful village leader from an animation series.

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Did we know who Daniels was when he lettered for Iowa from 2009 to 2011 and propelled himself into the fourth round of the ’11 NFL Draft? I sure didn’t. What I knew is he was a fun-to-watch player with serious skills and athleticism who seemed somewhat uneasy in interview sessions.

He’s rather animated himself today. He’s a fairly gregarious, comfortable-in-his-own-skin genuine pro football star.

Daniels and his wife, Heaven, are prominent in Green Bay’s community in being involved in charitable causes.

As people have gotten to know his priorities and personality, Daniels has become all the more popular in Packerland.

This documentary should only enhance that. Crunchyroll is primarily an animé streaming service. Its video about Daniels is a pretty good insight into him, with his love for animé a way to get to it.

“I love to compete,” Daniels says in the film. “I love to slam people around and I love to go out there and pretend I’m a Super Saiyan (a Dragon Ball character) because they can’t stop me.”

That’s the football warrior side of him, which includes him discussing how he tries to give himself more of a challenge in workouts than any opponent can give him on a football field. But the part that may resonate with more people is Daniels describing himself as a dork as a child and getting ostracized for being one.

“I did not fit in as a kid at all,” he said. “I was different, is the best way to put it.

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“I dealt with a significant amount of bullying. For the longest time, I didn’t understand it, I really didn’t. ‘Why does everybody treat me like crap? Why is everybody just mean to me? Why are people trying to take my lunch money? Why are people hitting me upside the head for no reason? Why are people trying to push me in the mud?’ Doing all types of stuff.”

Daniels said the reason he was led to sports is because he came home from school crying one day and his father said “All right, I’m going to toughen you up,” and directed him toward wrestling, and then football and baseball.

His athletic prowess grew. Eventually, someone in school told him he was a nerd with muscles.

“Precisely!” Daniels said in the film, with a laugh. “I’m a dork with muscles, baby, and there’s nothing you can do about it because I’ll put YOU in the locker!

“I’ll never forget that because I think it’s hilarious.”

A sense of humor, a heart, and someone who shows people it’s all right to be who they are. Hawkeye football has a real good representative in Wisconsin.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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