CEDAR FALLS — Whether it’s the head coach or a position coach, the COVID-19 pandemic provoked plenty of day-to-day changes for the Northern Iowa football staff.
Running backs coach Nick Danielson, who’s entering his fifth year on Mark Farley’s staff, said the quarantine we all have endured made him realize the particular part of his job that brings him the most satisfaction.
“Honestly, what the (quarantine) did the most, is it re-energized me to realize why I love coaching by taking away the best part of my job — my day-to-day interactions with our players,” Danielson said.
While the pandemic has sharpened Danielson’s Zoom skills, it’s not hard to understand his eagerness to get back to hands-on teaching.
UNI struggled to run the ball in 2019, finishing eighth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in yards per game while having none of its ball-carriers eclipse the 700-yard mark.
Headed into this 2020 season, the Panthers have added a promising transfer from Kansas in Dom Williams. The addition of Kansas City product Jaylin Richardson — an early enrollee — in their 2019 recruiting class also is another back Farley intimated on signing day could possibly contribute this fall.
Danielson offered praise for both, pointing out how driven Williams is and how Richardson looked older than his years during the short time he was on campus before the pandemic shut down the university.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“Dom is hungry and he’s got something to prove,” Danielson said. “He takes football very, very seriously. He loves (football). After all of our Zoom meetings it seems like I’m getting a text from him that night that he wants to watch the (film) cut up again or he wants to pick my brain. He wants to come in and prove kind of what he wasn’t able to do his last season at Kansas.
“(Richardson) didn’t come in too wide-eyed for being really what should have been a high school senior jumping right into a college (weight) lifting program. We threw him right into the wolves. (Richardson) was at least able to get acclimated to our winter workouts. He made leaps and strides through the months when we got to work with him in February and the early part of March. We’re excited to get him into pads.”
A few things in particular are giving Danielson confidence the Panthers will be able to make the necessary improvements on the ground this season.
“(The running game) was a big focus of ours leading up into the shutdown,” Danielson said. “Then, the Zoom meetings we’ve been having as a staff since the shutdown have been, ‘what were our problems last year?’ ‘How do we fix, and/or, address those (problems) or change to address those (problems)?’ Fact of the matter is we have to get better. It’s time to create some explosive offense through the run game.”
He also pointed out that while he and the rest of the offensive staff continue to believe in regularly giving multiple backs snaps in every game, their ultimate goal is to have one runner produce enough to make it hard for other ball-carriers to get on the field.
“The way we talk in our room, in all honesty, is the goal of each running back is to keep the other running backs off the field because you’re getting into a groove,” Danielson said. “Now, we all know we’re hopefully going to get through a game and play three or four guys and keep everybody fresh, (but) the goal at tailback is to be running so hard and so violently that coaches don’t want to take you off the field besides to give you a quick break for water.”