Oct. 17, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – When Armonze Daniel saw 10 of his fellow 2011 Marshall football recruits playing as true freshmen last season, to say the Rivals four-star prospect from Indiana was disheartened would be an understatement.
Now, it seems Daniel is making up for lost time.
Daniel was looked upon by many as the signature defensive “get” in February 2011 for Coach Doc Holliday’s second season. Then, Daniel was redshirted, and the true freshman who emerged most on the Thundering Herd defense was middle linebacker Jermaine Holmes, who made eight starts.
“It feels great to get out there as much as I have lately,” Daniel said Monday. “At first it bothered me last year. I was really disappointed, but for me it was definitely big transition from high school to college football.
“I was disappointed when I was redshirted but all in all, it turned out to be a good thing, and a lot of people say that. The biggest thing I learned is how to play the game and what type approach to take to play at this level. And it’s a big step.”
When the Herd (2-4, 1-1) meets its first Conference USA East Division foe of the season in a Saturday night game at Southern Mississippi (0-6, 0-2), Daniel will be among about an eight-man rotation that Marshall defensive line coach J.C. Price rolls into game reps.
Daniel and Ra’Shawde Myers are backups to starter Alex Bazzie at defensive end or rush linebacker – “It’s kind of called a ‘hybrid’ by some people,” Daniel said. And the 6-foot-3, 235-pound redshirt freshman from Avon, Ind., has been getting increasing playing time since Marshall’s Sept. 22 double overtime win at Rice.
“I think he’s starting to make plays, starting to get comfortable, and I think Armonze is going to be a really good player,” Holliday said Tuesday. “I think what happens at times is kids develop at different rates.
“He’s a young guy who was redshirted, he’s playing a different position and his progress is very good. It’s all confidence. The college level took him a little longer, and some of it is based on need, too. Some of those freshmen last year had to play.”
Daniel didn’t. The Herd didn’t need a rush linebacker. It had C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Vinny Curry terrorizing opposing quarterbacks from his end spot. Now, Curry is with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and Bazzie and his backups have taken over the chase.
“I was a safety and linebacker in high school,” said Daniel, whose own in-family football background brings its own off-the-edge competition. “We’re halfway through the season now, and I think the coaches are starting to feel like I can play. I’m learning more technique every day and getting more acquainted with the position.
“D-end or rush linebacker, I’ll play whatever it’s called, whatever is needed. The hardest thing has been picking up some of the defensive line technique because I hadn’t played there. I was a linebacker (the Herd moved down).
“Going against offensive linemen, the pad level, getting off blocks, using your arms, using and working with your hands … the transition to pass rush there has gotten more comfortable. The transition was a different one for me than going from safety to linebacker.”
Daniel has nine tackles in six games this season. He signed with the Herd over home-state offers from Indiana and Purdue, a couple of other Big Ten programs, and Cincinnati and Toledo. He is a rare Marshall recruit from the Hoosier State.
Daniel’s older brother, Montez Robinson, played defensive end for one season (2009) at Georgia. His younger brother, Elijah Daniel, is a high school defensive rush end in Avon.
“When it’s like that, it’s very hard not to have a little smack talk says I’m better than you,” Daniel said, “but as a family, we expect a lot as far as football goes.”
Daniel also expects much more from Southern Miss than a winless record would indicate from a program that has 18 straight winning seasons running, a number topped only in major college football by Florida State (36), Florida (25) and Virginia Tech (20).
“Southern Miss, don’t look at the record,” said Daniel, who watched last Saturday’s 38-31 UCF double overtime home win over the Golden Eagles. “When I watched them play, they didn’t look like an 0-6 team to me. I know they played a lot of tough teams (Nebraska, Boise State, Louisville included).
“What jumped out at me was how competitive they were as a unit on offense and how they wanted to win that game and played like it, but unfortunately it didn’t go that way for them.
“They didn’t look like 0-6 at all. A lot of 0-6 teams would get down on themselves, play like they were disappointed. I didn’t see that at all. The offensive line has a lot of experience and as a collective group they played to the whistle. Honestly, I’d say it’s going to be one of the better offensive lines we’ll face this year.”
The key thing for Daniel is he will be going facemask-to-facemask with those Golden Eagles, now that he’s seeing increased playing time. A few weeks ago, Holliday put into perspective why Daniel was being worked into the Herd defensive front rotation with some limitations.
"The one thing that you have to be careful of with any young player is if you try to do too much with them, you get nothing out of them.” The Marshall coach said. “We have to be careful with him and all of our guys of trying to give them too much to do because then they are thinking and not playing, and that can't happen defensively."
Daniel has passed those blocks. Now, it’s those quarterbacks he’s after.