FLOSSMOOR | Homewood-Flossmoor defensive back Will Daniels recalls the unpleasant experience of watching from the sidelines last year.
It was not because he was not good enough to be on the field. It was because a shoulder injury sidelined him. Daniels played in the Vikings' first game, injuring his shoulder on a kickoff. He did return for a playoff game, a loss to O'Fallon.
"It was horrible," Daniels said. "That was like my ninth or 10th year playing football and I felt like a piece of me was missing.
"I had to get that part of me back."
Homewood-Flossmoor coach Craig Buzea calls the 5-foot-7 Daniels the epitome of an H-F football player.
"What he lacks in physical size, Will makes up for it with great effort, preparation, desire and the biggest heart," Buzea said. "I am extremely pleased that Will was able to return after sitting out last season with an injury, and there is no doubt in my mind that we would not have been as successful as we were this season without him in our lineup.
"In short, he is a coach's dream."
Daniels is a starting defensive back this year as the Vikings (9-1) host Naperville Central (7-3) at 7 p.m. today in a Class 8A second-round playoff game.
Daniels credits the whole team for the Vikings success.
"We are like brothers and that is one of the reason we are successful," he said. "We have a saying, 'Hoka Hey!' and it means it's a great day to die."
According to the Urban Dictionary, Hoka Hey was something the legendary Sioux warrior Crazy Horse shouted going into battle.
Daniels has been successful in the classroom. He is a member of the National Honor Society and is involved with the mentoring group Victors.
"We do a lot with the younger kids and that is what I like to do," Daniels said. "I think it is important to be involved in your community. A few years ago, I looked up to (former H-F players) Tim Williams and Sheldon Jones. They were leaders on the team. It is a responsibility to be an example, a role model for the younger kids in the community."
At a Tuesday practice, Daniels and several teammates stopped to make small-talk with Junior Vikings Pop Warner team.
Daniels has 18 tackles and three interceptions and loves being on the field and said he does not even think about his injury or not going all out.
"I worry about the game and being able to make the play," Daniels said. "If you are worried about it, then you can't do your job on the field."
At 5-7, a lot of times he will be covering a receiver who is a lot taller. He does not let the size difference bother him.
"You have to put yourself in position to make plays, play smart," Daniels said. "I know if a receiver is 6-4 and they throw a high pass, I might not be able to jump as high as him, but I can be in a position to hit him when he touches the ball, knock it away.
"You have to know your position, know the situation."