Wittenberg football: Lineman back after 6 years

Finances forced South grad Daniels to leave, but after serving in the National Guard, he’s playing again.

Next game

Who: Washington (Mo.) at Wittenberg

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Edwards-Maurer Field

Radio: 89.1-WUSO

SPRINGFIELD — Life doesn’t provide too many second chances such as the one Jonathan Daniels has seized. In the 118 years of Wittenberg University football, has any player returned to the Tigers after missing five seasons? Maybe not.

The 24-year-old Daniels has, however. Six years ago, fresh out of South High School, he appeared in two games for the Tigers. This year, he has four tackles in the first two games for the No. 6 Tigers (2-0). In between, he served in the National Guard. He spent a year in Kuwait, supporting the troops in Iraq.

Much has changed since Daniels first wore the red and white.

“There’s a core group of guys that are just here to work hard,” said Daniels, a backup defensive lineman. “Coming off last year, they’re really hungry. I don’t know if we had that same hunger the last time I was here as a team.”

Daniels entered Wittenberg with the class that included B.J. Coad, who finished his career in 2007 and has been an assistant coach ever since. That 2004 team finished 7-3. After the season, Daniels ran into financial trouble. He couldn’t afford to attend Wittenberg, so he got a job, and in November 2005, he joined the National Guard.

“It was almost a bit shameful to think about me leaving Wittenberg,” Daniels said. “It was like quitting. A lot of people wouldn’t call it that because of the family situation, but to me it was walking away from something.”

In the back of his mind, Daniels never gave up on returning to Wittenberg. A week after the Tigers lost to Wisconsin-Whitewater in the 2009 playoffs, he e-mailed head coach Joe Fincham and set up a meeting. Fincham welcomed him back. This summer, throwing on the pads again for the first time, Daniels wondered how his body would hold up.

“My neck’s a little sore from getting back in the groove of things,” Daniels said. “It’s kind of what I remember. The tempo is higher than what it used to be. The intensity, everyone hooting and hollering from start to finish, I don’t know if we had that when I was first here.”

In 2004, Daniels also didn’t have the young fan club he’s got now. His son Julian, 3, and daughter Madison, 2, have watched him play.

“After my first game, I took Julian out on the field afterward,” Daniels said. “It was amazing getting him out on the field, throwing the ball with him. Over the summer, we’d run gassers together. My little girl doesn’t like running too much. She just hung out and watched.”

Daniels’ family is just as thrilled to see him playing again.

“It’s special to me to see how excited they are,” he said. “It’s like I’ve revived my youth coming back here.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0351 or djablonski@coxohio.com.

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