Wesley notebook: Daniel finds his place in the middle

DOVER — In a perfect world, Dante Daniel wouldn’t be a middle linebacker.

Relatively speaking, at 6-foot and under 200 pounds, the Wesley College junior is just too small.

But Wolverines’ coach Chip Knapp feels like he could play Daniel just about anywhere on the field and he’d find a way to get the job done.

Dante Daniel

“He’s a football player,” said Knapp. “He’s just a great team player. He’ll do whatever we ask him to do. If we put him on of-fense, he’d be happy doing that, I bet.”

Wesley, though, is pretty happy with Daniel at middle linebacker.

He was just named the NJAC Defensive Player of the Week after recording 12 tackles and an interception in the Wolverines’ 24-18, four-overtime upset of No. 13 Delaware Valley on Saturday.

Knapp, whose No. 15-ranked Wolverines (2-0) go to Massachusetts to face Endicott (2-0) on Saturday at noon, says there was a noticeable improvement in Wesley’s defense part way through last season when Daniel moved from the outside to the middle.
He collected 17 tackles in a game against Montclair State after making the move.

“When Dante got in there, the production level skyrocketed,” said Knapp. “He was making double-digit tackles when he got to that position — and that’s what we needed.

“The thing about Dante is, from the first stretch of practice until the end of practice, he’s got laser focus. Coaches describe him as a ‘soldier.’ He does everything we ask him to do. He’s a great role model for the other players around him. We’re lucky to have a guy like Dante.”

Daniel, who has a 3.3 GPA as a criminal justice major in the classroom, wants to become a state trooper in his home state of New Jersey when he’s done playing football.

He said the challenge of moving to middle linebacker in the middle of last season didn’t faze him. In high school, Daniel said he played a few different positions on defense.

“I was moved around all the time,” he said. “So I’m used to being in different positions. Here at Wesley, I felt I could help the team by being inside and the coaches agreed.

“I felt very comfortable. I love being in the trenches. … Size is never a problem, no matter how big the linemen are. The only challenge was learning the inside calls. It was a little more difficult to pick up. But a lot of practice and a lot of film time helped me develop that.”

Of course all the Wolverines had some learning to do last season under new defensive coordinator Joe Bottiglieri.

But Daniel said there’s a big difference playing a second season under the veteran coach. Wesley has only allowed three points in regulation during its first two games.

Going back to last season, the Wolverines have surrendered more than 14 points in just three of their last 13 games in regulation.
“Coach Bot is a very unique coach in the sense that he connects well with players — especially knowing situations,” said Daniel. “He’s a great person to talk to. He’s impacted a lot of us on the team.

“I believe that we’re all on the same page. We all have the same goals, the same message. … The transition to a new coach is always the dif-ficult part — understanding his viewpoint, seeing what he sees, is kind of the challenge. But I believe that, as long as you’re focused and eve-rybody’s on the same page, I think we’re going to do just fine.”

Daniel leads Wesley with 17 tackles in the first two games. Knapp knows that playing middle linebacker is a lot more challenging physically than being on the outside.

While he wishes Daniel were bigger, Knapp said the middle seems to be where he belongs.

“You take a beating in there,” said Knapp. “We’ve got to keep him healthy. He doesn’t have any fat on him — he’s pure muscle. … The way he can hold up physically as tough as he plays is a little bit of a concern. But so far, so good.”

Overtime lessons

Winning an overtime game early in the season was a great learning experience for the Wolverines.

The fact that the DelVal contest went four OTs meant that Wesley’s players had to execute on a number of do-or-die plays to pull off the victory.

“We told the team it was a playoff atmosphere, a playoff-type game, the competition level — everything about it,” said Knapp. “The great thing is we kept our poise throughout the overtime. There was no sense of panic, we just executed.

“It was a real testament to our guys and their confidence level and the type of players they are. They can handle the pressure.”

Extra points

First-year starting quarterback Dave Marrocco is 29-of-52 for 363 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions so far. … Senior running back E.J. Lee is averaging 89 yards per game. … After Saturday’s game, Wesley doesn’t play again until Oct. 5 when it hosts Rowan in its home and NJAC opener.

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