New England Patriots national scout DuJuan Daniels, the 1997 Mr. Football from Bishop Chatard, who has overcome hurdles in his life to get to where he is, has a bright future. Daniels, shown with his mother, Catherine Legg, on Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015, lives in Indianapolis and has taken care of his family. The only national scout for the Patriots, Daniels will be at the NFL combine looking for future players for New England.
Before he won IndyStar’s Mr. Football in 1997, DuJuan Daniels said he was going to win IndyStar’s Mr. Football in 1997. Did more than say it, really. He walked into Bishop Chatard coach Craig Barr’s office, put a piece of paper on Barr’s desk and watched while his coach read it.
“I’m thinking, ‘Mr. Football? I like the initiative, but that’s a pretty lofty goal,'” Barr says 17 years later, now the coach at Madison-Grant High. “He was really good as a junior, but wasn’t great. But once he made that goal, he did all the things he needed to attain it. He became a workaholic. He had a plan.”
It’s what DuJuan Daniels does. He sets a goal. He shares that goal with others. Has a plan. Makes it happen.
Again. And again.
This isn’t just a football thing, though football took him to Boston College on a scholarship, brought him back to Indianapolis as a high school coach, then took him to the Super Bowl as a scout with the New England Patriots. Those are other goals he set for himself: Scholarship. Coach. NFL. Super Bowl. Done.
Daniels travels the country for the Patriots as their national scout, and will join the rest of New England’s front office in Indianapolis this week for the NFL Scouting Combine. He has climbed the ladder of one of the best, most unyielding organizations in sports – “Do your job isn’t just a saying around here,” Daniels says, “and I can’t stress that enough” – and this is where he sits at the moment. He started as an intern, became an area scout, then regional. Today, national. Tomorrow?
“My ultimate goal is to be a GM,” says Daniels, 35. “I would never want to work with guys that wouldn’t want to be general managers. I wouldn’t want to work with a coach who doesn’t want to be a head coach. And that’s my goal – be a GM.”
Bet against DuJuan Daniels? Only if you like to lose – because this guy wins. Other goals he set, some in high school, some earlier: Become the first member of his family to go to college. Graduate. Get a master’s.
Help his mom open a restaurant in Indianapolis.
Some goals take longer than others.
Daniels is more accomplished as a scout than a player, and he was fairly accomplished on the field. At Bishop Chatard he ran for 2,509 yards and scored 42 touchdowns to help win the 1997 state championship. At Boston College he started as a freshman at cornerback, intercepted two passes, then was moved to receiver and kickoff returns as a sophomore. His first catch was a 65-yard score. His first kickoff return? Gone. Touchdown. This one 100 yards.
But he has gone farther as a scout, and this is how DuJuan Daniels, NFL scout, sizes up 5-10, 175-pound DuJuan Daniels, college player:
“Smart,” he says. “Tough. Team player.”
That’s nice, I tell him. Tell me something negative.
“Small,” he says, and he laughs. “It’s a big man’s game.”
That’s it? Small?
“I’d say durability obviously is a negative.”
Right. Durability. Daniels never played a full season at Boston College and redshirted his fourth year after blowing out his knee in 2000 against Notre Dame. Before the injury he had been clocked in 10.68 seconds for 100 meters. After?
“I couldn’t move,” he says. “I wasn’t good anymore. But I said: I’m still going to the NFL – just got to find another way to stick. But I’m going. I know I’m going.”
Daniels redshirted and used that fifth season at Boston College to cross another goal off his list, getting his master’s in higher education administration. He dreamed of the NFL, but at age 23 he returned to Indianapolis to work as a guidance counselor and offensive coordinator at Cathedral from 2004-06. He met his wife, a Lawrence North graduate named Natalie Sackman.
“She was with me before the NFL,” Daniels says. “She’s been through long days and no pay.”
Then his phone rang.
You never know what will matter. In high school Daniels went to Notre Dame’s football camp. He made friends with a safety from Brooklyn named Brian Flores. What did it matter? Pretty soon they were lockering next to each other at Boston College.
What did that matter?
Brian Flores didn’t play much for two years. One day he told the guy at the next locker that he was going home.
“Just stay one more practice,” Daniels told him.
Flores was moved to linebacker the next day. He started as a junior, led the team in tackles as a senior, parlayed that into a job in New England’s scouting department. And in 2006 when the Patriots moved him to coach and asked him for a replacement, Flores recommended his old BC teammate. Daniels was hired a few days later.
“Loaded up the Grand Cherokee and drove back to New England,” Daniels says.
It wasn’t as easy as that. He was leaving behind family members who had sacrificed for him, who needed him.
“We told him it was OK,” says his mom, Catherine Legg. “We told him: Go.”
A college recruiter hot on the trail of DuJuan Daniels in 1997 asked Chatard coach Craig Barr, “Who’s going to make his college decision?”
“His mother and me,” Barr said then.
“That’s how close I felt to the family,” Barr says now.
On the day Daniels was to marry Sackman, Barr got a text message from him that morning:
“How does it feel to have your son getting married?”
Barr knew the sweet side, the competitive side, the winning side of Daniels. He knew Mr. Football. He didn’t know Mr. Bedpan.
“Never knew about that,” Barr tells me.
Minnie Legg knew. Minnie was Catherine’s mother – DuJuan’s grandmother – and since the mid-1990s she was bedridden with chronic arthritis. She was a candidate for a nursing home, but not Catherine Legg’s mom. No nursing home for her.
“We took care of her for years,” Catherine says of her mother, who died in 2009. “It was just a circle we formed. Me, my sister Linda, Linda’s kids, my kids (DuJuan and his sister, Raquel). We had a schedule set up. DuJuan was part of that.”
DuJuan never told his high school coach or teammates, but his time on Minnie’s schedule was lunch. He didn’t live far from Bishop Chatard, so he walked home, took care of his grandmother’s toilet needs, made her lunch, then went back to school. Every day. For years.
“We’re really deep about family,” Catherine says.
This deep: As a national scout Daniels can live wherever he wants, and in 2011 he bought a home on the northeast side of Indianapolis, near the house where he grew up, where his mom still lives and where his father, Gary Daniels, was a bricklayer by day and a Pee Wee football coach in the evening.
And this deep: His sister Raquel could have gone away to college too, but with DuJuan at Boston College somebody had to replace those bathroom breaks for Minnie, those lunch-time meals. So Raquel stayed home. For her grandmother, yes, but for her brother too. Today she’s a dental assistant, doing just fine.
In those days DuJuan’s mom managed a Kentucky Fried Chicken. All her life, she worked two jobs: At Subway, where she started as a teenager and was managing the store by age 19, and then at KFC. There she worked alongside her sister and their children, including DuJuan, who worked Sundays.
For years Linda and Catherine Legg talked of getting out of the fast-food business and selling their own meals, the meatloaf and ribs and sweet potato pie passed down from Minnie. DuJuan Daniels was in sixth grade when he told his mom and his aunt, “You’re gonna have a restaurant, and I’m gonna help.”
Took some time, but in 2014 he created a marketing plan, represented the family before John H. Boner Center board members and assured them his mother and aunt had a plan that would succeed. Sisters Comfort Food opened on East 10th Street on Aug. 8.
“DuJuan’s a great kid,” Catherine told me this weekend from her restaurant. “Smart in a lot of ways. This was a dream for me and my sister for years, but without him I’m still at Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
That was August. In January the Patriots beat the Colts in the AFC title game, advanced to the Super Bowl, beat the Seahawks. If you watch highlights of the Patriots sideline before the game-deciding play, you’ll see the safeties coach screaming to Malcolm Butler, “Get in there!”
The assistant was Brian Flores, DuJuan Daniels’ friend since Notre Dame football camp. Butler got in there, intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line, and the Patriots won Super Bowl 49.
“I’m so happy for my son,” Catherine Legg says. “He always dreamed of a Super Bowl. So that’s one rung down. He’s got to go to the next step.”
Next step? What’s past the Super Bowl?
“He’s got one more step to go,” she says, “but I won’t say if he didn’t tell you.”
He did tell me he wants to be an NFL general manager.
“Well there you go,” says DuJuan Daniels’ mother. “And do not underestimate him.”
Find Star columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at http://www.facebook.com/gregg.doyel