Citadel’s DaSean Daniels can no longer play, but he’s still a Bulldog

Former Citadel player DaSean Daniels (left), now a student-coach, talks with fullback Evan McField during a recent practice. BRAD NETTLES/P&CStaff

Former Citadel player DaSean Daniels (left), now a student-coach, talks with fullback Evan McField during a recent practice. BRAD NETTLES/P&CStaff

Jeff Hartsell
Postandcourier.com
Aug 14 2015

It was in late spring when Citadel coach Mike Houston called DaSean Daniels into his office for the talk. Daniels, a freshman fullback from Atlanta, had collapsed during a practice on March 10, suffering from a brain aneurysm when a vein burst inside his skull. During two hours of emergency surgery, doctors at Medical University opened his skull and removed a blood clot that had formed, saving his life and leaving his football future in doubt.

The doctors kind of hinted at it and said most likely I would not be able to play,” said Daniels, who was left with a long scar tracing an arc back across the top of his head and around to the front of his ear. “But they never said for sure.”

Out of the hospital in less than two weeks, Daniels returned to class and went through The Citadel’s recognition day, when the military school’s “fourth-class system” for freshmen cadets comes to an end. But by the time Citadel players were ready for summer workouts, Houston knew that Daniels needed some closure, and some certainty on his future. “It’s something his dad and I talked about,” Houston said. “I knew DaSean kind of knew he couldn’t play again, but it was a talk we had to have. I wanted him to know he was still a part of us, and that we’d take care of him the same way as if he was playing.”

As the Bulldogs practice for their Sept. 5 opener against Davidson, Daniels is on the field with his former teammates, acting as a student-coach under offensive coordinator Brent Thompson. He remains on scholarship, but knows he can’t play football again, an idea he’s still coming to grips with. “It was hard when I first found out,” Daniels said after a recent practice. “And I don’t think it’s still really hit me yet. I think it will hit me when the games start. Nobody really enjoys practice, so I’m not missing much right now. But when everybody hits the field for the games, that’s when I’ll really miss it.”

‘I feel dizzy’
Daniels, who was listed at 5-10 and 220 pounds as a freshman fullback last year, had just carried the ball during an evening practice session last spring when he turned to teammate and fellow fullback Isiaha Smith. “I feel a little dizzy,” Daniels said to Smith, and that’s the last thing Daniels remembers until he woke up in the hospital. “I felt like I was waking up from a dream,” he said. “It really felt weird.”

Daniels had a “blood clot between the inside lining of his brain and the surface of the brain,” according to Medical University neurosurgeon Dr. Alex Vandergrift, who performed the surgery on Daniels. “A lot of patients with this type of injury are in high-speed accidents or tremendous falls and have additional brain injury that is not present here,” Vandergrift said last March. “He came in under very dire circumstances, with pretty significant neurological dysfunction, so he’s a very fortunate young man.”

While Daniels was in the hospital, Citadel alumni and members of the general public rallied in support, donating to a fund The Citadel established to defray his medical costs, and flooding his room with cards and flowers. “That helped me a lot,” Daniels said. “I realized how much people care, and how tight the alumni are and the school in general. Their support really helped a lot.”

DaSean Daniels (left) is now a student-coach after suffering a brain aneurysm last spring. He talks with running backs Donovan Ward and Isiaha Smith during practice. (Brad Nettles/P&CStaff)

DaSean Daniels (left) is now a student-coach after suffering a brain aneurysm last spring. He talks with running backs Donovan Ward and Isiaha Smith during practice. (Brad Nettles/P&CStaff)

‘A miracle’
Some days are better than others as Daniels continues to recover. He had to drop a couple of classes this spring, “because it was hard to sit through a full schedule of classes,” he said. And then there’s the matter of football, the game he loves and that was so crucial to his identity for so long. “It’s been tough on him,” said Smith. “But he’s handled it well, and he’s doing what he’s got to do. He’s still on the field with us, and I know he’s grateful for that. I am, too.”
Houston said there was never any question about Daniels remaining on scholarship, even if he could not play.

“When you recruit these kids and tell their parents, ‘I will take care of your son,’ they entrust you with the care of their child,” Houston said. “They become more than just a player. It’s a relationship you build. Going through everything that we did, we got to know his parents even better, and now he’s a part of us.”

Daniels has begun working out recently, and will work with Smith and the Bulldogs’ other fullbacks this season. “To come from what could have been six months ago and to see him now,” Houston said, “it’s nothing short of a miracle.”

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