In boxing, his hands turn into iron fists. In football, they need to be super soft.
“In football,” Daniels said, “it’s about concentration, looking the ball in and making sure you grasp the ball firmly. With boxing, it’s more about tensing up and locking out with every punch. One, you’re completely tense and the other you’re open and relaxed and looking the ball in.”
As an amateur boxer, Daniels captured a handful of New England Golden Gloves heavyweight championships and reached the semifinals of the National Golden Gloves twice. Daniels won his professional boxing debut on June 17, earning a decision over Devaughn Greenwood in a four-round cruiserweight bout in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Daniels is scheduled to fight again on Oct. 1 in Trenton, N.J. against an opponent to be determined.
Daniels played wide receiver for the Wildcats in 2008 and 2010, and scored four touchdowns in a game. Football has always been his first favorite sport so he returned to the team this year even though he’s 29.
“The comradery you get from football is something I missed,” he said. “Being able to celebrate with a team, being able to work together as a team, those are things that when I went back to that first practice that brought something out of me that I hadn’t had in a while.”
The Wildcats don’t keep player stats, but Daniels has been a key contributor.
“Obviously,” Wildcats owner-coach Dennis Faulkner said, “he’s a boxer so he’s not afraid of anybody in front of him. Just a pure talent, and that leadership quality makes his voice stand out. When you’re looking for someone to reenergize the group, he’s usually that guy.”
Daniels runs five miles a day at 4:30 a.m. or 9:30 p.m. It’s dark either way. He also trains at Camp Get Right boxing gym seven days a week for a total of 15-20 hours and practices with the Wildcats from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays at Lake Park. His boxing training has whipped him into great shape for the Saturday night games with the Wildcats and he doesn’t feel nearly as sore after a football game as he does after a fight.
When he’s not boxing or playing football, Daniels sells commercial insurance for Herlihy Insurance. He shares custody of his three sons, Darien, 8; Damaree, 6; and Calvin, 1. The two oldest have served as water boys for some Wildcats games.
After posting a 7-3 record and losing in the New England Football League’s AA championship game last year, the Wildcats moved up to AAA this summer for the first time since 2012. Several key players didn’t return or have been lost to injury so this has turned out to be a rebuilding year for the Wildcats. They are 1-5 after losing 35-0 at the Connecticut Bearcats on Saturday and they’ll host the Western Conn. Militia at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium. Tickets cost $7 for adults and $4 for children aged 13 and under.
The Wildcats lost to the Militia, 41-10, in Danbury, Connecticut, on July 30.
Football and boxing both require physicality and mental toughness, but there are obviously differences between the two sports.
“With football, it’s about three to 10 seconds of extreme bursts followed by a rest,” Daniels said. “With boxing, it’s three minutes with a one-minute rest. You have to lay everything on the line. You can’t quit in boxing.”
Unlike in football, you can’t take a play off in boxing.
Daniels has been knocked down only once in a boxing ring, by Tamerlan Tsarvaev in the 2010 New England Golden Gloves final. Daniels got up, but lost a decision. Three years later, Tsarvaev was killed during a shootout with police after he and his brother Dzhokhar planted bombs that killed three people near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
“I wish I didn’t lose to that person,” Daniels said. “If I had known I was fighting against a terrorist, I definitely would have laid it all on the line.”
So why did Daniels decide to become a professional boxer at age 29?
“For the glory,” he said. “If I make money, great. Feed my family, but I’m really thinking about legacy. I’m a family man, I’m going to take care of my children, but I want to try to do something positive and leave a legacy and I feel like sports is my strongest attribute.”
Daniels, one of the Wildcats’ captains, hasn’t let his team’s 1-5 record get him down.
“It makes no difference to me,” Daniels said. “I’ve lost before. I understand what that feels like. If we lose, I want to lose together as a team and a family. I want to lose giving everything we’ve got. I want to lose with my head held high knowing there was nothing else we could have done to make the situation any better.”
You’ve got to hand it to someone with an attitude like that.
—Contact Bill Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BillDoyle15