Parenting is a constant reminder of just how fast time can fly.
One day you’re holding your new baby, the next you’re reminding your toddler to hold on tight as you push him or her on the swing.
One day you’re teaching your kindergartner how to read, the next you’re reading over his or her high school diploma.
One day, you’re watching your young sportster play in a game for the first time, the next you’re watching him or her play in an NCAA national championship.
Well, maybe not all of us will get to do that last one. But a proud Leslie Daniels had that very flashback this week as she sat in Miami’s Orange Bowl.
She couldn’t help but get a little choked up and reflective as she watched her son DaVaris warm up for Monday’s Super Bowl of college football, the BCS national title game between Notre Dame and Alabama.
Daniels sat with her husband inside the jam-packed and ear-ringing stadium thinking back on all the other times she had watched her son play football. Now a star receiver for Notre Dame, he got his start in the local youth football leagues in Lake County before putting together a four-year varsity career at Vernon Hills, which ended with him being named the Daily Herald’s 2011 Lake County male athlete of the year.
The son of former NFL defensive end Phillip Daniels, a 15-year veteran who spent four years with the Chicago Bears, Daniels faced high expectations over his entire high school career, and often surpassed them in spectacular fashion.
“I have those kinds of (flashback) moments about DaVaris all the time,” Leslie Daniels told me this week after she returned home from Miami. “I think about his first game, his first catch, the first time he ever got hurt.
“Then you look at where he was in high school and where he is now and that’s such a proud moment for a mom. To know that he’s achieving the goals he set for himself when he was a young kid and that he’s doing something with his life is really special. It’s almost an overwhelming feeling.”
In the national title game, it was the Irish that was clearly overwhelmed. Alabama got a dominating 42-14 victory for its third BCS national title in the last four years and the first back-to-back BCS title in history.
But Notre Dame did have its moments, thanks in large part to Daniels. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound sophomore led the Irish in receiving with six catches for 115 yards. He averaged 19.2 yards per catch with a long of 31 yards.
“I thought some of his catches might be the momentum (Notre Dame) would need to get in the game,” Leslie Daniels said of her son’s often acrobatic and high-flying receptions. “It just didn’t happen that way.
“But he had a great game and has nothing to hold his head down about. We’re so proud of him. He contributed tremendously.”
It was uncertain until just recently how much, if at all, Daniels would be able to contribute in Miami.
His season was abruptly interrupted when he came crashing to the ground in the end zone during a mid-November game against Boston College. He cracked his left clavicle and was forced to miss the last two games of the season.
But Notre Dame’s ticket to the national title game, played a week after most of the other major bowls, gave Daniels just enough time to complete the 6-week rehab for his injury and attempt a comeback.
His first practice in which contact for him was allowed was last Friday, three days before the big game.
“That was very nerve-wracking for me as a mom,” said Leslie Daniels, who has been to all of her son’s games, home and away. “I mean, he had just recovered, just come back. I was nervous. But he did alright with it.”
Leslie Daniels said her son is doing alright in the wake of Notre Dame’s disappointing loss. In fact, a smile quickly returned to his face because after the game, he returned home to Vernon Hills and has been visiting with friends and former coaches over the last few days.
He isn’t due back to Notre Dame for classes until Jan. 14.
“He was down about the game, but it’s been good for him to be back at home,” Leslie Daniels said. “He’s still close with a lot of people from Vernon Hills. He calls all of his friends and teammates from high school his family. They’re like brothers to him, so he really likes seeing them.”
When Notre Dame played Miami at Soldier Field earlier in the season, an entire contingent of Daniels’ high school friends and coaches showed up to the game.
“That was such a special moment for DaVaris,” Daniels said. “He talked about that a lot, getting to play in the same stadium that his Dad played in with the Bears with a bunch of his friends there to cheer him on. He really appreciated all of that support.”
Leslie Daniels says that Soldier Field game was probably her favorite memory from this very special football season for Notre Dame.
If DaVaris continues at this pace, perhaps Leslie Daniels will one day flash back on that memory while she’s watching her son play yet again in an NFL stadium.
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