Dan Daley just said no. Not to drugs. But--no--to the hope of almost every kid who ever played high school football: a scholarship to a Division I school.
Four years ago, when he was 17, Daley passed on what his peers would have jumped at. Large crowds. Televised games. High stakes. Daley said no to Arizona and Tulsa and hello to the obscurity of playing in front of crowds of 200 to 300 at Pomona-Pitzer College--half the size that attended his high school games at Capistrano Valley High School.
It was a decision more academic-minded than athletic, something unheard of by bright-eyed high school athletes. His rationale was not to pick a big school that he fit and considered a “football factory” but a small one that fit him.
“I had to make sure I was a student-athlete first, not an athlete-student,” Daley said. “I think a lot of people forget that. You’ll always have your mind, but you may not have your knees or shoulders.”
Student-athletes like Daley come to Pomona-Pitzer without athletic scholarships but with SAT scores near 1,400 (out of a possible 1,600), play football between laboratory classes and are often recruited for jobs not in the NFL.
But Daley’s decision hasn’t meant the death of his dream of playing professional football. The 6-foot, 190-pound wide receiver needs only 35 catches to break the NCAA Division III reception record of 218, and he won’t be overlooked by the NFL as some have told him.
The competition is inferior, but professional scouts tend to hear about a player who catches 50, 61 and 62 passes in three years under constant double coverage. The news will just be a little slow in coming.
A scout from National Scouting Inc. said he will evaluate Daley this week in practice although he is prohibited from discussing any player. Daley is one of 100 Los Angeles area players on his list, the scout said.
Asked if there is a difference in the way he will evaluate Daley compared to a Division I player at USC or UCLA, the scout said: “The competition level enters your mind, but a player’s height, weight, speed and production on the field matter most. There is no prejudice or preconceived notion that a Division III player is going to be worse (than a Division I player).
“If a guy has everything we are looking for and produces on the field, it doesn’t matter if he played for Ohio State or Pomona-Pitzer.”
A few scouts from individual teams tested Daley last year and more figure to do so this season, after a public relations effort by Jerry Tennent. Tennent, a friend and former Pop Warner coach, sent letters to all 28 pro teams and has personal contact with a few teams after a brief NFL career.
The route Daley might take to the NFL may just be different. The Southern California Athletic Intercollegiate Conference, which has been called the Ivy League of the West, has some players who could be reserves at Division I schools, some that major in diplomacy or bio-engineering, and some that compete for a dose of perspective. Most, however, are overachievers who take the game seriously or as a hobby.
“In high school, you have players who think nothing but football,” Daley said. “Football is in perspective here. Instead of just football, you think about life.”
Clarence Thomas, Pomona-Pitzer’s coach, and other coaches in the SCIAC believe Daley has the ability to play in the NFL. “I’ve never seen him drop a pass,” Occidental Coach Dale Widolff said. “He has a very legitimate chance. He has really good moves, never gives his cuts away and does everything well.”
Thomas said Daley has the size and speed (4.5 in the 40) plus another quality that could pay off. “He has been double-covered every game of his college career except the first. Everybody on our team and the other team knows that we’re going to him and he never disappoints. That takes courage.”
Daley has bought every book on receiving he could find and believes he can make the jump from Division III to the NFL. “I see myself like Fred Biletnikoff,” he said. “They always said he was too slow and too this, but he did it. The NFL is my goal, but if I don’t make it, I won’t sink into a pit of despair.
Another nonfootball book, the autobiography of auto tycoon Lee Iacocca, had an impact on Daley recently. “He’s an individual whose been through a lot of adversity and responded when the chips were down on him. I’d like to respond to situations as he does.”
Daley may have to show some of Iacocca’s corporate fight to make the roster of a business-minded NFL team next summer, to prove himself against more well-known rookies from bigger schools. Until then, Daley will be just another student at Pomona-Pitzer, miles away in ideology from the NFL.
“Academics are first here and athletics about a distant third,” Thomas said. “There’s nothing to identify our players in the dining hall or classroom as athletes. They’re expected to be students first.”
Grade-point averages are more important than the record of the football team, which hasn’t had a winning season in 25 years and is 0-2 this season. Unlike Division I schools, there is no spring football, something that allowed Daley to be an exchange student last spring in Lund, Sweden. “My cultural experiences in Scandinavia, northern Europe and the United Kingdom have taught me more than any class in school or any sport,” Daley said. “My perspective on both domestic and international issues has broadened considerably.”
In Galway, Ireland, Daley hunted down the roots of his family. As he stepped into town, a nun and an old gentleman were walking across the street, and Daley asked if they knew anything about the heritage of his family. “The Daleys are always fighting, always fighting over anything,” the old gentleman said.
The Irishman’s words may be true for Daley’s impending football career.
“I’m going to give the NFL my best shot,” Daley said. “But, in any event, I am convinced that I made the right decision in coming to Pomona-Pitzer. The degree will be worth a lot of money in the business world.”