When Daniel Cage steps onto the field his first objective isn't to physically overpower his opponent. Rather, the defensive tackle from Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati focuses on the mental battle to unnerve his opponent. That might seem strange in a highlight driven age where people want to see bull rushes on every down, but Cage thinks psychological warfare is even more effective than battling in the trenches.
"I believe this game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical," Cage said. "I am an aggressive player but I try to remain calm and get inside my opponents head. I try to switch up moves on my opponent so they never know what I am going to do. I am able to talk trash and get inside players heads pretty easily too."
Cage initially sought to master the mental battle because he was unable to win the physical one. Despite always being a big kid, he didn't immediately excel at football.
"Everything I got in this game has come from hard work and not talent," Cage said. "When I started playing I wasn't coordinated at all but I kept working hard and improving."
Eventually hard work led to success and by his sophomore year he remembers bursting past his defensive backs to haul down a receiver. Since then, football has been an important outlet for Cage. He admits that he has some problems controlling his temper and he likes to articulate how angry he is on the field.
"I have anger issues and football helps me with that," Cage said. "I never take my anger out on people off the field. I just channel it all into playing football."
Cage hasn't played football since being eliminated from the playoffs with his high school team and is itching to get back in action. He says he plans to cut his weight down to 295 pounds and knows that he will have access to systems at Notre Dame that will allow him to do that.
"I am not too worried about my weight because I know when I get down there my coaches will advise me on how to best get in shape," Cage said. "They can help me with my diet, stretching and hydration. Things like that will help me a lot."
Cage lists his explosive power as his best attribute but wants to work with his coaches on improving the use of his hands. The coaching staff has high hopes for Cage and have told him that he will likely play at nose tackle. They have also talked about potential playing time this year, something that both excites Cage and makes him a little nervous.
"The coaches told me if I work hard I will see the field this year," Cage said. "I am very nervous about getting started. I get butterflies thinking about it but it is up to me to get over it when I start playing."
Now, let's get back to the other side of Daniel Cage. He wants to study business at Notre Dame so he has something to fall back on if football doesn't work out. But his real passion off the field is writing. He says if he wanted to write a novel he could and talks passionately about poetry. He considered majoring in something more creative but he wants his hobby to remain an enjoyable escape.
But a football player who writes love poems? If you are quiet, you can hear the females swooning from here. Just as Cage has been preparing throughout his high school career for the demands of college football, so too has he been carefully calibrating and tweaking his love poem formula and he is confident of its success.
"I have gotten very positive feedback from girls," Cage said. "Some of them basically drop dead when they read them and sometimes my poems leave girls crying."