A tough, triumphant road to WSU

HE'S CHANGED SCHOOLS more times than he can count. He hasn't lived at home since he was 15 years old. And like CouGreat Erik Coleman, a parent's legal problems threatened to fracture his world. But also like Coleman, the backstory of LeAndre Daniels is one of perseverance against the odds and ultimately, it serves as prelude to an uplifting success story authored by both the son and his mother.

"He is a solid student and a player that has overcome a lot of adversity and has done a heck of a job in his life to do all the right things," Cougar fans in Seattle heard in February from Paul Wulff, who knows first-hand what perseverance is all about. Wulff's mom disappeared when he was a kid, presumed murdered by his father.

As character goes, says Brad Bowers, Daniels' high school coach at San Leandro High, the kid is in a league of his own.

"Rare," said Bowers. "Rare character. He's about as responsible and independent as they come."

Indeed, Daniels, who will turn 18 this week, has been out on his own for the past two years, working part time, managing the bills, the shopping, the laundry and the rest. It's the longest he's lived in any one place since he was 10 years old.

"My mom, she had been kind of in and out of jail so I had moved to a lot of places," said Daniels, who has lived with a number of relatives over the years. "I've been to Texas, Mississippi..a lot of different cities in California. I don't even think I can count how many times on my fingers and toes."

SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES usually spell disaster. Constantly being uprooted, changing schools and friends, the chances a kid would get in trouble with the law themselves increase markedly. And they can't stay long enough in one place to get good grades.

But Daniels has something in him -- as did Coleman. A standout defensive back at Washington State from 2000-2004 and now starting in the NFL, Coleman also lived away from home during high school and his mother was incarcerated.

"I didn't stray away from getting good grades or accomplishing things in life. To me, it's about achieving goals one by one. That's the only way you can prove you're getting better in life," said Daniels.

So when his mother two years ago was moving the family one more time, Daniels chose to instead stay in one place and at one school. He first made plans to move in again with his aunt but then made the decision to strike out on his own.

"As I was thinking about it, she already has three kids to take care of plus she runs a day care so I felt it was too much for her to have also juggle me. So I went to the next best thing and moved in with my best friend and his brother..I'm not in close relations with my dad and I consider my best friend more of a brother than a friend," said Daniels.


IN STABLE SURROUNDINGS these past two years, Daniels has flourished. Along with Bowers, one of his teachers, Patanisha Davis-Jenkins, took a keen interest, helping steer Daniels through the scholarship process and even driving out to Utah on one of his recruiting trips to lend guidance.

"She has helped me so much," said Daniels. "She's the kind of person who just gives, gives, gives and never asks for anything in return."

Daniels also takes pains to credit his mother. Her troubles made for a difficult environment, but her focus on his academics remained steadfast throughout.

"My mom has turned her life around. She has a stable job and is back on her feet, back on track. She was taking classes and she plans on going back and earning her degree. I'm just really proud of her...Even though me and my family have gone through so much, my grandma, my aunt and my mom have always pushed me to do well in school. I really appreciate that," said Daniels.

DANIELS, WHO WILL play safety or linebacker at Washington State, has athleticism coming out of his shoes. With the right weight training and conditioning, the upside on him could be huge.

Bowers says Daniels is a personable, vocal leader. On the field, Bowers says, he plays with abandon, flying to the ball and thirsting to knock heads.

Last fall Daniels earned first-team all-league and All-East Bay honors for his work at linebacker and second-team all-league plaudits at receiver. It was no easy task, because friend and teammate Greg Ballard was shot and killed in the middle of the season.

Why WSU was the only major school to recruit him speaks to Daniels' need to hit the weight room -- he's 6-1 1/2, 193 pounds -- and the fact he wasn't able to hit the combine circuit. In addition, he played a wide variety of positions in his time at San Leandro.

WASHINGTON STATE, LITERALLY, came across Daniels at the last moment before Signing Day. He was on the verge of signing a letter of intent with Sacramento State or Cal Poly.

WSU assistant coach Harold Etheridge was out on the Bay Area recruiting trail in the final days before LOIs would be signed when he called Wulff from San Leandro High with news of a hidden gem he'd found.

Etheridge told Daniels that WSU wanted to bring him in on a visit after Signing Day. That meant holding off on signing his Letter of Intent for a couple of weeks. Daniels was torn but ultimately decided to wait. After his trip to Pullman a few weeks later, it was a done deal.

"Cal Poly was about to get a real steal in him," said Bowers.

DANIELS, SAYS BOWERS has a work ethic not evident in many prep seniors. And he'll need it. Daniels has lots of iron to lift before he can start thinking about challenging for a starting spot.

But Cougar history is rife with skinny kids who turn into special players. He might just become one of those guys Cougar fans point to in a few years and muse, 'Boy, the rest of the Pac-10 sure missed out on that guy.'

And having a frame that can easily pack on muscle will give him a head start. Add in the athleticism, attitude and character --- especially his attitude and character --- and Daniels may become one of those recruiting stories that live forever.


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