ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ex-La Cueva, Texas Tech RB Daniels is keeping a low profile
Maybe you heard. Late last month, the University of Washington received a verbal commitment from a hot young quarterback prospect.
If the kid follows through, he’ll arrive on U-Dub’s Seattle campus in 2017.
Tate Martell is 14 years old.
Around here, Ronnie Daniels used to be Tate Martell.
Daniels was the can’t-miss prospect with golden legs, breakaway speed and the unmistakable aura of a major talent. This was a kid who signed his first autograph at the age of 12.
But somewhere along the line, this can’t-miss kid did, in fact, miss.
Badly. And publicly.
What has become of Ronnie Daniels?
You may as well ask a fifth-grader to try and read ancient Arabic. It’s a riddle no one seems able to solve.
“Nobody’s heard anything,” said longtime family friend Alvin Meadors, a former coach of Daniels’ in AAU basketball. “I was at summer school this year at La Cueva, and nobody knows anything.”
Since being thrown out of the Texas Tech football program in the spring, Daniels – a 2010 La Cueva graduate and surely one of the most exciting running backs New Mexico’s ever produced – has been, for all intents and purposes, in seclusion.
The record-breaking back has maintained an exceptionally low profile this summer, to the extent that even many close friends and former coaches don’t know his whereabouts or intentions.
“I’m still here for him, whatever he needs,” said his longtime YAFL and La Cueva coach, Matt Schafer, who first began coaching Daniels when Daniels was 8. “I’m not old enough to be his dad, but I always thought of him as a younger brother. I really love the kid.”
Just how and where Daniels’ career began to run askew is a hard thing to pinpoint.
His life, so full of promise as recently as a year ago, has taken some turbulent turns for the worse.
On two occasions during the 2011 season in Lubbock, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Daniels was suspended by Texas Tech for violating unspecified team rules. He was suspended for the 2011 opener, then reinstated for the next game two weeks later. He even rushed for 43 yards and scored a touchdown in a victory over New Mexico.
But he was suspended for a second time soon after the UNM matchup, and never registered another official carry the remainder of the season.
In March, the Red Raiders booted Daniels from its program for good, without specifying the nature of Daniels’ offense.
The official statement from Texas Tech was short and to the point, and concluded with a very terse sentence:
“He will not be reinstated.”
Daniels didn’t respond to phone calls, emails or texts from the Journal seeking an interview for this story.
He does have a Twitter account – @CODERED_D1 – and two posts, both from July 15, are attention grabbers.
The first reads: “Im sorry for my S.I.N. (SELFISH INDIVIDUAL NEEDS)”
The second: “Why have i been so defiant all my life??? Need to stay in my cirlce.”
This is the million-dollar question.
His La Cueva football coach, Fred Romero, said he has heard precious little about Daniels. Romero said he had heard only one recent rumor that Daniels was possibly headed for a junior college, perhaps with an eye toward joining former Lobos coach Rocky Long at San Diego State.
But Romero said he had no idea whether it was true.
One of Daniels’ former La Cueva teammates, linebacker Stan Sedberry, is a redshirt freshman with the Aztecs. Sedberry said he didn’t believe there had been any contact between SDSU and Daniels.
If Daniels does want to try to get back into a Division I program, he can’t do that in 2012. He can’t play D-1 again until 2013.
UNM spokesman Greg Archuleta said there had been no official contact between Daniels and the Lobos.
Consensus is, Daniels will resurface this fall at another school to try to quietly repair his life and his image. The Journal polled about 15 former teammates, coaches and acquaintances, and not a single one could say definitively what Daniels will be doing during this coming school year.
“I don’t see this being the end for Ronnie,” said Schafer. “I think (what happened at Texas Tech) probably served as a wake-up call. Whatever the case is, from talking to him, he understands the severity of it now. He knows that there aren’t going to be many more opportunities.”
Schafer said he last spoke to Daniels at the beginning of the summer, about six weeks ago.
“He’s a smart enough kid to understand (his situation),” Schafer said. “I would expect him to get back on track and continue where he left off when he left (La Cueva).”
Meadors wasn’t as optimistic when asked whether he felt Daniels would get his act together.
“It’s hard to say,” he said quietly. “His last year of playing AAU ball, I saw a different kind of kid. He was hanging out and doing things he shouldn’t have been doing. He didn’t come to practice when he told his mom that he was coming to practice. He ran off from home once. There were telltale signs of trouble.”
Daniels was considered a three-star recruit coming out of La Cueva, where he finished high school after his senior season in 2010. He graduated early and headed off to Lubbock to get a head start on his Division I career.
His high school career was spectacular, one of the greatest of any football player who ever lived in New Mexico.
His name is sprinkled frequently throughout the official records kept by the New Mexico Activities Association.
Among the state records he holds are points in a single season (252) and career (636), touchdowns in a season (42) and career (106), rushing yards for a season (3,024 in 2010) and career (7,068), and rushing touchdowns in a season (40) and career (96).
The 7,068 number is perhaps the most significant of them all. The next highest mark on the list is 5,711.
He had over a dozen Division I offers. He ultimately chose Texas Tech over UNM, Arizona, Illinois and Minnesota. His mother, aunt and grandfather were all Red Raiders.
Sedberry was a close friend of Daniels’. But he said he has had no contact with him. Ditto for Justin Griego, who played football and basketball with Daniels at La Cueva.
“He’s a strong kid,” Griego said. “I do believe he’ll get his life back on track.”
Even going back to those early YAFL days, Daniels seemed destined to be a superstar.
Cibola coach Judge Chavez coached the highly touted Bobby Newcombe – the player to whom Daniels was most often compared – when both were at Highland. Chavez said he remembers one day watching a very young Daniels, who was probably not even 10 yet, taking over a game with three consecutive long touchdown runs. The first two were negated by penalties.
It was obvious, Chavez thought to himself, that Daniels was a football prodigy.
“I thought, ‘They can’t stop that kid,’ ” Chavez said. “He was amazing at that age.”
Meadors believes that years of affirmation as a great athlete, and special treatment, took a negative toll on Daniels.
“I think he was living the ‘Life of Reilly.’ He thought he had it all, and it was going all his way,” Meadors said. “The glory kid. I think that’s what happened to Ronnie. He was always so good, and everyone made him feel like he was the best. I think it finally went to his head.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal