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Reserve answers the call
Storm backup Ronney Daniels filled in admirably as offensive specialist in a victory over Grand Rapids.
By FRANK PASTOR
Published February 10, 2006
TAMPA - When a child custody case prevented Freddie Solomon from traveling Feb. 3 to Grand Rapids, Storm quarterbacks Shane Stafford and Pat O'Hara had to find an offensive specialist on the fly.
They didn't want to use receiver/linebacker Lawrence Samuels because the 2003 ArenaBowl MVP is so valuable on defense. And recently acquired Bobby Sippio was still getting a feel for the offense.
That left backup receiver/linebacker Ronney Daniels, a former pro baseball player who never had played offensive specialist.
Despite hearing of the change shortly before kickoff, Daniels responded with eight catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns in a 51-43 victory.
"We asked him to step up, and he did," Stafford said. "He made two big touchdown catches with guys hanging on him, and it was just a positive that at the last minute we can put somebody in there and get it done."
Stepping up is nothing new for Daniels, a big receiver (6 feet 2, 215 pounds) who runs well and uses his size to hold off defenders to go up and get the ball, particularly near the goal line.
Daniels is expected to produce similar to Samuels every time he substitutes at receiver/linebacker, a role he will resume with Solomon returning for tonight's home opener against Georgia.
"There are not enough footballs going around with Freddie and all the guys in there," coach Dave Ewart said. "You'd like to get (Daniels) in there a little more. He's behind a (future) Hall of Famer, and as long as that Hall of Famer wants to play, he's good to go."
Just as Samuels bided his time behind Stevie Thomas, the Storm's all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, Daniels stands to benefit from his apprenticeship under Samuels.
"I learned a lot from him being here, and once you see a guy that works hard every day, that makes you work hard every day, so that makes you better," Daniels said. "Just like he's getting better, you're getting better."
Daniels, who made a couple bad reads against Grand Rapids, expects to play better if he is asked to fill in again. Unlike receiver/linebacker, where he runs shorter routes such as slants, hitches and screens, the offensive specialist is the primary deep threat. He has to read secondaries and run precise routes. He also has to be in great condition, because he starts most plays in motion toward the line of scrimmage.
"I didn't do that much running in practice, so when I got in the game it was a lot faster tempo," Daniels said. "So I just tried to adjust to it, and after a while I came along and started getting used to it."
In some ways, Daniels is still getting reacquainted with football.
A high school All-American at Lake Wales High School, he committed to Florida State before opting to sign a three-year contract with the Montreal Expos, who took the leftfielder in the sixth round of the 1995 draft. He rose as high as Double A before he realized his heart was in football and enrolled at Auburn in the spring of '98.
Daniels signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2001. Though his stay was short, he learned from receiver Troy Brown how to use his hands to get open. He spent parts of two seasons with Miami, primarily on the practice squad, before he was released.
Daniels joined the Tennessee Valley Vipers of arenafootball2 in 2004. He signed with the Storm last season and caught 22 passes for 306 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games.
Daniels, 29, hopes to use the Arena league as a way back to the NFL.
"When I get my chance, it's just me and Lawrence going out there sharing time," Daniels said. "When he comes out, I've got to make sure I keep the bar high, because he comes in and he sets it high. I've got to keep it there."