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Kansas State's Danzel McDaniel: I'm a 'tone-setter'

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The new dad says he's always been a big hitter.

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Pain, without love.
Pain, I can't get enough.
Pain, I like it rough
'Cause I'd rather feel pain than nothin' at all ...

(Three Days Grace, 2006)

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He says more than enough to sufficiently answer questions, but you get the feeling Danzel McDaniel wants to say more.

I'm standing with one of newest rising stars to emerge from the Kansas State Wildcats program - the newest defensive gem to jostle his way out of Bill Snyder's 16-goal rock tumbler. The 6-foot-1, 205-lb. corner is donned in jacket and tie - standard Bill Snyder-approved postgame attire - and the natty garb does a fine job in hiding the football fury that lies beneath. In an office setting, you wouldn't know what this guy is capable of.

In a word: normal.

"I want people to test my cover skills. They already know I can stop the run, so I just want people to throw the ball my way." - Kansas State cornerback Danzel McDaniel

The normal-looking McDaniel is a man-wrecker. He was who Clubber Lang predicted in Rocky III. James Dalton lied about him in Road House when he famously said, "Pain don't hurt." And while the bevy of big hits early this season has left opposing ball-carriers in disarray, it has KSU fans humming a few bars of John Mellencamp's "Hurts so good" in a cheerily uneasy "glad that guy is on our team" key.

McDaniel has been a pleasantly violent surprise for this K-State defense, the kind of terrible that reminds most of us why we never - if we're honest with ourselves - actually wanted to step foot on a Division I football field as a player. He's a gifted hitter - the first one worthy of standing in former linebacker Arthur Brown's Velociraptor-shaped shadow - and as I'm about to find out, he knows it.

However, in this postgame setting following K-State's demolition of Texas Tech, I'm also about to find that McDaniel answers questions as if he's checking himself a bit. It's not that he's saying one thing to deflect or hide a truer thought. It's just ... there's more in there, it seems. It's as if he knows we've only started to see the kind of player he has been and as a new father, the kind of player he could be now that he's motivated by a source more powerful than he could ever conjure internally.

"I've been playing harder now. I just had a son Sept. 16," McDaniel says. "I don't play for myself no more. I play for my son."

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When you hear things like that, you get the feeling Danzel McDaniel wants to do more.

That's a scary thought when you stop to consider it has taken only five games in his first season at K-State to register 13 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a season's worth of big hits. On that, along with safety Travis Green, the two have formed arguably the hardest hitting secondary duo in the Big 12. Well, I say arguably, but McDaniel won't have any of that nonsense.

"Nah, me and Travis hit hard," McDaniel says. "I don't see nobody hitting harder than us. We're always talking about who the biggest hitter is. I think that's why we go out there and hit so hard: We want to be able to go back to each other and say, 'Hey, Danzel' or 'Hey, Travis,' and say, 'That's the best hit of the year."

He also won't stand to be known as just a hard-hitting cornerback.

"I don't really look at it like that," he says. "I just go out there and try to play the game. I've been hitting hard all my life. My friends back home see me hitting people [now] and they're just like, 'psshhh, same thing since little league.'

"That's just me - the way I play."

His play is infectious. His tenacity has spread and begun transforming the secondary from a steady if unspectacular assortment of reasonable talent into something becoming worth having a ticket to witness protect what McDaniel calls the "no-fly zone."

"Anything thrown your way, catch it, or knock it down," McDaniel explains. "Hit the receiver, dislodge him from the ball. That's no-fly zone. You don't want anything to come in your area.

"[Other KSU players] weren't really talking about [calling it the "no-fly zone"] when I first got here, so I started letting them know about it. We always talked about it in high school, but I've been watching a lot of [Cincinnati Bengals 2014 first-round corner] Darqueze Dennard. That's all he stresses."

Leading the "no-fly zone" charge isn't done for individual reward, and it's not new to the guy from Dolton, Illinois - a community located immediately south of the southern city limits of Chicago in Cook County.

"When I play the game, I play for the whole team," McDaniel says. Really, ever since I was in high school, I called myself 'the tone-setter," McDaniel says. "I try to set the tone for the defense. I know that doesn't come from the cornerback spot, but I guess God just blessed me with that ability because mostly every team I've ever been on, I've been the tone-setter. I just want to keep that going; keep setting that tone."

The way he plays is something K-State opponents are just now starting to pick up on. Against the Red Raiders, McDaniel had his worst game by standard statistical measures, recording just one tackle. It was clear by the second half, however, that Tech simply wasn't going in McDaniel's general direction with the ball.

"We all noticed that, but I'll just say I really don't know what it was, don't know [Texas Tech's] game plan, don't know if they know me or not. But, I know I'm a new player, and I want to get tried.

"I want people to test my cover skills. They already know I can stop the run, so I just want people to throw the ball my way."

As he grows within the K-State system, it was a missed call, ironically, that proved to be the public launchpad for McDaniel's early-season rise. Against Iowa State, after the Wildcats had surged back to take a 32-28 lead, the Cyclones faced a 4th-and-5 at the KSU 39-yard line. The ball snapped, ISU quarterback Sam B. Richardson dropped back and was demolished by McDaniel on a blitz that was never supposed to happen.

"It was crazy because I was running off the field, and I was smiling," McDaniel says. "Everybody is high-fiving me, hitting me on the helmet and everything. Then, Coach [Tom] Hayes is like, 'Danzel, did you get the corner blitz [signal]?'

"I was like, 'I thought I had seen it, Coach.' And, he was like, 'Naw, but helluva play though.' He was like, 'We're just going to leave it at that. Jut get the signal next time.'"

McDaniel says he hasn't missed one since.

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As he describes picking up those types of lessons and correcting mistakes, you get the feeling Danzel McDaniel wants to be more, even if he's content, at this point, with filling and growing within his role.

"I just came in thinking I could add on," McDaniel says. "That's the reason I came here really. Jonathan Truman, Ryan Mueller, Travis Britz, Dante Barnett, a lot of guys; I just was like, 'I can fit in with that defense.'

"I saw how the defense ran to the ball, and I was like, 'That's me, I love running to the ball.'"

Even in his role, McDaniel isn't shy in expressing he wants his team to be more. He wants to be a catalyst for the 2014 Wildcats to not just bend Bill Snyder's Goal No. 12 (no self-limitations) but to blow the thing 12 feet backwards like it was UTEP running back Aaron Jones.("To be honest with you all, I don't even feel like it was a big hit. I feel like I could have hit him way harder," McDaniel says.)

"I love the program. I'm just ready to go big places," the tone-setter says , his words quick and emphatic. "I know we're going to do big things here. I'm just ready to keep up the level of play that we've been playing at and going on because I just feel that this team can be great."