To celebrate Black History Month we will catch up with some Coast Guard Academy cadet-athletes and learn about why they chose the Academy, their experiences here and what Black History Month means to them.
Will Daniels, a sophomore from Chicago, is a starting defensive back on the Bears football team. He started the final nine games of the season for Coast Guard this past season and registered 38 tackles, 28 solo including the first interception of his career in a win over Maine Maritime.
Attending the Coast Guard Academy was an opportunity for Daniels to purse two things that he is passionate about, computers and football and the price didn't hurt.
"For some reason, I have known for a long time that I want to work with computers for a living when I got older and I am also incredibly passionate about football," said Daniels. " The Academy was the only school that allowed me to get a worthwhile degree in electrical engineering (with a computer emphasis) AND play football. Also, I have an older sister at Purdue. I remember seeing my parent's faces as they would pay her college fees, and I decided that I didn't want them to make that face anymore."
In his first two years at the Academy, football has provided the most memorable moments for him and it started in swab summer. "We would meet with the football coaches for two hours a week along with any of the football players that were cadre would come down and hang out," said Daniels. "The first ones, we met in the field house were Joe Rizzardi and Eli Maurer. They were talking to all the incoming football guys. Talking to them was the first time I felt comfortable being here. I started to bond with them and realized that through any hard time, they always have my back."
On the field, during his freshman season, the Bears beat Merchant Marine, a highlight for anyone who has ever played in the rivalry. "I never understood how important that game was to the team until the game was over. I remember the Commandant came and talked to us (which is a huge deal)," said Daniels."The seniors on that team had been through every trial and tribulation possible. There was only like eight seniors left on the team, and they didn't have much of a history winning, especially against Kings Point. In the locker room after we won the trophy, I saw a look on their faces of such satisfaction like every bead of sweat, hour of work, and ounce of pain they endured since swabs was all worthwhile. I hope to feel the same way as a senior."
This past season, Coast Guard beat some teams that he recalls others didn't believe they could including the thrilling win over Salve Regina, the fifth ranked team in New England. "I felt like the game against Salve Regina was one of the first times we realized that we should never be counted out. The leadership and teamwork that game was incredible. That game, we looked unstoppable. Every man fought, every man held his own, and every man believed. This belief is why I play the game; I love it."
The Coast Guard Academy teaches you to become a leader and for Daniels as he approaches the big test for himself of Cadre Summer (when he will training the incoming freshmen), he has realized a key factor in leading others. "If you read many leadership philosophies of CEO's, coaches, and whomever, many may talk about getting the job done, and focus on the outcome. One of the keys to leadership is focusing on people. Never forget that people get the job done," said Daniels. "People reach goals. Without people, a leader is nothing. No person enjoys being disrespected, forgot about, or pushed to limits by a leader. Leaders must know their people on a personal level, allowing the leader to understand how to lead each person."
When reflecting on the significance of Black History Month, Daniels thinks of a line from Apollo Creed in Rocky III. "Apollo Creed told Rocky that sometimes it's good to know where you come from in order to get where you want to go. All jokes aside, I firmly believe that. If I don't know the struggle the people went through before me in order for me to live the life I live, how could I be the best I can be? Personally, it is reminder for me to accept and be proud of who I am and where I come from."
Daniels knows the significance of attending the Coast Guard Academy and choosing to serve his country. "Most of the men in my family that I admire had some military experience. I feel like serving helps me understand what people before me went through to build this country to what it is today."
He has been an underdog all his life being doubted on a daily basis. "All of my life I heard people say "You can't", "You shouldn't", "You're not good enough", when I told them the things I plan on doing, but I never let them stop me," added Daniels. "When I was a freshman in high school I was 5 foot 1 inch, and people told me I wasn't big enough to play football. People told me I was too short to play cornerback. People told me I wasn't smart enough to go to school for free. People told me I couldn't play college ball. People, to this day, never thought I was smart enough to even enter the Electrical Engineering major AND play football. Watch me graduate."
We do indeed look forward to May of 2018 to watch Will walk across the stage on Cadet Memorial Field where he has already had many football memories.