IOWA CITY — Time flies.
Ask LeShun Daniels.
Preparing for his senior season in the Iowa backfield, the Hawkeye running back said it seems like it was only yesterday that as a wide-eyed freshman from Warren, Ohio, he took a handoff from Jake Rudock and ran seven yards for a first down late in the first quarter of a win over Missouri State on a hot early September day in 2013.
“I remember the older guys saying it when I got here, but it has gone by so fast,’’ Daniels said. “That does make the time I have left that much more meaningful. I don’t want to take anything for granted.’’
He’s developed an appreciation for that with each and every step along the way.
Foot and ankle injuries limited him to 15 carries as a sophomore — 21 fewer times than he ran with the ball as a freshman — and a high-ankle sprain ultimately derailed grandiose plans his junior season.
Daniels’ ankle gave out on him as he was being tackled following a one-yard gain with a little under five minutes remaining in the first half of the Hawkeyes’ game at Iowa State.
The slow-to-heal injury returned Daniels to familiar territory and ultimately kept him on the sidelines for two games.
“I tried to get back as quick as I could, but honestly, it didn’t feel right until after the bye week,’’ Daniels said. “It’s just the way those things work and as much as I wanted to be out there, I understand that if I can play the way I need to play I’m not going to be effective.’’
It took Daniels more than a month to regain the push he needed off of the ankle, positioning the 6-foot, 225-pounder for a career performance against Minnesota.
He carried 26 times for a career-high 195 yards and three touchdowns in the 40-35 win under the Kinnick Stadium lights against the Golden Gophers.
A week later, another ankle injury sent him to the sidelines once again during a game against Purdue. He carried just five times in the regular-season finale against Nebraska and was limited to eight rushes for 17 yards in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State. He did lead Iowa’s rushing effort in the Rose Bowl loss to Stanford with 37 yards on 10 carries.
Iowa had no shortage of backs a year ago. Jordan Canzeri led the team with 984 yards and the timely development of Akrum Wadley allowed him to gain 496 yards.
Daniels, limited to five starts last season, did gain 646 yards on 145 carries.
“It didn’t end the way I wanted or any of us wanted, but what we did as a team over the course of the season I wouldn’t trade it for anything,’’ Daniels said. “It was good to be as much of a part of it as I was. Hopefully, it is something I can build on.’’
Iowa is counting on that.
Daniels tops the Hawkeye depth chart as Iowa works toward the start of the 2016 season and as time has taught him, he’ll take whatever comes his way and run with it.
“I doesn’t matter to me if I’m the one guy or if I’m splitting time with Akrum,’’ Daniels said. “He did an excellent job when he was out there and I know he’ll do well again. That’s up to the coaches, coach (Chris) White and coach (Greg) Davis to decide. I’ll be ready to do whatever is needed.’’
After two seasons of getting to know the Hawkeye training room staff all-too well, Daniels is counting on that.
“Hopefully, this will be the year when it all comes together for me,’’ Daniels said. “I’m working hard to put myself in a position to make that happen. I’m feeling as good as I ever have and I’m doing what I can to make every day count.’’