Clemson Football

Patience Leads to Opportunity for Dorian O'Daniel

June 11, 2018
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The time for Dorian O’Daniel to find his groove at Clemson took awhile, but after stellar play during his final two seasons at Clemson, the former nickel-hybrid linebacker didn't have to wait long during April's NFL Draft to hear his name called. In the third round, the Kansas City Chiefs selected him with the 100th overall pick allowing O'Daniel to live out a childhood dream.

O'Daniel took some time recently to reflect on his playing days at Clemson and look ahead at what may be in store for him in the Midwest.

The final three seasons of O’Daniel's career at Clemson were littered with College Football Playoff appearances, including a National Championship victory during the 2016 season. However, when O'Daniel arrived at Clemson, that level of success wasn't the norm.

Clemson Sports Talk
Dorian O'Dainel reacts during the Georgia Tech game in the rain back during the 2017 season.

Before Clemson's recent run of success, 'the good ole days' were often found in the early 1980's when Danny Ford patrolled the sidelines.

For O'Daniel, he recognizes that this run will be remembered for generations to come as well.

“Years from now, people will be talking about the era, the ’13 to ’17 (era) or ’14 to ’18 (era), however long you want to splice it up but, it's definitely something I hang my hat on, definitely something I take pride in and definitely something I won't forget,” O’Daniel said about Clemson’s run.

Another thing O'Daniel will always cherish is earning a degree from Clemson. Having players who pursue excellence both on and off the field has been a big part of the Tigers' run, and it has also helped shape the 2018 defensive line as Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Austin Bryant all decided to return to school for another year.

That move surprised many Tiger fans, but not O’Daniel.

“I was not surprised at all, just because I know them as people and players and competitors. They love college football. They love the team comradery. They love the relationships in between, and they love to compete. I mean, why rush?” O’Daniel noted. 

The culture and experience of being at Clemson keeps many NFL draft-eligible players from leaving early. 

“Coach Swinney is always preaching to us, don't rush to leave here because you're going to miss it when you get back. So, I think that those guys took that to heart and I'm excited for them. I'm already a fan,” O’Daniel said. 

To understand where O’Daniel is now, you must know where he was long before his playing days in Death Valley. A natural "tweener," there wasn't a great position for the 6'1, 205-pounder.

But the game was changing, and versatility was valuable. Thanks to the guidance of one of his high school coaches he found his niche.

“Coming out of high school, I made that transition to linebacker. I had a coach tell me that my best bet was to move to linebacker because I guess he kind of saw the game changing. You kind of expect that to be the transition in the future, and sure enough, I stuck with his advice,” O’Daniel said.

Sticking with his coach’s advice paid off for O’Daniel, as he stayed committed to his craft through the tough times and improved the mental side of his game by preparing and studying more film than he had ever done before.

“I would give myself an A just because, learning from a guy like Ben (Boulware) who's consistently in the film room and seeing his success, just transfer onto the field,” O’Daniel said.

Boulware’s guidance and leadership gave O’Daniel the patience he needed to be a successful player.

“I think it definitely showed the difference in my last two years. I’m thankful that it took the time it did because now, I know what it takes to be successful and to play at that high of a level now that I'm in the league,” O’Daniel said.

“At Clemson, hearing I was undersized, and even during the process that I was undersized. I wouldn’t say that it got to me, but it was something I thought about just because, that's not something you want to hear, but I control what I control.”
- Dorian O'Daniel

Throughout his career at Clemson and during the draft process, many people questioned O'Daniel's size and where he might fit in on an NFL roster.

“At Clemson, hearing I was undersized, and even during the process that I was undersized. I wouldn’t say that it got to me, but it was something I thought about just because, that's not something you want to hear, but I control what I control,” O’Daniel said.

He took the feedback from NFL scouts and general managers and continued to work on his craft to prepare for his opportunity.

“I put on weight that I need to put on without losing my speed, which is what I bring to the table and ultimately. If you can play, you can play. It doesn't matter how big or small you are,” O’Daniel noted.

As O’Daniel looks ahead to the NFL, he is thankful for what the Kansas City Chiefs saw in him. As far as where he sees himself on his new team, the linebacker told us that the hybrid-position suited him perfectly.

© Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Dorian O'Daniel picks off Louisville's Lamar Jackson and returns it for a touchdown in a 47-21 win over the Cardinals at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in 2017.

“That hybrid position, it's not necessarily new to NFL, but it's increasingly popular as far as that dime linebacker. A guy that can come in and cover tight ends and cover the running back out of the backfield and come in on third-and-long situations. I think that's where I'll be at my best bang for my buck,” O’Daniel said.

Most NFL rookies come in wide-eyed and ready to learn from the veterans, and may even feel a little bit of pressure to perform well as a rookie.

“It's not something I think about. I mean, obviously, there’s some pressure coming in being a draft pick. But at the end of the day, I can't control any of that. What I can control is how I work every day.
- Dorian O'Daniel

Don’t expect the pressure to get to O’Daniel.

“It's not something I think about. I mean, obviously, there’s some pressure coming in being a draft pick. But at the end of the day, I can't control any of that. What I can control is how I work every day. My attitude, my mindset, how I study, how much I study and what I do on the field. I mean, everything else is how the card falls,” O’Daniel stated.

O’Daniel expects to compete from day one but understands that the NFL is a business and coaches are going to make the best decisions to benefit the team. That fact doesn’t concern him too much, but he understands that being a professional football player is what he is doing for a living now and has to treat it like a full-time job.

“The only difference now is, I'm getting a paycheck for it. This is my nine to five. Some people wake up and put on a suit and tie. I wake up and put on my cleats, and whenever you start to treat it, like your job, you start to add to the profession then, everything else just kind of carries over."

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Patience Leads to Opportunity for Dorian O'Daniel

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