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By Michelle Brutlag Hosick
The most difficult experience Eugene Daniels faced as a student-athlete also became his gateway to life after college. A defensive lineman for the Colorado State Rams, Daniels injured his shoulder just before his junior season in 2010 and never played again.
He remained part of the team, but wasn’t able to compete or fully participate in the sport he loved. So he shifted his energies to a budding television journalism career and to providing his teammates and other student-athletes a voice within the NCAA as a member of the national Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Earlier this year, the SAAC installed Daniels as its chair for 2012, replacing former Illinois State cross country student-athlete Scott Krapf, now in law school.
“You’re young, you’re a guy and you play defensive line. You think you’re invincible. You never think you’re going to get hurt and your career is going to end. There were times when I didn’t know what I was going to do anymore,” Daniels said. “The team was great, the coaches were great. But my mom always says, ‘everything has a season, everything happens for a reason.’
“I played football for all those years, and it was a blast and I wouldn’t change anything because it put me in a position to really find what I want to do with my life.”
After his playing career, Daniels dedicated himself to student media opportunities before running for vice-chair of DI SAAC.
After the end of his playing days, Daniels dedicated himself to getting experience for a journalism career, working for the student television station, student magazine and student newspaper, hosting a radio show and an online talk show. After some encouragement from previous leaders and friends on the Division I National SAAC, he decided to run for vice-chair of the group at the 2011 NCAA Convention in San Antonio.
“I knew there was something different I could bring,” he said. “I wanted to be as involved with this amazing group of people as I possibly could. And getting to stay on as long as possible was a plus. I wanted to grab hold and really be part of the leadership. I knew it was going to be something that would challenge me as a person, but you learn the most about yourself when you are doing things out of the ordinary.”
Daniels has led an introspective life. He grew up part of a military family, moving so often it bonded him with his parents and sisters and made it easy for him to find friends wherever he goes. He appreciated the upbringing he had, counts himself lucky for having a family that taught him not only how to quickly adjust to new situations but also how to be humble.
He still talks to his parents every day, even though they moved to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, last fall. He visited his family over the winter break between semesters at Colorado State, and he treasured the ability to experience a completely different culture than what he knows.
A regional leadership event inspired Daniels to originally join National SAAC.
“It’s so cool to see something so different, especially after what you see in the media or the movies,” Daniels said. “When you actually go over there and meet the people, it’s nothing like what you see in the movies.”
Daniels got involved with SAAC the way a lot of student-athletes do – without a real intention to be a leader but with an interest in playing a part on campus. When a senior on the football team stopped attending SAAC meetings, Daniels, a freshman, stepped in. Then, when Colorado State needed a student-athlete to attend Mountain West SAAC meetings over summer break, Daniels volunteered since his parents lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was a 10-minute drive from his parents’ home to the conference office for the meeting. A regional leadership event convinced him to join national SAAC, and he ran for the chairmanship on the encouragement of his fellow student-athletes.
“SAAC was really just a happy accident, and it has completely changed me as a human being,” he said. “It’s one of the best experiences of my life. … There are things I never thought I would do, like running meetings. It’s been such a great opportunity.”
His experiences as a child and young adult shaped his approach to leading the national SAAC. One of his main goals is to improve the public perception of his student-athlete peers.
“Division I student-athletes have a bad rap. The people that aren’t doing things the right way are maybe five percent of the whole, but that’s what the public sees,” he said. “I really want to find a way to show the amazing people around the country, thousands of student-athletes who day in and day out work hard to play a sport we love for a school that has given us so much.”
Daniels is dedicated to helping improve the Division I student-athlete experience.
He also believes Division I needs to be more responsible for the decisions it makes, something he believes NCAA President Mark Emmert is tackling with the reform effort.
“We have to find a way to be more accountable – student-athletes, administrators, coaches,, everybody. I really think we’ve lost that (accountability) recently,” he said. “We say we have these principles. We need to adhere to them.”
Student-athletes owe it to their coaches and administrators, he said, and the adults owe the same accountability back to their student-athletes.
“We can’t accept anything less than the best. That 95 percent (of student-athletes) are giving their best every day, all year long,” he said. “It needs to be a full-time commitment from everyone.”
Daniels’ commitment to integrity is full-time, and he hopes to show the world that he’s not the only one in college athletics who feels that way.