Provo • BYU teammates, coaches and fans still tend to struggle with his unusual name, which seems like it is backwards.
But they all agree on one description for defensive back Robertson Daniel when it comes to his role on the Cougars’ defense this season.
He is the rescuer.
“If we didn’t have him, we would be in a big hurt right now,” BYU linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga said. “Without that guy we would be in major, major trouble out there at field corner. He has helped our defense be successful this season.”
Not bad for a guy who joined the program just last June after sitting out the entire 2012 season to concentrate on academics and get his associate degree from De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif., where he played as a freshman and sophomore and earned junior college All-American honors.
Daniel was recruited to BYU by defensive coordinator Nick Howell to play boundary corner, but when starting field corner Jordan Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury during fall camp, Daniel was moved to that spot.
“Everyone was looking to [Jordan Johnson] to be our lockdown corner this year,” fellow defensive back Skye PoVey said. “When he went down, there was definitely some concern. Not panic, but concern. I don’t think any of us saw Rob stepping up like he did. But he has definitely stepped up and taken on the role.”
Heading into Saturday’s showdown in South Bend against Notre Dame (1:30 p.m. MST, NBC), Daniel’s 40 solo tackles rank second on the team. He also has had a 12-yard sack against Houston, forced fumbles against Middle Tennessee and Georgia Tech and made seven pass breakups.
“He is a really, really good player, and I can’t emphasize that enough,” Howell said. “He may be as good as any field corner we’ve had here, and that’s not an overstatement. He’s a good football player.”
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said he wasn’t concerned when Daniel was moved to field corner, or that the native of Brooklyn, N.Y., had not played football in 2012 because the coaching staff recognized early in the recruiting process that he was a special talent.
“The evaluation was so thorough from coach Howell, and in the chances we had to see him, really all that was mitigated through the process,” Mendenhall said. “We felt good about it.”
And Daniel says he felt good about signing with BYU, despite not knowing anything about the school or its honor code when Howell first contacted him during his freshman season at De Anza.
“He explained to me what BYU stands for, and who they are,” Daniel said. “That’s how I learned about it. But I had no doubts or qualms about coming here. It wasn’t a big change for me at all.”
One of the few black students on campus, he says Provo is “not very diverse,” but quickly adds “it is not a problem for me. I am here to play football, not look at color.”
While appreciative of the praise he’s received from coaches and teammates, Daniel said he feels like he should be playing better. Poppinga said Daniel did not tackle well in the 27-17 loss to Wisconsin, for instance, and Daniel agrees.
“I can get better at tackling, get better in coverage, work on my eye control,” he said. “That’s about it.”
Daniel is going to make the switch to safety, his junior college position, when Johnson returns to play field corner next season.
“We’ve talked,” he said. “We have a nice idea of what we want, but you never know how it is going to work out.”
BYU defensive back Robertson Daniel
• Grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., but moved to San Jose, Calif., and attended Branham High
• All-State and All-American safety at De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif.
• Sat out the football season for a year to focus on academics after playing two years at De Anza
• Became BYU’s starting field corner when Jordan Johnson suffered season-ending injury in fall camp
BYU at Notre Dame
O Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 5