Photo via Tyrik McDaniel on Twitter

Mental toughness and opportunity forged Tyrik McDaniel’s path to IU football

Four games into his lone season at Independence Community College, Tyrik McDaniel begged to play just one more.

Months before his transfer to Indiana football, McDaniel went in for a tackle against Iowa Western. And his right thumb didn’t bend at all, when it was supposed to. At first, he thought he’d only jammed it, wrapped it up, took some pain medication, and played on. But that night, his hand swelled so much he couldn’t move it.

The safety went in for X-rays the next day, which showed his hand was broken in two places and needed surgery. He’d miss the rest of the season once he went under the knife.

But McDaniel didn’t want things to end like that. He pleaded to the doctors to let him play one more game before undergoing the procedure on his hand. And because the fracture was so fresh, they allowed him to play with a cast.

That game, against Garden City, was McDaniel’s best performance of the season. He recorded two sacks and three tackles for loss, all while playing through injury.

“There were times where it was very painful. I had some Ibuprofen, but that can do but so much. I had a lot of adrenaline too. But there were some times where I really felt it through the cast,” McDaniel said. “I tried not to worry about that. I just played ball. (If) you play like you’re trying not to get hurt, you get hurt; but (if) you play free, the chances decrease.”

The redshirt junior now takes that same outlook to Bloomington after transferring in December. He’s had that mentality since he was little, when his dad gave him that advice.

And he’s always played with an edge. He felt like he had to, as he played his high school football at South Carolina powerhouse Dutch Fork. McDaniel started his college career at Old Dominion, but wound up in Juco after one season.

His defensive coordinator from ODU was in the stands at Garden City for that “broken hand” game. And that just gave him more fuel.

That sort of attitude is part of what IU head coach Tom Allen liked about McDaniel.

“There’s just something about his mindset that he brings to us,” Allen said on National Signing Day. “Just a tremendous drive, passion to be able to play in the Big Ten Conference and be able to show and prove who he is as a player and as a man.”

McDaniel came very close to playing elsewhere this year.

Indiana first contacted McDaniel in November, when he was at the airport heading to visit East Carolina. His recruitment was quiet, and he originally planned to commit to the Pirates on that visit. But after former IU safeties coach Jason Jones called him, McDaniel held off.

That all happened as the Hoosiers prepared for their final game of the season against Purdue. McDaniel didn’t hear from IU for a few days after that. And after an a mentally strenuous recruitment, he was ready to put it all behind him. So on Thanksgiving Day, he committed to ECU.

45 minutes later, Jones called, apologized for the gap in contact during the busy week, and offered him a scholarship.

Once that happened, McDaniel’s decision was easy. By coming to Indiana, he achieved a goal he set last spring.

“When I originally came to Independence, I had it written down in my book that I was going to go Power Five. I had this thing in my book, and it says ‘P5 or bust.’ That was my motto, that’s what I lived by throughout my entire career in Juco,” McDaniel said. “And when I got blessed with the opportunity, it was only right to take it.”

McDaniel has played football since he was five years old. He had bigger basketball aspirations growing up, but when he got to Dutch Fork, he saw a better opportunity on the football field.

He’d wanted to play quarterback or wide receiver in high school, but his team had a lot of other talented athletes, like 2022 Biletnikoff Award winner Jalin Hyatt. And Dutch Fork coaches advised him to try out as a defensive back. So he did that, made the varsity team as a seventh grader, and played cornerback throughout high school.

McDaniel later moved to safety at Old Dominion. And he tries to model his game after some of the greatest to play that position.

“I would probably say Ed Reed and Budda Baker in a mix, with a little bit of Kam Chancellor,” McDaniel said. “I kind of want to be able to be a Swiss Army knife when it comes to safety where I can do everything.”

McDaniel arrives in Bloomington with an opportunity to play right away. The Hoosiers lost many key, veteran defensive backs this offseason, including their three biggest contributors at safety in Bryant Fitzgerald, Devon Matthews, and Jonathan Haynes.

IU has several safeties returning — like Josh Sanguinetti, Louis Moore, Phillip Dunnam, Jordan Grier, and Bryson Bonds — that may have an inside track to playing time. But the Hoosiers aggressively addressed the secondary this offseason, adding five defensive backs from the transfer portal. McDaniel is one of two safeties in that group, along with fellow Juco transfer Jamison Kelly.

But Allen has praised McDaniel this spring, particularly his tackling ability.

“We were trying to find some better tacklers at that position, and he fit the bill on that,” Allen said. “He’s got good pop to him. He’s a good tackler. He’s a physical guy. I think that’s really what we’re looking for at that spot.”

Additionally, Allen said, McDaniel’s work ethic and drive has been the same they thought they saw when they evaluated him as a transfer prospect.

And that — maybe more than anything else — could give him an opportunity to make an impact in Bloomington.

“He’s so into what we’re doing. Very, very locked in. He’s really done a great job, schematically. We ask those guys to do a lot back there,” Allen said. “His film preparation, (he) comes in extra for meeting with our coaches, all the time. That was what I thought I saw in the recruiting process. And obviously, has to live itself out once you get him here. That’s what he’s doing. I think he’s going to be a guy that’s really going to help us.”

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