By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The question was posed to University of Cincinnati football coach Mark Dantonio this week before the Bearcats' Tuesday afternoon practice.
UC wide receiver Mike Daniels (right) was Ohio's Division I Offensive Player of the Year as a quarterback for Princeton High in 2002.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/ERNEST COLEMAN
It had to do with the best way to use Mike Daniels' athletic ability, and it's the same question to which the previous coaching staff never found a satisfactory answer.
The 5-foot-7, 185-pound speedster from Princeton High School was Ohio's Division I Offensive Player of the Year two years ago as a quarterback, but he's considered too small to play that position in college. He played wide receiver at UC last year and caught just seven passes.
"He's hard to find if he's in a position where he's covered up by somebody," Dantonio said. "He's an explosive guy when he gets the ball in his hands. The problem is getting the ball in his hands. You try to get him the ball in space. Sometimes it's tough to do, but we're trying to do that."
What about using him as a running back?
"I had not thought about that yet because he came here as a wide receiver and he hasn't expressed that interest," Dantonio said. "But maybe that's a thought. Maybe we should put him in there today."
Dantonio wasn't kidding. Before the day was finished, Daniels did indeed spend time at running back.
"He just ran a couple of plays with the scout team," Dantonio said. "He's got a little quickness. We'll see."
Daniels said he felt at home in the backfield.
"I did pretty good," Daniels said. "He liked me there. I'm a natural running back. Going up all the way to Princeton, that's what I played. He saw that I was explosive. He was just like, 'How do you like that?' I was like, 'Coach, that's my natural position.' "
As soon as the idea of Daniels playing running back surfaced, Dantonio mentioned other diminutive backs in major-college football, such as Kansas State All-American Darren Sproles, who's listed at 5-7, 180, and Iowa's Fred Russell, who at 5-8, 190, was the third-leading rusher in the Big Ten last season with 1,264 yards.
But Dantonio could look a lot closer to home for a prime example of a small player who did big things on the football field. Reggie Taylor, who gained 4,242 yards from 1983-86 and ranks as UC's career rushing leader, was 5-7, 170.
Daniels, who says his best time in the 40 is 4.47 seconds, might be a tad slower than Sproles and Russell, but it's his elusiveness that set him apart in high school and presumably would work to his advantage in college as well.
"My ability to make people miss is really good," he said.
Daniels lined up at running back briefly near the end of last season and scored on a 4-yard run against Louisville. He said he thought about asking to play running back more extensively last year but never followed through on it.
"I never asked," Daniels said. "A few of my family members were trying to persuade me to switch over to running back. I just didn't pursue it. But I thought about it."
Spring practice ended Wednesday and Daniels remains a wide receiver. But at least now he and his family aren't the only ones thinking about a switch to running back.
"You never know," Dantonio said. "We'll see how he does. We'll have to make that decision when we come back for the fall.
"I just said, 'Hey, follow that guy' to see if he's got a little shake in there, and he does. We had a good time."
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