SR grad impacts Indians

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 23, 2013

SALISBURY — Catawba defensive back Mark McDaniel’s senior season at South Rowan in 2010 was interrupted by an ankle injury, but he still had 807 rushing yards, 263 passing yards, 140 receiving yards, one interception and 17 touchdowns.
As a South junior, he had two punt return touchdowns and two kickoff return TDs, so he was pretty good at special teams too.
As a varsity freshman, in his very first game, no less, he scored on a fumble return. As a sophomore he visited the end zone on a 94-yard interception return.
McDaniel’s middle name is Jerome, but it may as well be Versatility.
South had a decent team McDaniel’s sophomore year and went 9-3 his junior year. But by his senior year, the Raiders were struggling. He was the clear standout on a 2-9 club, scoring 112 of his team’s 199 points.
Not a lot of recruiting trips were made to see South play that season.
“I wasn’t really worried about that,” said McDaniel, whose father, also Mark, played at Salisbury High and Catawba. “I knew all along I wanted to go to Catawba. It’s where I wanted to be. It’s local, close to home, and it’s been a great experience.”
It’s been an interesting experience, for sure.
Catawba’s previous coaching staff was excited to get McDaniel, but there was no consensus of opinion on where to play the 5-foot-11, 185-pound athlete who had played everything from quarterback to cornerback at South. He might have been too versatile for his own good.
McDaniel didn’t redshirt in 2011 and wound up playing the first half of his freshman season as a backup receiver before being switched to the defensive secondary. His statistical contribution that season was one measly tackle.
Then came another setback. He wasn’t eligible academically in 2012, although he fixed that by turning in a 3.32 GPA for the spring semester as a business major. Then he had a strong Blue-White Game.
Catawba was so green in the secondary when this season began that McDaniel, relatively speaking, was a veteran. He was plugged in as the starting strong safety.
He got hurt in Catawba’s great win at Carson-Newman, suffering a bruised lung.
“Mark made me add the words ‘pulmonary contusion’ to my vocabulary,” Walker said. “We just had to leave it up to the training staff as to when Mark could go again, and Mark also had to let us know he could go.”
McDaniel missed only two games and returned for Saturday’s contest with 10th-ranked UNC Pembroke, a team that includes McDaniel’s former South teammate Cadarreus Mason.
McDaniel was in a new position. He’s made 18 tackles this season, but the emergence of freshman safety JaMarcus Moore gave the Indians a chance to move McDaniel to cornerback for UNC Pembroke.
“We’ve got some young guys playing well at safety,” head coach Curtis Walker said. “So we were able to slide Mark over to a corner. He’s versatile and he makes us more flexible, He could play anywhere in the secondary — corner, safety or nickel back.”
Leading comfortably 24-3, UNC Pembroke took a shot downfield in McDaniel’s direction. Then it came back at him again on the next play.
“Sometimes you throw a long one and then you come right back at a guy thinking he might be tired,” Walker said.
McDaniel wasn’t tired and he also wasn’t fooled when it looked like UNCP would go deep again. He was in position to jump a short route, and his 33-yard intereception returned sparked a Catawba comeback that finally ended with a 34-31 loss.
“Mark is an athlete, and he’s very instinctive,” Walker said. “He used those instincts to make a huge play.”
L.J. McCray, Catawba’s veteran safety, believes Saturday could be the start of a breakout for McDaniel.
“I’ve always thought Mark could be a great player because he’s a great athlete,” McCray said. “I think corner is his best postion, and it’s great to see him get an opportunity there.”

NOTES: Catawba’s offensive player of the week was receiver Nate Charest, who had 10 catches for 153 yards. He had a 68-yard scoring catch on a pass by receiver Carlos Tarrats. The senior has career totals of 161 receptions and 2,021 yards and is challenging the school records in both departments. Catawba receivers Corey Ready holds the school marks with 190 catches and 2,380 yards, … Defensive player of the week honors were shared by McDaniel and the 5-foot-7 Moore, who had an interception and a sack. “The sack came on good communication,” McCray said. “I was going to blitz on the play, but then Moore’s man went in motion. Instead of Moore having to run all the way across the field, I let him know that I had his man, and he took my place as the blitzer. He shot right between the guard and tackle and got a sack.” … Gabe Evans, a defensive lineman who partially blocked a punt, was the special teams player of the week. … Catawba is at SAC foe Brevard Saturday for an unusual 5 p.m. start, due to local TV coverage. Catawba will leave Salisbury at 11 a.m. on gameday. … Brevard is a runnning team and will be a big change after the Indians (3-4) have played three straight pass-happy teams. “It probably won’t be the best week to be a cornerback,” McDaniel said with a laugh.