The bitterness of defeat remains within DaVaris Daniels.
The 2016 season was a solid one for the Calgary Stampeders receiver, who was the league’s top rookie. But what drove the former Notre Dame star this off-season was working to avenge the club’s heart-breaking 39-33 overtime Grey Cup loss to the Ottawa Redblacks last November at BMO Field.
“The crazy part about it is I don’t think any of us have really,” Daniels said. “It’s definitely going to stay there until we kick off this season.
“That’s what will drive us and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Calgary posted a CFL-best 15-2-1 record last year and dominated the league awards as Daniels was one of five Stampeders to receive individual honours. But the club couldn’t finish the deal as Ottawa claimed the Grey Cup after finishing atop the East with a 8-9-1 record.
It was the first time in CFL history a franchise with a losing mark had finished first in its conference. The loss tarnished a solid rookie season for the speedy six-foot-two, 205-pound Daniels, who had 51 catches for 885 yards and nine TDs in 11 games.
Not bad, considering Daniels figured he was finished with football in 2015. After being bypassed in the NFL draft, Daniels signed as a free agent with both the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots, only to be released each time.
“I think I can be a lot better this year,” Daniels said. “Last off-season, I wasn’t training the way I should’ve been because I didn’t think I’d play football again.
“This year, I came into the off-season knowing my responsibility to the Calgary Stampeders. I don’t want to let those guys down at all so I put a lot of work in.”
Daniels signed with Calgary just before the start of the 2016 season and admits he came north not knowing much about the CFL. But Daniels said the pass-happy Canadian game and its longer, wider field suit his abilities to a tee.
“It’s a passing league and I think I’m just in a good spot with Bo (Stampeders starter Bo Levi Mitchell),” Daniels said. “He loves the deep ball and I’m happy to be one of the guys he looks forward to throwing downfield to.”
Mitchell was the CFL’s outstanding player last year after registering career highs in yards (5,385) and TDs (32). All the native of Katy, Texas, has done in Canada is win, having posted a 44-7 regular-season record as a starting quarterback since 2012.
Daniels learned first-hand never to give up on a route figuring Mitchell won’t look his way.
“In my first game I had a deep route and I kind of stopped running,” Daniels said. “I didn’t think (Mitchell) would trust me like that but then Bo actually looks at me and throws it and I’m trying go get it but I’d stopped running (and didn’t make the catch).”
To add insult to injury, Daniels, 24, then had to incur the wrath of veteran receiver Marquay McDaniel.
“Marquay looked at me, he was like 30 yards away, and I could see him just yelling,” Daniels said. “He’s like the dad of the group, he’s so professional and never takes a play off.
“For him to get mad at me, I knew it was serious and I didn’t want to let him down the rest of the season.”
McDaniel, a 1,000-yard receiver the last two seasons, re-signed with Calgary last month, a move Daniels applauded.
“He knows how to talk to players and get them on the right track,” Daniels said. “He’s a vet and everyone looks up to him and wants to be just like him.”
Daniels hasn’t established individual goals for 2017 because he didn’t do so last year and doesn’t want to mess with success. But the Vernon Hills, Ill., native feels much more comfortable heading into his second season with the Stampeders.
“There were some things I could’ve been prepared for more last year . . . like understanding defences,” he said. “It’s a lot different than in the U.S. so picking up on that quicker was probably a step I needed to take and it took me a while.
“There was also the pace of the game with the play clock being 20 seconds here instead of 40 seconds (in U.S.). But I’ve got a whole year under my belt now . . . I think I’m light years ahead of where I was.”