Daniel Helm hasn’t made a block, caught a pass or played a down for Duke’s Blue Devils, but that will soon change for the transfer from Tennessee.
Once a four-star recruit for the Vols, the tight end transferred to Duke in January 2015 and sat out last season under NCAA regulations. He made the most of it, taking to heart Duke coach David Cutcliffe’s “Year of the Beast” mantra in his conditioning workouts.
In the post-spring strength and conditioning evaluation, Helm led the tight end group in bench press (325 pounds), squat lift (460), power clean (324), vertical jump (35.5 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, six inches). His combined three lift (bench, squat, power clean) total of 1,109 pounds was ninth overall on the team.
“I’m super anxious, super excited to play again,” Helm said. “I’m ready to go and excited to be on a team that has a chance to be ranked in the top 25.”
At 6 feet 4 inches and 230 pounds, Helm can offer a big target for quarterbacks Thomas Sirk and Parker Boehme. The tight end figures prominently in Duke’s offensive schemes – Braxton Deaver caught 46 balls in 2013, then combined with David Reeves and Erich Schneider for 49 receptions last season.
“It was another big reason why I was interested so much in Duke,” Helm said. “Obviously I wanted to come for Coach Cut and the academics are great, but I knew they use the tight end. There are some pretty big shoes to fill, but I think our room will do a good job of that this year with all the guys we’ve got in there who are so well-equipped.”
Deaver moved on to the NFL and Carolina Panthers, and Reeves graduated, but Schneider, a 6-7 redshirt senior, has played 39 career games and more than 1,000 snaps. Others competing at tight end include redshirt sophomore Davis Koppenhaver and Dan Beilinson, a redshirt senior.
Helm said he was recruited by the Blue Devils before his junior season at Glenwood High in Chatham, Ill., saying he made a mistake in quickly dismissing Duke’s interest.
“It was right after their 3-9 season (in 2011),” Helm said. “It was my fault I didn’t give them a hard enough look.”
The combination of academics and athletics at this high level is very tough to do, especially with this many guys on a team. Coach Cut does it really well.
Duke tight end Daniel Helm
As a senior, Helm was a consensus top-10 tight end recruit, ranked No. 1 by Rivals.com and No. 3 by Scout.com. Signed by Vols coach Butch Jones, he played in 12 games for the Vols as a freshman in 2014, starting against Oklahoma and Kentucky.
Helm got a taste of Southeastern Conference football but wasn’t completely happy. Asked about his reason for leaving Tennessee, Helm said, “Me and the head coach had a disagreement, so I decided it was time for me to move on.”
In turn, Helm decided to play for a coach at Duke who left a legacy at Tennessee as the offensive mentor for Peyton Manning and others. He joined a Duke program that since that 3-9 season has won 33 games over the past four years, been to four bowl games and won the ACC’s Coastal Division in 2013 under Cutcliffe.
“The combination of academics and athletics at this high level is very tough to do, especially with this many guys on a team,” Helm said. “Coach Cut does it really well.”
Helm, who has three years of eligibility remaining, comes from an athletic, competitive family. A sister, Sarah, swims for the University of Alabama and he has four other siblings.
“Daniel’s always been a hard worker, always trying to be the best athlete he can be,” Sarah Helm said. “He’s a quiet leader and he’s always been a leader for me, to be the best I can be.”
Sarah Helm swam for the Springfield (Ill.) YMCA, the same program that produced N.C. State swimmer Ryan Held. Sarah said she and Held have shared swim workouts, and she was watching when Held won an Olympic gold medal for the United States in the 4x100 freestyle relay in Rio.
“We were cheering our heads off for him,” Sarah Helm said. “I went to sleep before the anthem and my mom called me the next morning, saying, ‘Did you see Ryan crying on the podium?’ I saw a replay. It was great. We’re so proud of him.”
Held has given a few shoutouts to the “217,” for those in the Springfield area code. That earned a smile from Daniel Helm, another “217er” who hopes to hear some cheers on the football field again.
As Sarah Helm put it, “He’s really antsy.”