Hard work and lots of calories pay off for NC State walk-on
One football practice will wear most people out. A second one in the same day for sure, at least for most people.
That’s not the case for Peter Daniel.
N.C. State coach Dave Doeren thought it was odd when he saw Daniel, who began his career as a walk-on, out in the parking lot in between practices.
“Where are you going?” Doeren asked Daniel, now a fifth-year senior, during the coach’s first training camp at N.C. State in 2013.
“I have to go to work,” Daniel said, explaining that he worked for a landscape company to help pay his college expenses.
“We’ve got another practice,” Doeren said.
“I know,” Daniel said. “I’ll be back.”
A lot of hours behind a lawn mower, and even more calories, went into Daniel earning a scholarship with N.C. State’s football team.
College football programs have turned the “walk-on gets a scholarship” moments into a Hallmark holiday. One emotional video after another – one Mid-American Conference school even had Sylvester Stallone make a cameo to present the good news – pops up every August.
Daniel had seen a few but still had no idea what was coming on Aug. 10 when Doeren had asked him to talk to the team at the Murphy Center.
“I was blown away,” Daniel said. “They surprised me with it.”
Daniel’s story, from lanky high school swimmer to hulking ACC blocker, has a little bit of everything. He has gained nearly 90 pounds since his freshman year. There’s the landscaping side business, he started in his neighborhood when he was at Broughton. And he’s one of the best students on the team, making the Dean’s List every semester in college.
“Pete’s one of the hardest working guys I have ever been around,” senior guard Tony Adams said.
Once known by his family as “Little Peter,” because he shares the same name as his dad, his parents have changed his nickname to “Peter the Great.” Daniel, who only played one year of high school football, has transformed from a 216-pound defensive end into a 305-pound left guard.
With his light blonde hair and 6-6 frame, he looks like he could be a “Game of Thrones” extra in the Night King’s Army.
When Daniel got up to speak in front of the team earlier this month, a usual practice Doeren asks of seniors during training camp, he figured it was a chance to share his experience and to thank the coaches who helped him get there.
“It has been the best five years of my life,” Daniel said in the team meeting room of the Murphy Center on Aug. 10, even before learned he would finish his career on scholarship. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
There were pictures on a projection screen behind him of how his physique has progressed through his college career. Oblivious to what was about to happen, Daniel made a few brief, understated remarks.
When started to walk back to his seat the words “5 years later, you are on scholarship!!!” flashed on the screen. You can’t hear what Daniel says next because he was swarmed by his jubilant teammates.
Doeren finally explained to the team the extra effort, and extra jobs Daniel worked, to get to this point.
“I can’t say enough about the kid,” Doeren said. “That kind of commitment, there’s not many people like that. It’s a huge tribute to his work ethic.”
N.C. State, which opens its season against South Carolina at 3 p.m. Saturday in Charlotte, posted the video on its Twitter account the day after Daniel got the news. His parents, Peter and Vickie, couldn’t believe it. They had no clue the decision had been made to put their son, who only played one year of high school football, on scholarship.
The emotion of the moment, and being able to watch it on video, was overwhelming, Daniel’s father said.
“It’s difficult to describe,” Daniel’s father said. “Our son has been totally engaged and focused on this goal, and worked so hard. To see that affirmation take place, we couldn’t be more proud.”
Watching games with dad
Football and N.C. State are part of Daniel’s family history, which stretches back to the 1840s in Raleigh.
Daniel’s great, great uncle was Wallace “WC” Riddick, who was the head coach at North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, as it was known then, in the late 1890s.
Riddick would later become the president of N.C. State in the 1920s and the first dean of the engineering school, a post he held into the’30s. Riddick Stadium, the on-campus home for Wolfpack football until 1965, was named for him.
Daniel’s grandfather, Raleigh Daniel, was an all-Southern Conference halfback for Wake Forest in the 1930s.
His dad, Peter Sr., graduated from N.C. State in 1976 – and watched David Thompson and Lou Holtz bring the high-profile sports teams to new heights –which meant Daniel would be a Wolfpack fan for life.
Daniel went to his first Wolfpack football games when he was 4.
“I remember sitting on the hill and watching games with my dad,” Daniel said.
With the sports Daniel loved in middle school and early in high school, he never could have imagined he’d wind up playing in the same stadium as his favorite stars, like Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson.
Daniel got swept up in the Carolina Hurricanes Stanley Cup run in 2006. He was 12 and he went to the White House with his dad, who is an executive vice president with the North Carolina Farm Bureau, when the team met President Bush in ’07.
He decided his future was in hockey. He played for youth club team until his senior year at Broughton. He was also a freestyle swimmer. He only joined the football team for his final season.
He showed enough to get an invitation to walk-on with the Wolfpack. Mike Uremovich, the former offensive line coach, saw a big frame and potential in Daniel, but Daniel would need to add weight.
The first goal: add 40 pounds. Gain weight in college? How hard could that be?
“It’s actually pretty hard for me to gain weight,” Daniel said. “I have a really high metabolism.”
So with the help of strength coach Dantonio Burnette and Diana Nguyen, the director of sports nutrition, Daniel went on an 8,500-calorie-per-day diet. No cheating or shortcuts allowed.
“No fast food, no junk,” Daniel said.
And, by the way, as a walk-on he had to pay for his own meal plan. Daniel quickly figured out it wasn’t going to be fun.
“It’s a lot more work than fun,” Daniel said. “Being full all the time and being drowsy is not fun. It was definitely hard gaining that weight.”
How to gain weight
To get to 8,500 calories a day – which works out to more than 3.1 million in a year and 12.4 million in his college career – Daniel starts a typical day at 6:30 a.m. with an omelet, bacon, grits, fruit, milk and juice.
The first protein shake, at 1,200 calories a pop, comes two and a half hours later. There’s a 300-calorie protein bar after that to bridge to lunch.
Chicken breast with mashed potatoes, more fruits and green vegetables and milk is on the menu for lunch at noon.
Two hours later, another protein shake and then protein bar chaser at 4 p.m.
Dinner at 7 p.m. is more meat-and-potatoes, some fish, green vegetables, fruit and – a treat! – a small portion of ice cream.
The caloric marathon doesn’t end there. At 10 p.m., Daniel goes for another shake before bed.
Daniel hit his first goal and then added another 40 pounds.
“It’s amazing the work he put in,” Burnette said. “Just look at his body, he looks completely different.”
Daniel was such a quick study, he picked up a new job from Burnette.
“When we need guys to gain weight, we make sure they sit with Peter,” Burnette said.
Daniel spent his first two years on the scout team. By his third year, he made the travel team and got on the field for special teams in all 13 games.
Last year, he continued his punt and field-goal unit duties and got his first snaps on offense in wins over William & Mary, Old Dominion and Vanderbilt.
He’s listed on the depth chart as Adams’ backup at right guard for Saturday’s opener with South Carolina, although he could play either guard or tackle position.
With an undergraduate degree in hand (in agricultural business) and a scholarship, (a savings of about $20,000 for his family), Daniel has already hit two major goals. He does have one more goal for his final season.
“I want to start a game,” Daniel said.
Compared to the odds he has already overcome, and the work that he has put in, there’s no reason to doubt Daniel.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
N.C. State at South Carolina
When: Saturday, 3:00 PM
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
TV/Radio: ESPN, 101.5
A sample of Peter Daniel’s daily diet
How do you get to 8,500 calories in a day? Eat early and often.
6:30 a.m. Omelet, grits, bacon, fruit, milk, juice (1,500 calories)
9 a.m. Muscle milk gainer powder shake (1,200 calories)
10:30 a.m. Protein bar (300 calories)
Noon Chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, fruit, green vegetables, milk (1,200 calories)
2 p.m. Muscle milk gainer powder shake (1,200 calories)
4 p.m. Protein bar (300 calories)
7 p.m. Ground beef, baked potatoes, fish, green vegetables, fruit, small portion of ice cream (1,600 calories)
10 p.m. Muscle milk gainer powder shake (1,200 calories)