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AYE AYE, CAPTAIN

Once a football recruit, WCHS graduate Landon Daniels now a fixture on the soccer pitch for Central

A three-sport athlete at Webster City High School prior to graduation in 2016, Landon Daniels (above) is now a captain and starting defender for the Central College men’s soccer team in Pella. He helped the Dutch recently win the American Rivers Conference regular season title, the first in school history. Photo courtesy of Central College

WEBSTER CITY — Landon Daniels’ plan was always to be a defensive back at Central College. That path he took to get there, not to mention the playing field, are just different than he envisioned when he graduated from Webster City High School in 2016.

But he wouldn’t change his journey. Not one step of it.

Now a senior at the Division III college in Pella, Daniels is a key piece to the Dutch men’s soccer program, which captured the school’s first-ever American Rivers Conference regular season championship last week.

As one of the captains of the team, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound center back has logged more than 1,500 minutes on the pitch this fall. Daniels and the Dutch finished the regular season at 14-2-2, and a 5-0 rout of Buena Vista University last Tuesday clinched the league crown.

The usually reserved Daniels says he let down his guard to celebrate.

Photo courtesy of Central College

“I remember I told the other guy that played center back with me, ‘If we win this, I haven’t celebrated all year, but I’m going to today,’ and I did,” Daniels said. “It was a goal all season (to win the conference title), but after we beat Luther and Loras in the first two games, which we hadn’t done in I don’t know how long, we started to see that we could really make a run for it.”

And to think, there was a time not all that long ago that Daniels thought he was ready to move on from soccer.

A Class 3A first-team all-state defensive back on the football field after a 2015 senior season at WCHS in which he intercepted nine passes, Daniels went to Central with the expectation of donning a helmet and shoulder pads once again.

But soccer was and has always been his first love. A four-year starter on the pitch at midfield for the Lynx, he was in the lineup for all 73 matches that he played for WCHS head coach Craig Signorin from 2013-2016. The Lynx went 56-16-1 over that stretch, which included a 17-2 mark during Daniels’ senior season. He concluded his prep career with 31 goals and 24 assists.

“He’s extremely passionate about it,” Signorin said of Daniels’ love of soccer.

Photo courtesy of Central College

It was a 5-0 upset loss to Iowa Falls-Alden in his final high school match in May of 2016 that forced Daniels to alter his plans. Then and there, he realized that soccer wasn’t out of his system, nor did he want it to be.

“I remember that last game at Webster City and we just got killed by Iowa Falls. The (IF-A) coaches came up to me and said they heard I was playing football in college, and they just said that was too bad,” Daniels said. “Soccer was my favorite sport growing up and I’ve been playing it for so long.

“It’s worked out pretty well for me, especially after this year.”

Daniels began his Central career at midfield, but transitioned to defense during his sophomore season. As a junior he served as the Dutch sweeper, the last line of defense in front of the goalkeeper, before shifting over to center back this fall.

In some ways, his old football skills have been useful.

Photo courtesy of Central College

“One similarity would be reading the eyes,” he said. “I always remember doing that in high school and it’s the same thing in soccer. If you can react quickly to the eyes of the guy, that really helps.”

Daniels was named a captain prior to the start of the 2019 season, an honor that came as no surprise to Signorin, who looked to Daniels as a coach on the field during his time at WCHS.

“When he spoke, you just listened to him as a player and as a teammate,” Signorin said. “Landon’s not someone who will be the loudest guy on the field by any means, but he’s someone everyone can look up to. Everything that comes out of his mouth is positive, and that’s exactly what the Central coach (Garry Laidlaw) said when he was talking about making him a captain.”

Ranked 14th (Division III) in the country by the United Soccer Coaches, Central dropped its ARC tournament semifinal match to Luther, 3-0, on Wednesday. With no automatic berth to the national tournament in their possession, the Dutch will wait until Monday to see if they earned an at-large NCAA invitation.

Daniels isn’t ready to see his soccer career come to an end now either.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been to the NCAA tournament, so that would be another cool, historic thing,” Daniels, who was recently named honorable mention all-ARC, said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

An elementary education major, Daniels will student teach at Knoxville and Oskaloosa in the spring prior to his May graduation. Then it will be time to jump into the real world as a teacher and, hopefully, a coach.

“Hopefully wherever I end up at I can coach something,” he said. “I wouldn’t be too picky about it.”

Daniels certainly has plenty of knowledge to pass on. He was a three-sport star at WCHS. In addition to his football and soccer exploits, he was a two-year starter for the Lynx on the basketball floor where he helped the program win a North Central Conference crown in 2016.

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