Buccaneers promote Kahzin Daniels – undrafted, Division II, totally blind in one eye – to 53-man roster

Shalise Manza Young
Yahoo Sports Columnist

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hurting on the defensive side of the ball.

Linebackers Carl Nassib and Anthony Nelson are dealing with groin and hamstring injuries, respectively, so the team is promoting a player at the position off the practice squad.

Kahzin Daniels was undrafted out of Division II Charleston in West Virginia, and the Buccaneers cut him in August after he suffered a left knee injury in the preseason. He also was making a position change; he was a defensive lineman in college, but NFL teams saw him as a linebacker.

He was brought back on Oct. 18, signed to the practice squad. And on Wednesday, he was promoted to the 53-man roster.

All of that — undrafted, Division II, changing positions, released then brought back — is an impressive underdog story on its own.

But those aren’t even the most amazing things about Daniels.

Blind in one eye

The Buccaneers promoted linebacker Kahzin Daniels to the 53-man roster on Wednesday. Daniels is blind in his right eye after a childhood accident. (Cliff Welch/Getty Images)

Daniels, listed at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, is completely blind in his right eye, and has been since he was 5.

As he shared in a moving NFL Network piece before this year’s draft, he was riding a scooter on the sidewalk near his grandmother’s home in Orange, New Jersey, and didn’t notice a metal pipe from a chain link fence jutting over the sidewalk. He rode right into the pipe and remembers flipping over from the impact.

He hasn’t seen out of his right eye since.

Daniels’ mother, Rashida, didn’t deter him from playing sports as a kid, doing what she could to let him have a normal childhood.

“I came home my freshman year [in high school] and let her know I was playing football, and she was like ‘Go ‘head. Let’s go,’ ” he said earlier this year. “She never tried to hold me out of sports, and I thank her for that.”

‘I wouldn’t have loved you any less’

Daniels went on to the University of Charleston, where coaches say they never once felt like they had to compensate for Daniels’ blindness — and he never used it as an excuse.

“Not one time in his career here could I remember that he put himself in a position where that was a special need or a handicap,” Charleston coach Pat Kirkland told The Athletic. “I don’t think anybody would have ever known. We played him on both sides. It never was an issue where you watched the film and said, ‘Why did you do that?’ or ‘Why didn’t you do that?’ It’s a testimony to him. He’s a special player, and I think it’s awesome that he didn’t use it as a crutch. No one even knew about it.”

That includes his longtime girlfriend, Leslie Gilmore, who didn’t know Daniels was blind until a couple of days before a February article ran that talked about his condition.

“I wouldn’t have loved you any less,” she told him when he finally sat her down and told her. Gilmore’s father lost sight in one of his eyes a decade ago.

Daniels left Charleston as the school’s career leader in sacks, with 34.5

Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles didn’t know Daniels was blind until a couple of days before the draft.

“That’s a credit to him and how he was brought up, and his perseverance and whoever mentored him,” Bowles said. “It can be nothing but a plus to help him in life and in football.”

‘I’m their voice right now’

Like Seattle Seahawks linebacker and special teamer Shaquem Griffin, who had to have a hand amputated at age 4, Daniels embraces the idea that he’s a role model for other children who have disabilities.

“I feel like my story serves as a huge inspiration for kids who are very impressionable,” Daniels said in a video the Buccaneers posted in July. “They see a superhero and they say, ‘Oh I want to be just like that superhero.’ For people with quote-unquote disabilities and things like that, I’m just their voice right now, for people to say, ‘Kahzin Daniels is doing great things and he has one eye, why can’t I do that?’ ”

He gets pictures and messages from parents, sharing the stories of their children and their sporting achievements, things they’re doing despite vision problems.

Daniels isn’t the first NFL player who is playing while blind in one eye: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Tommy Thompson led the team to NFL championships in 1948 and ‘49, and had been blinded in one eye as a child; New York Jets receiver Wesley Walker spent 13 years in the NFL and was an All-Pro in 1978 despite being born with no vision in his left eye.

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