BOSTON -- DaVaris Daniels grew up around football, but wasn't trying to model his game off his dad. While Phillip Daniels was racking up 62 sacks over 15 NFL seasons with Seattle, Chicago and Washington, DaVaris grew up watching Isaac Bruce and later, Reggie Wayne.
"I really like his game and the way he plays," Daniels said of the Colts wideout. "I think that's somebody that I would definitely like to be compared to, a guy that I've learned from."
Daniels never considered following in his dad's footsteps as a defensive end -- "I've been a receiver since day one" -- and developed into a star pass-catcher for Vernon Hills High School. A Rivals four-star recruit, Daniels chose Notre Dame over offers from the likes of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee.
Like any highly-touted incoming freshman coming into Notre Dame, Daniels came to South Bend last year expecting to see the field on Saturdays. But by November, it became clear that wasn't going to happen.
"It was very difficult," Daniels said. "Every kid has the dream of coming in and playing right away. I didn't, but in the end it really helped me to get to where I am right now."
Daniels wound up redshirting the 2011 season, and it took him until the final three games of the season to see a benefit in not getting game action.
"Around that time when I realized that (Michael) Floyd's not going to be here next year, the quarterback is going to be up for grabs, everything's going to be a whole lot different, plus you have another four years to prove yourself and do what you do," Daniels explained.
While Daniels didn't play in 2011, he did begin to develop a good relationship with fellow redshirter Everett Golson. The pair teamed up on Notre Dame's scout team last fall, and that rapport was played up as Golson rose to the top of the Irish quarterback pecking order in the spring and summer.
"It's grown definitely over time," Daniels said. "The more time we get to spend with each other in practice, we definitely know where each other's going to be when he releases the ball, he knows when I'm going to be out of my break."
But that relationship didn't translate into big games for Daniels until last week against Pittsburgh. Daniels didn't catch more than four passes in any game before Saturday, when he nabbed seven balls for 86 yards, including a crucial 45-yard catch that set up Notre Dame's game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
If Daniels' production against Pittsburgh was any indication, he's starting to peak with the season winding down.
"He's learning how to play the game," coach Brian Kelly said. "And he's still learning. I'll give you an example -- when he goes and runs his routes, he's pretty difficult to defend. Then when he doesn't think he's getting the ball, you know -- it's one of those things he is learning every week about how to be that elite receiver in the BCS. It requires practice preparation, it requires the attention to detail, all those things, and he's starting to get there."
Kelly wasn't calling Daniels out for taking plays off, but instead noting the learning curve from high school to college. While at Vernon Hills, Daniels could use his athleticism to get open -- "a lot of high school football is like backyard football," he said -- but had to learn how to get open against far more disciplined defenses.
"It was definitely difficult to grasp, because you feel like you're doing right, but you realize in the end you're not open or it's not working the way they want it to work," Daniels said. "It definitely takes a minute to get used to."
Daniels sees route-running as an area in which he still needs improvement, but overall he said the game is slowing down for him. As Notre Dame deals with the pitfalls of being undefeated into mid-November, having a productive pass-catcher in Daniels could make a major difference in keeping Notre Dame's title hopes alive.
"It makes a lot more sense to me," Daniels said. "And it's just -- I don't want to say easier, but it's starting to fill in and come more natural."