SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Back at Notre Dame for the first time since the end of a regular-season that he was forced to sit out of, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels made the most of his opportunity to work out with former Irish teammates Tuesday, tuning up for May's NFL draft just 90 minutes from its new locale in Chicago.
"It’s my first time back in a long time," Daniels said. "And I didn’t know if I’d ever come back. I still love my teammates and the Notre Dame football program, so it’s a little weird. But everybody’s here, everybody’s still supporting me, my old teammates and stuff."
Daniels, one of four players to be suspended for the 2014 season as part of an internal academic investigation, was one of 11 former Notre Dame players to participate in the program's pro day. Among the group going through drills inside the Loftus Sports Center was linebacker Kendall Moore, who also saw his college career come to an unceremonious end last fall as a result of the probe.
Both players said they hold no ill will toward Notre Dame, which held them out of practices and games after announcing last Aug. 15 that it was investigating academic misconduct.
"Absolutely," Moore said when asked if Notre Dame was fair to him. "I think through the process there were mistakes made on both sides, but I think with Notre Dame being my alma mater and the school being so academically tough that you know what you sign up for when you got here. Academically we all knew. It was mistakes and looking forward to make that right, next level, and showing that I’m a good player and also a good person."
Moore had already received an undergraduate degree from Notre Dame and would have been a fifth-year senior last season. Both he and Daniels announced last Oct. 14, nearly two full months after the school announced its investigation, that they were leaving Notre Dame after receiving verdicts from the school.
Daniels, the son of former NFL defensive lineman Phillip Daniels, would have been a fourth-year junior, and had entered fall camp as the Irish's leading returning receiver from 2013. He had been suspended from school during the spring 2014 semester because of what he said was an academic issue.
Daniels elected to declare for the draft in January rather than transfer to another school, a decision he said Tuesday that he had weighed heavily.
Daniels said there was a potential path back to Notre Dame — where he estimates he's about 2.5 semesters away from graduation — but did not elaborate much on the decision. And he said he did not regret not exploring other options for the 2014 season upon being notified in August of his indefinite suspension.
"I never thought about leaving Notre Dame," Daniels said. "From Day 1 I wanted to be a Notre Dame guy, but unfortunately, we just didn’t work out. And that’s what it is. That’s life sometimes. It’s not anything against Notre Dame. I don’t have any tension with them. But it’s just unfortunate."
Daniels put up a 39.5-inch vertical jump Tuesday, improving on his combine number by 2.5 inches. Daniels also improved his 40-yard dash time from 4.62 at the combine to 4.57, and his broad jump from 10 feet, 2 inches to 11-1.
Despite the suspensions, the 6-foot-1, 201-pound receiver expects to hear his name called come May, as he recorded 49 catches in 2013 for 745 yards and seven touchdowns. Daniels was ESPN's No. 65 overall player coming out of Vernon Hills (Ill.) High in 2011.
As he was peppered with questions about his past during February's combine and again Tuesday, Daniels said he has learned from the ordeal and is hoping to put it behind him.
"It’s just maturing as a person," he said. "I think regardless of what happened and stuff I think we all handled it the right way and just moved on and made a good decision to turn our lives around and make something positive out of it. I think we all came out here today and took another step in the right direction."
Defensive end Ishaq Williams, one of the other former Notre Dame players who was suspended as part of last season's investigation, was in attendance Tuesday, chatting to the side with strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo. Head coach Brian Kelly had said earlier this spring that he had been in contact with Williams through a third-party about a potential return, though it remains unclear if Williams will be back for the 2015 season.
Defensive back Eilar Hardy, who was later investigated but returned to play in November before announcing this winter that he will play his fifth season at Bowling Green, was also in attendance, chatting with former Irish teammates while watching drills.