TAMPA, Fla. -- For years, Kahzin Daniels kept a secret from virtually everyone. The former University of Charleston defensive end, signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, told almost nobody -- from his classmates and teammates, to the NFL scouts and coaches who visited him.
Even his girlfriend of four years, Leslie Gilmore, had no idea. In fact, Daniels told her only four days before an article was scheduled to be published in late February, unveiling the secret that would shock virtually everyone he knew: He's completely blind in his right eye.
"It's been this way since I was 5 years old," Daniels said. "I can't remember ever seeing with two. A lot of people are taken aback when I say that, but it's the truth.
"I've naturally learned to cope and I feel like my body and my mind just kind of adapted to it. It just adapted."
'It's gonna be OK, I'm gonna be all right'
Daniels never saw the pole that was sticking out through the fence when he rode his scooter up onto the sidewalk in Orange, New Jersey.
But he remembers everything else from that summer night vividly -- from racing down the block and hopping up on the curb, to the loud thud as his head collided with a metal pole.
"I remember doing a flip -- like doing a whole backflip actually -- landing on the ground and just a guy on the porch saying, 'Hey, little man, are you OK?'" Daniels said.
His two cousins carried him to his grandmother's house down the street. His mother, Rashida Daniels, was hysterical when she saw her tiny boy's face covered in blood.
"She [was] crying," Daniels said. "And I'm just telling her, 'It's gonna be OK. It's gonna be all right. I'm hurt, but I don't feel any pain.'"
Daniels wore an eyepatch for a few months as his right eye healed. His left eye -- which has 20/20 vision -- learned to do all the work. If he needed to look to the right, he would merely turn his head a bit more.
When he told his mother he wanted to play Pop Warner football and then in high school, she did not hesitate -- "Go ahead. Let's go!" she said.
On the football field, he discovered his other senses were heightened, perhaps compensating for what he lacked visually.
"I just feel like my instincts, my spatial awareness is better," Daniels said. "It's beyond average. It's above average. I'm very spatially aware. If somebody's close to me, I feel like -- they could be over there, but I feel like they're too close."
Daniels honed his get-off, speed and his pass-rush moves at Charleston, where he registered 34.5 sacks in four years.
NFL teams took notice, but very few knew about his eye when they scouted his tape or interviewed him.
"It's not something I'm gonna shout from the rooftops or anything like that, but if I'm asked about it [I'll talk about it]," Daniels said. "I was never asked.
"My play is what I wanted to speak for me. There's always that [fear] there that you don't want to be labeled, people kind of making exceptions for you -- I don't ever want people to try to make exceptions for me."
Daniels said he knew he'd have to get out in front of it sooner or later as teams slowly started to find out. He also had to with Gilmore. So four days before the February article was published detailing Daniels' story, he sat her down in his dorm room.
"He was like, 'Babe, an article is about to come out that I'm blind in one eye,'" Gilmore said.
She was stunned.
“I kind of caught some flak for that,” Daniels said, laughing. "She was kind of upset with me. She was like, 'You're with me every day and you didn't tell me?' So she was kind of upset. She got over it eventually."
Gilmore could empathize better than most: Her father lost his vision in one eye 10 years ago.
She told him, “I wouldn’t have loved you any less.”
'He's a good football player'
Teams that didn't know about Daniels' condition were as surprised as Gilmore. Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles didn't know about it until a few 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."
Daniels chose Tampa Bay because the scheme most closely fit what he did in college, even if it meant a move to outside linebacker, and because there were opportunities.
His focus right now is Bucs rookie camp, which kicks off Friday. He's counting on his go-to pass-rush moves -- a combination of the long-arm and the chop -- and he's working on double swipes and counter moves, which he'll need to make it at the next level.
"He's a good football player," Bowles said. "Obviously, he's aggressive up front. He can rush the passer. I look forward to getting him in and seeing what he can do."
'You can still live out your dreams'
What Daniels found after coming forward was an outpouring of support -- including that of Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who was the first player with one hand to be drafted in the NFL's modern era.
Daniels also met parents seeking a role model for their children who are coping with disabilities.
"Every day I have someone that [messages] me a picture of their son, a picture of their daughter, telling me that they're participating in this sport or that sport. It's just amazing that I can have such a positive influence on the world -- especially young, impressionable lives," Daniels said.
“It’s the best thing that I could have asked for – taking lemons and turning them into lemonade and just helping those kids and letting those kids know that, ‘I’m here, I’m doing it and I’m 100-percent behind them because we’re one in the same.’”
The lesson he hopes to impart on them?
"Adversity is gonna hit you no matter your age, no matter who you are. It's gonna hit at some point. It's all about how you bounce back and how you bounce back from those adverse situations. You can do it, no matter what kind of adversity you're faced with, you can still be successful, you can still live out your dreams."