RCW: A Marathon, Not a Sprint
Dreams do come true. This is a phrase preached by people all over the world. An expression used by celebrities in the acceptance of awards and principals sending off a senior class. An idea that is taught by mothers and fathers. A common notion, around the world, that continues to be proved true.
But so often, the dreams overshadow the road to get there. While success is achieved, there is almost always a story of perseverance, dedication and passion to accompany it.
Kansas junior defensive lineman Daniel Wise is no exception. As a young track star, Wise realized that the path to success was a marathon, not a sprint.
Wise was born into a family where his mother, Sheila Wise, was in the military, and his father, Deatrich Wise Sr., was a track coach. The elder Wise began coaching after spending time in the National Football League (NFL) and Canadian Football League (CFL) as a defensive lineman. With a father who was an ex-professional athlete, and mother who competed in her share of high school sports, it was only natural that Wise found himself competing in athletics.
“Sports were a priority in my family,” Wise said. “My dad played so he wanted us to play sports, but mainly just to keep us active. He wanted us to get a taste of more than one sport to see what we liked and what we didn’t like. Growing up, I first played soccer and some basketball and then started running track.”
While sports were a common theme in the family, they were not simply an activity to compete in. The Wise parents acknowledged the importance of developing their children and athletics proved to be an effective method in instilling important life values.
“It teaches self-discipline and accountability,” Wise’s father, Mr. Deatrich Wise, said. “They get to understand what accomplishment is in different phases and levels of their lives. Sports are a rite of passage for American boys to participate in. They help with accepting the role as a man and what direction to take in life.”
Getting a taste of whatever he could, Wise began playing soccer and basketball before discovering the talent he had on the track.
“My first track meet was an indoor event,” Wise said. “My dad just wanted to see what I was good at. He felt like I was a long-distance runner rather than a sprinter, so I ran the 1,500 meters in my first event. We had practiced a little bit beforehand on the mechanics of what to do. I just used what I had learned back home and placed second.”
Unlike his older brother, Deatrich Jr., who was a sprinter and hurdler, Wise showed that he had greater skill in long distances. Not even knowing it, he embarked on the first mile in his marathon to success.
With his father as his coach, Wise didn’t have to go far in order to train. In fact, training in the backyard became a regular tradition in the Wise household.
“I grew up in Suffolk, Virginia, which is more of a rural area,” Wise said. “Every morning we would get up at 5 a.m. My brothers and I would go run with my father. We would pick a landmark. We would go to the light pole and back, which was a mile. And then we would pick something else that would be two miles and just keep progressing. The most that I ever ran when I was a kid was five miles.”
The relationship between coach and athlete often proves to be one of great impact, especially in an individual sport like track. This relationship can become even more special when the coach is a father and the athlete is a son. It can also offer a different perspective.
“I would say it’s different,” Wise said with a big smile across his face. “It is 24 hours. Sometimes you can get away from your coach and go home and breathe a little. But when it’s your dad and you make a mistake in a meet, you are going to hear it all the way home and for the next couple of weeks until you go to another meet.”
While the accountability may have seemed increased, Wise was not given treatment unlike the other athletes under his father’s supervision.
“Whoever I coach and whoever I instruct, I treat them all the same,” Mr. Wise said. “There is information that you are trying to get across and you are trying to teach. So I don’t change my style up whether or not it is my son or someone else. It’s a system.”
And this system proved to be effective. The second-place finish in Wise’s first track event was only the beginning.
“From there it took off,” Wise said. “My dad figured out that I was pretty good at long-distance running so from there I ran in plenty of different indoor and outdoor long-distance races such as the 1,500 (meters) and the mile. I started placing and so then I started competing in USATF meets, which were qualifying meets for the Olympics.”
Wise continued to improve his track skills with his father and brothers. Soon, Wise was performing at a level unlike that of any of his peers.
“Each boy has his own special talent,” Mr. Wise said. “He was six or seven when he ran the 800 meters in three minutes and 10 seconds. I knew that was pretty special because the middle school and high school kids were running it around three minutes and 20 seconds.”
As a result, Wise began to dominate in his long-distance events. Even as he speaks about his success there is a certain humbleness in his voice. His recollection does not reflect arrogance. As he traveled to larger meets, it was an attempt to perfect his skill, not because he felt he was better than anyone else.
“At local meets, I would win by a lot,” Wise said. “As I went to regional events I would get some more competition and then at qualifiers I would get even more competition. It was always me and then two other guys. We would battle every time that we met. We all grew up going to the same meets so we would always see each other. They were probably the biggest battles I had.”
Traveling to different types of meets proved to be beneficial as Wise got better and better. While it may not have happened right away, Wise reached one of the greatest accomplishments of his young track career early on.
“At six, he only missed the Junior Olympics by one place,” Mr. Wise said. “He never missed another Junior Olympics ever again.”
Wise managed to snag a third-place finish at the Junior Olympics at only six years old, which he claims to be his best achievement as a child.
Track took precedence, but Wise was also introduced to football early on in his athletic career. He was continuing on his marathon, moving onto another mile in his path to success.
“Growing up, track was a priority over football,” Wise said. “I remember that I had to miss the first few weeks of my first time in pads because I was coming from the Junior Olympics. I would play football until it was over and then start running track again.”
As a result of his parents’ jobs, Wise moved from Virginia to Texas where he attended the middle school that his father was teaching at. It was in middle school that the scales began to shift, and football became more of a focus.
Continuing to play football, Wise also added throwing the discus and shot put to his track & field repertoire. Because the football and track & field seasons were at separate times of the year, Wise could continue participating in both of his passions throughout middle school.
“For a long time, I was doing football and track,” Wise said. “I loved both track and football at the same time. The seasons were at different points (of the year), so I was able to compete in both. It kept me in shape throughout the entire year.”
Training as a long distance runner for an early majority of his life, it was only natural that Wise was placed into positions like running back and linebacker throughout middle school on the gridiron. As football started to become the center of Wise’s athletics, he was competing in his final competitions as a runner. His last races occurred in the district meet of his eighth grade year, when he faced a bit of unexpected adversity.
“I remember right before the district meet I smashed my big toe,” Wise said. “The morning of, I was putting shot puts away and they broke through the bag and smashed my toe. I ran the 2,400 (meters) and I placed eighth (out) of eight. But it was funny because I took off and was in first place after the first two laps. Then after the third I started slowing up, started getting passed up and it went down-hill from there. But I set the pace and some people set personal records just to catch me. I set the school record which still stands today.”
Although he kept the incident from his dad at the beginning, Wise knew that he needed to let his father know what had happened before the meet. Regardless of the injury, Wise knew that he still had an obligation to compete.
“He still had to go out there and run the meet,” Mr. Wise said. “I remember he was in the 4×400 (meter) relay and he still had to run because he couldn’t let his teammates down.”
With his last races in the bag, Wise moved on to high school. Although he was able to perform at a high level in both football and track, Wise knew it was time to make a decision on which sport he was going to fully commit to.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to be doing track in college so I might as well put all of my energy into playing football,” Wise said. “I wasn’t as focused on track. I put on some weight but stayed in shape by still throwing the discus and shot put.”
Wise continued on his marathon, moving onto another mile in the path toward success. Little did he know, this leg of the race would be filled with some of his greatest challenges.
“My freshman year, I broke my collarbone about four weeks into the school year, so I didn’t finish my (football) season,” Wise said. “My sophomore year, I tore my left meniscus.”
When talking to Wise it becomes clear that his work ethic and dedication are on a level higher than most. If it wasn’t clear when he ran in the district meet with a smashed toe, those tell-tale characteristics continued to show as he responded to multiple season-ending injuries.
“My junior year I was healthy the whole time, which was huge,” Wise said. “I still tell my dad to this day that the summer coming off of my meniscus injury is the hardest that I have ever trained in my life. I liked to do old-school things that my dad did like push sleds, flip tires and run hills. That got me ready for what I have had to do now.”
This perseverance and dedication was something that Wise developed early on in his life.
“Daniel was always serious-minded when it came to perfecting his craft, even at an early age,” Mr. Wise said. “I mean kids are kids, you know how boys are. But I see the same type of demeanor when I watch him competing (now) on Saturdays.”
Working as hard as he could to overcome his meniscus tear, Wise recorded his most successful prep football season that far in his path, recording 77 total tackles accompanied by a forced fumble and fumble recovery as a junior (2012) at Hebron High School . By this point in time, Wise had moved to the defensive line, an idea he was initially hesitant about.
“I always played the fast positions like linebacker and tight end until my sophomore year in high school,” Wise said. “My coach wanted me to switch to defensive line. My dad played it and my brother did too, so he just assumed I could as well. At the time, I hated it because I wanted to continue to play outside linebacker and tight end.”
Running long distance for a large portion of his life, Wise had developed a specific physique. Describing himself as “tall and lanky”, Wise knew that he had to make a change to be successful.
“My senior year I was 235 (pounds),” Wise said. “I knew going into high school that I had to put on weight. My brother went through it, where he had to be a certain weight. (It was) Not a mandatory thing, but just to be able to roll with the big dogs.”
And roll with the big dogs he did. Wise’s success continued as he posted 49 total tackles with 33 solo stops in his senior season, highlighted by five sacks. Unfortunately, his season was cut short once again.
“My senior year I tore my meniscus again,” Wise said. “I was devastated. Some schools stayed interested and some dropped away because of the injury. But Kansas stayed true and so I came here.”
Still given the opportunity to play college football regardless of his injury, Wise packed up to head to Kansas on another mile in his marathon of life, coming in as the 77th-best defensive tackle in the class of 2013, as rated by ESPN.com. Wise knew the reputation of Kansas football at the time and was determined right away that it was going to change.
“People say things about KU football and I came in wanting to change that culture,” Wise said. “That has been my mentality throughout my whole experience here. I’m not done yet, I’m still trying to change this culture. (We are) Trying to win games, bring in some fans and bring in recruits. I’m just trying to help out any way I can.”
Wise joined the Kansas program in 2014, during a coaching change. This became a theme during his collegiate career, as several more coaching changes occurred in his time with the team.
“My freshman year when there was a head coaching change, my dad asked me if I wanted to leave and I knew I was just going to stay here and stick it out,” Wise said. “My position coach has changed several times. I am on my fourth one now.”
While such changes may be detrimental to the development of some student-athletes, Wise kept his focus. He was here to help change the Kansas football program and was not going to let anything stand in his way of accomplishing that feat in his time as a Jayhawk.
“My brother went through the same type of thing with three different coaches and just told me that it is a part of the business, (it’s) nothing personal,” Wise said. “So I have always tried to look at it like that. I use it as a learning tool; to pick the brain of every coach who has been through here and adding that to my repertoire.”
Coming to Kansas having recently sustained a second meniscus injury, Wise redshirted his freshman season. Eager to get his chance to show what he could do, Wise worked as hard as he could to overcome the setback. His presence began to be felt almost immediately, seeing action in all 12 games of his redshirt-freshman year of 2015 with 26 tackles, including 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles-for-loss.
After his first season, it was clear that Wise was going to be a special part of the Kansas program. Along with his impeccable work ethic and dedication, Wise carries a few other characteristics that make him successful.
“He understands himself,” Mr. Wise said. “He understands his dynamics and his dexterity. Daniel is fully aware of all of his attributes, so he can use them to make him successful.”
And so the success continued. Wise took on another mile of his journey, making a significant impact on the KU program in his sophomore season. Bursting through the line for 38 tackles, including three sacks, Wise was named ESPN.com All-Big 12 First Team and AP All-Big 12 Second Team in 2016. Wise also earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors two times throughout the season, one of which included five tackles and three sacks against Texas that helped propel Kansas to a dramatic win over the Longhorns.
Now, just four weeks into his junior season, Wise is determined to leave his legacy and impact on the Kansas program.
Wise exemplifies characteristics of an individual who would have a positive impact on any team. His dedication shows day after day and it is obvious that he has a passion for the game of football. Yet, when talking to Wise, it is clear that football holds no light to the most important piece of his life.
“Family is everything to me,” Wise said. “I moved a lot and even though I connected with people, I was always around my family. They taught me everything. I call them my backbone because I can always rely on them for anything. We have a family group message on almost every social media platform. I look up to my dad and my older brother and I have a younger brother who looks up to me, so I play both roles. My mom is the rock of the family. And my dad is the rock of the family.”
Wise’s success has also come from unconditional support provided by both his mother and his father.
“I’ve never lived through my boys, I want them to be individuals,” Mr. Wise said. “I’m proud of their accomplishments. I’m glad that they chose some type of discipline to pursue and perfect. My main objective was always for them to be productive.”
Along with his father’s appearance in the NFL, Wise’s brother, Deatrich Jr., was drafted in the fourth round, as the 131st overall pick, by the New England Patriots in the 2017 NFL Draft. Out of the University of Arkansas, Deatrich Jr., is currently on the Patriots’ active roster as a rookie defensive lineman. Naturally, Wise himself has a desire to continue his football career beyond the college level.
“My biggest dream is still to get drafted,” Wise said. “And, obviously, higher than my brother. We always talk about it and I still tell him that I am going to get drafted higher than him. But I want to be able to play in the NFL like my dad and older brother did.”
For now, Wise will continue to focus on the present, improving himself every day and making any impact that he can on the world around him. As he pursues his dreams, Kansas’ 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive lineman, Daniel Wise, will never forget the lessons that he learned as a young track star.
“When you run long distance, it is not a sprint,” Wise said. “You have to endure the race. You can’t just come out in the 1,500 (meters) and start sprinting.”