THE GRIND: Horizon Christian senior Daniel DurnwaldShot by Paul Dybas Edited by Paul Dybas
Football has always been different for Daniel Durnwald than it has been for the average high school football player. At least, it appears that way from the outside.
Bring that notion to light, and Durnwald responds, with a pause in center: “Yeah, I guess you're right.”
In Durnwald's world, football is football and the past four years have been everything he could have ever asked for.
The Horizon Christian Academy senior is one of just 19 players who put on the helmets and pads for the Warriors every Saturday in the fall. The nickname is fitting, especially considering the fact that with such a small roster everyone on the team must play—and nearly everyone must play two ways—if the team is going to last an entire game and succeed.
This season hasn't gone the way Durnwald hoped, but only so far. The determined veteran of the bunch has spent hours with his teammates and coaches over the last several weeks doing game-to-game diagnostics on who fits where in what situation, hoping that the Warriors can find the right formula for success before the playoffs.
If they succeed, Durnwald – known by his teammates as “D’Bo” – will have played a significant role.
“I'm obsessed with watching film. I'm just a football nut,” Durnwald said. “It used to be we would just watch it with the coaches a few times a week, but now I'll spend a few hours every day watching it, hoping to pick up on the opponent's tendencies as much as I can. That makes all the difference in the world.”
Durnwald says he used to get maybe six or seven tackles a game from his safety position, but after his tackle numbers shot up this season the coaches chose to move him to linebacker—closer to the ball. Last week against Johnson Ferry Christian Academy he had 22 tackles in a 37-34 overtime win. It was the first victory for the Warriors in a month, and Durnwald had just come back from a separated shoulder.
“When I dislocated it, it just felt funny at first,” he said. “I actually played about 15 more snaps on it before I realized I couldn't move my arm. The doctors made me stay out for a few weeks. I wanted to come back as quick as possible to help my team though.”
Durnwald and company have unfinished business. Last season, they played in the GICAA state title game. Even though they are 4-5 this season, they know as long as they get into the playoffs, they can return to that game and win it.
“It's all about finding where we fit in,” Durnwald said. “From week to week we're learning more about our team. Last season, finding the right formula is what led to so much success, so we're not worried about our record. We're just worried about getting things right now.”
Durnwald has not only been a standout tackling machine but also a go-to receiver for the Warriors. His strong, reliable hands have made him a target for quarterback Jacob Grinstead, a former West Forsyth High School quarterback. Durnwald echoed what Grinstead has said in the past.
“You get more playing time here. For someone like me, a little bit smaller, it's an opportunity to play football and do something you love,” Durnwald said.
Football has been a flash in the pan for Durnwald, who didn't play the sport with a helmet on until his freshman year at Horizon.
“We tried to get a middle school team here but it was just flag football,” Durnwald said. “I played flag growing up and didn't put on real pads until I was a freshman. It was my parents. They protected me until I was old enough to make my own decision and then let me do this. It's been great.”
When Durnwald hangs up the pads again he'll return to flag football, where he knows he'll have just as much fun.
“I'll definitely get back into that in college,” Durnwald said.
Durnwald hopes to enroll at the University of North Georgia on a pre-engineering track, then transfer to Georgia Tech to pursue a degree in the field. He admits he's always liked building things, including performing maintenance on his 1988 fishing boat.
If anything, he's helped build Horizon into a contender.