Owen Daniels was one of the best tight ends in Houston Texans franchise history.
Daniels, a native of Naperville, IL, had aspirations of becoming a great quarterback during his high school days. He idolized his future Denver Broncos teammate Peyton Manning back in the day.
However, an ACL injury during Owen’s redshirt sophomore season at Wisconsin ended his days as a quarterback. He became a tight end from that point onward.
Daniels made a seamless transition to tight end in his last three years of eligibility with the Wisconsin Badgers. He also served notice that he was a legitimate NFL tight end prospect.
The Houston Texans drafted Daniels in the fourth round in 2006. He became part of the team’s greatest draft class which also included Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, and Eric Winston.
Behind the exploits of Daniels, wide receiver Andre Johnson, and running back Arian Foster, the Texans won back-to-back AFC South division titles in 2011 and 2012. They also made consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in franchise history.
Daniels, who eventually earned a Super Bowl ring with the Denver Broncos in 2015, was one of the catalysts of Houston’s resurgence during that memorable two-year stretch.
This is Owen Daniels’ incredible football journey.
Owen Daniels was born to parents Jerry and Bridget in Naperville, IL on November 9, 1982. He has three younger siblings.
Owen Daniels attended Naperville Central High School in his hometown. He lettered in football, basketball, and track for the Naperville Central Redhawks.
Daniels started at center for the Redhawks basketball team. He excelled in the long jump competition where he recorded jumps averaging 22 feet in length.
Owen was a quarterback in high school. He told DenverBroncos.com’s Ben Swanson in February 2021 that he idolized Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Peyton Manning back then.
Daniels even wore Manning’s No. 16 Volunteers jersey to school. The two men would come full circle some two decades later when they won a Super Bowl title with the Denver Broncos at the end of the 2015 NFL season.
Here's Owen Daniels at Naperville Central. Very similar celebration technique pic.twitter.com/74acsXNTzf
— Justin Breen (@BrEpicBreen) January 24, 2016
Redhawks head football coach Joe Bunge made Daniels his starting quarterback in the latter’s junior season in 1999.
Daniels relished the opportunity. He led Naperville Central to an undefeated season and the Class 6A title. He had 232 passing yards and accounted for three of the Redhawks’ touchdowns in the championship game.
“He was a leader and a winner,” Bunge told the Chicago Tribune’s Joshua Welge in February 2016. “That rubbed off on the rest of the team.”
Daniels’ senior season got off to a rough start in 2000—he tore his ACL in a game against the West Chicago Wildcats in the third game of the season.
With Daniels hobbling, the Redhawks lost to the Naperville North Huskies in the state quarterfinals.
On the bright side, the Wisconsin Badgers gave Daniels a football scholarship despite his ACL injury.
A position shift at Wisconsin eventually transformed Daniels, a budding meteorologist, into a legitimate NFL tight end prospect in the mid-2000s.
College Days with the Wisconsin Badgers
Owen Daniels attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI from 2001 to 2005. He played for legendary Wisconsin Badgers head football coach Barry Alvarez.
Daniels, who became a meteorologist after he retired from the NFL, majored in atmospheric and oceanic science.
One of Daniels’s favorite subjects was “The Frontal Cyclone,” a three-and-a-half-hour class he attended every Tuesday and Thursday.
Jonathan Martin, Owen’s professor, told the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh in a phone interview in February 2016 that Daniels was always transfixed in their classroom discussions.
Daniels met Martin for the first time as a high school senior on his recruiting visit in 2000. Owen had heard about the meteorology school’s stellar reputation so he wanted to see it for himself.
According to Haugh, a frightening thunderstorm experience as a boy growing up in Northeast Illinois piqued Daniels’s interest in meteorology.
Fast forward several years later and Daniels was grappling with three semesters of calculus, aerodynamics, and other meteorology classes that would have made lesser students fold.
Daniels redshirted his true freshman season with the Badgers in 2001. When he took the field one season later, he was third on Wisconsin’s quarterback depth chart behind Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi.
Daniels encountered another setback in his redshirt sophomore season in 2002—he tore his ACL for the second time in two years.
Despite the unfortunate turn of events, Owen’s upbeat attitude and fortitude carried him through. He never let his injury break his spirits.
“That kind of thing forces you to grow up,” Naperville Central High School assistant football coach Mike Stine told the Chicago Tribune in 2016. “It never changed Owen’s demeanor. He battled through it and made it to the NFL. He’s always been upbeat and positive.”
Little did Owen Daniels know that his latest ACL injury was a blessing in disguise. Alvarez switched him to tight end—the position where he flourished with the NFL’s Houston Texans—when he took the field again in the 2003 NCAA season.
Congratulations Owen Daniels! All of Badger Nation celebrates with you. On Wisconsin! pic.twitter.com/fNLdwE5qEQ
— Coach Marlatt (@CoachMarlatt) February 9, 2016
Daniels held his own as a tight end during the last three years of the Alvarez era in Wisconsin. The former had a combined 852 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 62 receptions from 2003 to 2005.
The Badgers averaged nearly nine wins per season during that three-year time frame. They played in a bowl game each time but lost in 2003 and 2004.
Those disappointments ultimately set the stage for Owen Daniels’s fondest memory in Badgers red and white—the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
Many pundits thought the heavily-favored Auburn Tigers would annihilate the 21st-ranked Badgers. However, Daniels and his teammates had other ideas—they would go all out on Alvarez’s final game as their head football coach.
An inspired Badgers squad upset the Tigers, 24-10. Both Alvarez and Daniels ended their respective tenures at Wisconsin on a high note.
“Auburn was heavily-favored, and we came out and we took it to them,” Daniels told USA TODAY Sports‘ Gary Ahern (via the Green Bay Press Gazette) in February 2016. “Being able to play on that team and get that win when we were underdogs and send Coach Alvarez out like that was I think my favorite Badger memory.”
Owen Daniels showed football fans a glimpse of his potential during his college football career in Madison, WI.
Daniels would eventually take the NFL by storm and evolve into one of the league’s top tight ends over the course of his ten-year pro football career from 2006 to 2015.
Pro Football Career
The Houston Texans made Owen Daniels the 98th overall selection of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Daniels became part of the best draft class in Texans franchise history. It was a group that included defensive end Mario Williams, linebacker DeMeco Ryans, and tackle Eric Winston.
When Daniels first took the field in Texans red, white, and blue in the fall of 2006, he could not believe he had made it to the National Football League.
Daniels lined up against Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse in his first pro football game. He went up against the Miami Dolphins’ Jason Taylor and Indianapolis Colts’ Dwight Freeney in the next two weeks.
“I watched those guys growing up and now I have to line up against them every week,” Daniels told CentralTimes.org more than eight years later. “It was a little overwhelming, but at that time I was like, ‘Just do your job and don’t be starstruck in the game; you can be starstruck after the game.'”
Second-year Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who would become an instrumental part of Owens’ pro football career, made Daniels his starting tight end in the 2007 NFL campaign.
The turn of events coincided with the acquisition of quarterback Matt Schaub, who would establish great chemistry with Daniels and lead the Texans in passing yardage over the next seven seasons.
Owen exceeded expectations in his second and third years in the National Football League. His 1,630 receiving yards were second among Texans receivers behind Andre Johnson during that two-year time frame.
Daniels eventually earned the first of his two career Pro Bowl selections in 2008. He is the first former Naperville Central Redhawks player to play in the Pro Bowl, per CentralTimes.org.
Owen thought catching balls from Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in the Pro Bowl was a surreal experience. Manning and Daniels, former AFC South division rivals, became teammates on the Denver Broncos in 2015.
“The Pro Bowl is the coolest thing and the first time I went I was pretty young, so that was awesome,” Daniels told CentralTimes.org in 2015. “I was catching balls from Peyton Manning during that week and that was sick.”
Despite Daniels’ best efforts, Houston was a mediocre team that averaged seven wins per season since he broke into the NFL ranks in 2006. The Texans, who entered the NFL in 2002, extended their postseason drought to nine years at the end of the 2010 NFL campaign.
To make matters worse, Daniels sustained the third ACL injury of his career during the 2009 season. The injury forced him to sit out eight games.
The Texans’ fortunes changed drastically during Owen Daniels’ sixth year in the National Football League.
Daniels picked up the slack for an injured Andre Johnson and racked up a team-leading 677 receiving yards in the 2011 NFL season.
With Daniels at the top of his game, the Texans finally ended their longstanding postseason drought. Houston won consecutive AFC South division titles and reached the AFC Divisional Round in 2011 and 2012. It was a memorable two-year stretch in Texans franchise history.
Things were looking up in Owen Daniels’ personal life as well.
Owen married Angela Mecca in the summer of 2013. Daniels was heading into his eighth and final season with the Texans at the time.
Mecca’s friend introduced her to Daniels at a charity football game in May 2010. Mecca was a lawyer who had just moved to Houston, TX from her home state of Kentucky.
Owen eventually proposed to Angela on the Spanish island of Ibiza two years later. Angela gave her father’s restored 1967 Lincoln Continental to Owen as a wedding gift.
According to Chron.com’s Lindsey Love, Daniels had admired that vehicle since the first time he saw it.
The Texans crashed and burned in Owen’s last season with the team in 2013. Houston won just two games and missed the postseason for the tenth time in the past 12 years.
The Texans released Daniels in the spring of 2014. His memorable eight-season tenure in Houston had officially ended.
At the time of Daniels’s release, he ranked second in Texans franchise history in career receiving yards (4,617 yards), career receptions (385), and career touchdowns (29).
To make matters worse for Owen, he didn’t pass various teams’ physicals because of his bothersome knee issues after he left Houston.
Daniels suddenly entertained thoughts of retiring from the National Football League.
However, fate suddenly intervened—Gary Kubiak, his former Texans head coach, became the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator prior to the 2014 NFL campaign.
Both Daniels and Kubiak knew that Daniels had several years left in him. Without hesitation, Kubiak vouched for Daniels’ candidacy with the Ravens.
Owen agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract with Baltimore on April 3, 2014. Daniels’ trust in Kubiak made all the difference.
Owen’s ability to relate to Kubiak’s life experiences in the National Football League built that trust between the two men over the years. Daniels has always spoken highly of Kubiak—a coach many of his former players still respect.
“It was a lot of work over the years and a lot of trust that I put in him and that he put in me over those years,” Daniels told DenverBroncos.com’s Ben Swanson in January 2021. “He’s a fantastic individual.”
Owen Daniels but on the Ravens pic.twitter.com/l4TLb7B3jZ
— Nick (@Nick_RN5) April 10, 2022
Daniels showed everyone that he was far from finished. He had 527 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 48 receptions in 15 games for the Ravens in the 2014 NFL season.
Baltimore won ten games in Daniels’ lone season in Charm City. Unfortunately, the Ravens lost to the New England Patriots in the 2014 AFC Divisional Round, 35-31.
The Denver Broncos signed Daniels to a three-year, $12 million deal in the spring of 2015. The move again reunited Owen with his former Texans head coach and Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Daniels ultimately spent his entire ten-year pro football career under Kubiak’s guidance.
Not only that, but Daniels also caught passes from the quarterback he grew up idolizing and his former Pro Bowl teammate, Peyton Manning.
Daniels’s brief tenure in Denver, CO made his lifelong fascination with the weather grow even more.
Owen discovered that the city’s peaks and valleys gave him a perspective of the sky he had never seen in his previous stops in Houston, TX, and Baltimore, MD.
Daniels told The Durango Herald’s Arnie Stapleton in the summer of 2015 that “this ridiculous thunderstorm complex” captivated him so much, he had to step out of his car so he could take pictures after minicamp.
As the days went by, Owen discovered the weather patterns in Denver changed on a daily basis. He became more enamored with each passing day.
Although Daniels played just one season in Broncos blue and orange, he played a pivotal role in the franchise’s third Super Bowl title.
Daniels started all 16 games for Denver and had 517 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 46 receptions in 2015. The Broncos won an impressive 12 games in Owen’s lone season in the Mile High City.
Daniels caught two touchdown passes from Manning in the Broncos’ 20-18 victory over Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in the 2015 AFC Championship Game.
Owen Daniels was going to the Super Bowl for the first time in his ten-year NFL career.
“I’ve never been in this game. It’s 100 percent worth the wait,” Daniels told the Chicago Tribune in February 2016. “That’s really the only reason I’m playing right now is for a chance to get that ring.”
Daniels, who idolized Manning during his high school days in Naperville, IL, couldn’t believe he was in the same huddle as his idol in Super Bowl 50.
“Kind of a surreal experience, kind of just one of those things I’ll never forget,” Daniels told Swanson in February 2021. “And I’ll probably never be able to show my appreciation for him as much as I feel.”
— Owen Daniels (@owendaniels) February 9, 2016
The Broncos thoroughly outplayed Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Denver prevailed, 24-10. Owen Daniels was finally a Super Bowl champion.
Denver’s victory was also Gary Kubiak’s first as a head coach. He had previously earned two Super Bowl rings as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator in 1997 and 1998.
Daniels and Kubiak, who had worked together since Owen’s rookie year in 2006, added another feather to their caps.
Regrettably, Daniels’s tenure in Denver was short-lived. The Broncos released him on March 8, 2016.
Owen Daniels retired from the National Football League following the 2015 NFL season. He had 5,661 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns on 479 receptions from 2006 to 2015.
Owen Daniels, his wife Angela, and their son Henry currently reside in the Houston, TX area.
Daniels became a member of Naperville Central’s Athletic Hall of Fame in January 2015.
“It’s an honor,” Daniels told CentralTimes.org. “Central and football are a big part of my time here, so to get recognized for that is pretty sweet.”
Doctors diagnosed Daniels’ son Henry with cancer in the spring of 2018. Henry was born during the 2015 NFL season—his father’s last in the pro football ranks.
Henry was 2 at the time of diagnosis and turned 3 during his treatment. He is now a happy, healthy, cancer free 6 yr old and a long term survivor 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼. #ChildhoodCancerAwarenessMonth pic.twitter.com/uJLqeyHawT
— Owen Daniels (@owendaniels) September 21, 2021
Daniels admitted to ABC13’s David Nuno in the spring of 2020 that he has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts during his retirement years.
It reached a point where Owen stayed inside his bedroom for three or four days. He tried to numb his pain by drinking alcohol.
“I feel like crap,” Daniels told Nuno. “I’m going to go drink so I don’t have to feel anything.”
Daniels reached rock bottom in the spring of 2019. He had a huge argument with his wife at a time when he was averaging just one hour of sleep nightly.
Daniels told his wife Angela that he was going to end his life and that was the last time she was going to see him alive.
After Owen drove off, a state trooper pulled him over. Authorities gave him a choice: he was either going to spend time in jail or in a psychiatric ward. Daniels promptly chose the latter option.
The first facility Daniels spent time at had subpar amenities. He moved to another one where he spent the next forty days.
“I treated it like it was a training camp for my mind,” Daniels quipped.
Daniels has had plenty to smile about lately. Not only is his mental health sharper, but his son Henry has also been cancer-free.
At the time of Daniels’ release from the psychiatric ward, he had been serving as an assistant football coach for the Kinkaid Falcons, a high school football team based in Houston, TX.