- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- DaVaris Daniels had to stop himself.
The redshirt freshman receiver knows more lucrative days likely await him and some of Notre Dame's other younger players, and yet it's hard to do much better than his team's 9-0 start in his first year seeing the field.
"We talk about [that] this is ... we don't want to say the future," Daniels said, "but we've got to step up and make plays for the team, for all the seniors on the team and everybody. So we kind of take on that 'count on me role' as young guys and kind of run with it."
Two of those first-year players accounted for the biggest play in Saturday's win, Daniels staying active deep and winning a 45-yard jump ball from Everett Golson after the other redshirt freshman found himself scrambling on the first play of a game-tying drive.
Daniels hauled in career bests of seven catches for 86 yards in the victory over Pitt and is just starting to scratch the surface after a season on the sideline, one that he now sees the benefits from -- the biggest of which probably remain ahead of the No. 4 Irish.
"I think they've gotten more confident with each other," his father, former NFL defensive lineman Phillip Daniels, said of DaVaris and Golson. "DaVaris will run the right routes, get open and [Golson] will find DaVaris and throw him the ball, so I think they're going really well. And for them to have the season they're having right now, an undefeated season, next year they'll go out and play and have the confidence to do the same thing."
Team combine testing before this past spring revealed a player with a 4.5-second time in the 40-yard dash, a 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump and a 38-inch vertical, though Daniels' father has said his son has leapt 41.5 inches before.
Ask anyone about the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Daniels, and all signs of his breakout point to a talent now understanding what it takes to succeed every day on a national title contender.
"His blocking has gotten a lot better," receiver Robby Toma said. "He's getting in there, he's throwing his body around there to try to protect his guys. It really shows when we watch film, and he's grown a lot."
Added coach Brian Kelly: "When he goes and runs his routes, he's pretty difficult to defend. Then when he doesn't think he's getting the ball, it's one of those things he is learning every week about how to be that elite receiver in the BCS. It requires practice preparation, it requires the attention to detail, all those things, and he's starting to get there."
Daniels got a head start on such improvements from NFL Films clips his father would show him as a kid, with highlights of Isaac Bruce and Reggie Wayne serving as inspiration.
Right now better footwork and diversified route-running have helped give way to a deep threat for an offense still opening up the playbook, and a 23-catch, 353-yard debut campaign that was slowed early on by an ankle injury looks to be taking shape at just the right time.
"I think it's just learning," Daniels said of his progress. "You shouldn't expect to be completely open in college football, very rarely does that happen. Going up, getting contested balls is something that I've practiced over the last couple months -- it just happened in a game and I'm happy it's happening."