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Daniel to lead Holy Spirit against Mater Dei

Dante Daniel says there's no secret to his success in blocking kicks. "It just takes a lot of effort," Daniel said.

Dante Daniel says there's no secret to his success in blocking kicks.

"It just takes a lot of effort," Daniel said.

Daniel, a senior defensive end, will lead Holy Spirit into Saturday's Non-Public 2 state championship game against Mater Dei at Kean University.

Holy Spirit (9-2) is seeking its fifth state title since 2007.

Mater Dei (11-0) is seeking its first state title. The Seraphs beat seven-time state champion St. Joseph, a rival of Holy Spirit's, by a 26-0 score in the state semifinals on Nov. 19.

"It's going to be a tough game," Daniel said. "They have some players. But I think we'll handle them."

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Daniel is a relentless and productive defensive player. He has 69 tackles, including 13 for loss. He has 15 sacks. He has batted down five passes.

But the most remarkable thing about Daniel this season has been his knack for bursting through the line and blocking kicks of every variety - extra points, field goals and punts.

Daniel has blocked nine kicks. He has blocked six extra points, two punts and one field goal.

"He has a wing span that's like 6-foot-10," Holy Spirit coach A.J. Russo said of Daniel. "He can jump. He's athletic. But the thing with Dante is his heart. He has a heart the size of Texas."

Daniel, who lives in Pleasantville, is one of the most popular students to walk the halls at Holy Spirit, according to Russo.

"Everybody here loves him," Russo said. "That's from the president and the principal to the maintenance guy, and everybody else.

"He just has an effervescence about him, an energy. He handles himself well in every situation."

Daniel credits his teammates, coaches and teachers at Holy Spirit with keeping him focused and goal-oriented despite some personal challenges.

"I've lost family members, had tough times and wondered, 'What am I going to do? What is my purpose in life?' " Daniel said. "Coming here to Holy Spirit, it's meant everything to me. My coaches, my friends, my teachers, they've taught me to keep pushing, to keep going."

Daniel said his dream is to play football at Villanova, but he could end up an NCAA Division 2 program such as West Chester (Pa.).

"He's kind of a 'tweener,'" Russo said. "But I tell every coach who comes through here, 'You'll never get more out of a kid than you'll get out of him.' "

Daniel played youth football for the Hamilton Knights. He said played several positions but always was partial to defense.

"I just love hitting," Daniel said. "If I'm feeling negative in any way, I get rid of it on the football field. I get my aggressiveness out."

Daniel, who also plays basketball for Holy Spirit, knows that Saturday's game will mark his last time in a Spartans' uniform on the football field.

But he said he's not upset about that.

"I'm very excited," Daniel said. "It means so much to me to play with my friends. I want to finish with a bang. I want to make this the best game we play all year."