If life is about the people you meet and the places you’ve been, Kansas City Chiefs rookie safety Daniel “Danny” Sorensen is well ahead of the game.
Growing up in Grand Terrace, California, which sits about 40 miles inland from Los Angeles, Sorensen was the youngest of six children. With four older brothers, all of whom played college football, Sorensen didn’t really have a choice but to be tough.
The second youngest brother, Brad Sorensen, played quarterback at Southern Utah and is currently a member of the San Diego Chargers.
Brad understands how the age difference didn’t let Danny have a choice but to become tough at a young age.
“Danny growing up, being the youngest and smallest, he was always an underdog, no matter what he was doing,” Brad said via telephone from San Diego. “I really think that from a young age, that helped him raise his level of competition and when he’d finally play against kids his own age, you could see there was a clear difference.”
Danny’s high school coach, Harold Strauss, who didn’t have the pleasure of coaching all of the Sorensen brothers, but who saw them all play in one way or another, knew there was something special about him.
“They were all great athletes but Danny just had that something special that told you ‘Man, he’s going to be the best of all of them,’” Strauss said. “You could just tell, watching him out there—throwing the ball, catching the ball, running around on the field that he was going to be special. He was kind of like the all-American kid.”
That all-American kid may have been initially noticed for his athletic ability, but he’s remembered around his home town for as much more than athletic accomplishments.
Strauss fondly recalls a project Danny was working on to become an Eagle Scout. He organized people in his community to plant about 300 trees in his hometown of Grand Terrace, trees that are still there today and will forever serve as a reminder of Danny’s efforts.
“It’s not just football that people remember Danny for,” Strauss said. “One of the big things in our football program was always having something that mattered bigger than you.
“We did a lot of community service and a lot of different things in our program with special needs kids and just all kinds of different things in the community. Danny was always there, no matter what we did, he was always there.”
As a kid, Danny found his love for football while playing with his brothers.
“We grew up throwing the ball around in the backyard,” Danny said. “I kind of learned and grew a love for football there, I didn’t actually play football until high school."
Being the youngest of four brothers, Danny’s competitive nature was developed at an early age.
“We had to guard each other on the basketball court because we couldn’t guard any of the other older brothers,” Brad said. “Playing whiffle ball in the backyard, throwing the football around, playing in the pool—just anything, we always grew up competing with each other.”
Having the opportunity to play together in high school is something Brad believes brought he and his brother closer.
“I think that’s where we really developed a close bond,” Brad said. “We’d drive to practice, drive home from practice [and] drive to school, so we really got to spend a lot of time with each other and that was the first time that I really got to see him and his athletic ability.”
That athletic ability landed Danny on the all-conference team on both offense and defense as a senior at Colton High School.
Brad, currently with the San Diego Chargers, admits there is some inner-family needling regarding two brothers both competing for spots on AFC West teams.
“It’s already been fun,” Brad said. “We’ve already got a little competitive rivalry going on with Chargers and Chiefs in our family and with each other. But, I think we’re both just focused on making the team right now and whatever happens, happens.”
Voted a team captain at BYU, Danny played four years and finished his collegiate career with 122 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, eight interceptions and 23 pass breakups, while being named a Phil Steele First-Team All-Independent his senior year.
After finishing his career at BYU, Danny was signed by the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who also comes from BYU, had nice things to say about a fellow alum after a good performance in OTAs back in June.
“He’s a smart kid and a good football player,” Reid said. “There’s a whole family of Sorensen’s that have been good football players—he’s one of them and he sure has had a nice couple weeks here.”
Along with his brother Brad, who played at Southern Utah, Danny’s other brothers played college football at UNLV (Trevan), Utah (Cody) and Valley JC (Bryan). His sister Emily is also a BYU graduate.
The competitive nature developed as the youngest of six kids, along with a fearlessness displayed on the football field throughout high school and college, propelled Danny to this opportunity with the Chiefs.
Strauss believes that edge to him will help him throughout training camp.
“He’s just fearless,” Strauss said. “And I think that’s what makes him so special for special teams. He gives everything he has in his body every play. ESPN said they thought he might be the best special teams player in the country.”
Recalling some of the memories that he’ll never forget, Strauss remembers Danny for the “lightning strike” hits he used to put on kids back at Colton HS.
“There were four or five times where he came in from safety and made the hit within three yards of the line of scrimmage and the opponent’s helmet just flew off,” Strauss said. “He came with that much speed and hit him so hard. It’s one of those cringing ones where you feel for the other kid in a way.”
It’d be easy to get caught up in the crushing tackles, the football pedigree and the skills he brings to the safety position. That’s what Chiefs fans know about him right now, things on the surface.
But football is just a small part of his story.
After his freshman year at BYU, Danny left for the Costa Rica San Jose Mission for two years. Giving up the 2009-10 football seasons, although he did come back and play his final three years, was something he felt gave him life experiences he can still use today.
“It’s an experience where you learn a lot, you grow a lot, you find out a lot about yourself,” Danny said. “You’re stretched. And you’re pushed and so you learn to grow up and be a man and mature and be able to handle difficult situations.”
He feels that even though he spent that time traveling and talking with people about his faith, he got more out of the experience than those he was connecting with every day.
“Oh, I learned more, I feel like,” Danny said. “We get a lot more out of it than they would but it was a really good experience. And I learned a lot. And I think, not necessarily anything specifically but you learn principles that apply to football. You learn to be mature, you learn to communicate, you learn to work hard and sacrifice and those kind of things.”
The two years spent in Costa Rica weren’t a vacation for Danny, who says that it was a lot of hard work and something he felt really helped him in many ways.
Off the football field, Danny appears soft-spoken, polite and respectful. That’s the vibe he puts out to everyone around him. It doesn’t take long when talking to him to feel as though he’s a man of great character, which isn’t always easy to believe in a short amount of time spent with someone.
Brad echoes that sentiment, but says there’s another side to Danny that might explain how this soft-spoken, respectful guy becomes the safety whose helmet-knocking-off hits are remembered by his coaches years later.
“He’s very calm, very laid back, very easy-going,” Brad said. “Nothing ever phases him, except when you get him in a competitive situation and then, you got to watch out. There’s been numerous times where balls have been hurled at me, punted over the fences, throwing anything he could find at me if we’re playing the game.”
This isn’t surprising to Strauss, who has coached seven different players who have made it to the NFL.
“The competitiveness is at a level higher than I’ve seen in most high school kids that I’ve ever coached,” Strauss said. “And that’s in their family. Whether they were playing ping pong or whatever at the house, they would just be that competitive. And I think that shows on the field.”
For Danny, playing for Strauss back at Colton HS will always be something he’s proud of, as the two still keep in touch today.
“[He’s] a guy of great character, someone you look up to, especially as a high school player,” Danny said of Strauss. “He gives you the bigger picture to life. It’s not always just about football. He really cares about the kids and you can definitely feel that.”
As the Chiefs take the field on Thursday for their first team practice of training camp with all of the veterans having now reported, Danny competes for a spot on the team.
The lessons learned throughout his life will help Danny compete throughout training camp here on the campus of Missouri Western State University.
While it’s far from the Costa Rica San Jose Mission, Grand Terrace, California or Provo, Utah, a life not just defined by football allows a NFL hopeful the peace of mind to leave it all on the field, without hesitation or fear.
Something he’s already accustomed to doing, according to Strauss.
“He’s one of those kids that just—he does not say quit.”