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Super Bowl 2021: How former BYU star Daniel Sorensen made it back – Deseret News

Need a tackle? Bone-jarring hit? Game-saving pick? Call Dirty Dan, he’s The Man.

Play in a Super Bowl and you may be lucky. Play in that event in back-to-back years and you have to be very good.

That’s the run Kansas City Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen and an improved defense demonstrated by making it to Super Bowl LV to face iconic Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

“We have the same core group of guys from last year,” Sorensen, who was voted special teams captain this season, told the Deseret News last week. “What we gained from last year to this was greater confidence as we are the defending champions.”

And the driving force behind the Chiefs’ momentum is head coach Andy Reid, who has proven to be not only a genius at the whiteboard and spotting talent, but also in earning the confidence of his players.

“I am really excited for him but it should be no surprise,” said Sorensen. “He’s the best at what he does and this year proved it with so many potential distractions and challenges he guided his team back to the Super Bowl with the chance to go back-to-back.”

For an undrafted free agent signed by the Chiefs in 2014, how much bigger can it get to chase a second Super Bowl ring?

It is huge.

His brother, Brad, two years older than Dan, explains the driving force that makes his baby brother what he is today. He, Dan and sister Emily all bought houses in the Vineyard neighborhood west of Geneva Road near Orem.

“The way we grew up, our dad made a competition out of everything,” said Brad, a seventh-round 2013 pick as a QB who played three years with the San Diego Chargers.

Their father, Kory, died April 3, 2019, after a battle with atypical Parkinson’s disease. He was 65.

So, competing, making an NFL team, fighting for the right angles, and making spot-on reads is mandatory for Daniel, a lifelong fighter in the Sorensen family.

To understand what makes Dirty Dan tick, look under the hood, peek at his engine and check his fuel.

Wired to compete

Daniel Sorensen’s built to compete. He sees a challenge and he switches to autopilot, calculating angle, speed, velocity and what effort is required for maximum effect. Be it football, baseball, basketball, moving a chess piece, winning a parking spot or just figuring out a food line, he’s just has to win.

Brad and brothers Trevan, Bryan, Cody were all bigger than their youngest sibling, Daniel. Along with Emily, they all played multiple sports in high school and college. Their father Kory was a multisport athlete at Provo High and set a competitive tone in the Sorensen home.

“The way my dad was, he made a competition out of literally everything,” said Brad. “It didn’t matter what we were doing, it was made into a competition. We’d be driving in the car to church or anywhere, it didn’t matter and my dad would create a game out of math problems, or in California where we lived, it was who could point out a particular kind of Jacaranda tree the most times.

“He’d create a game out of who could name a song, or a who is who. He created a culture of competition. We were the best of friends but we were probably one another’s biggest rival. It was that way in everything, whiffle ball, baseball, basketball, football, on the trampoline, with Ping-Pong, shooting pool and video games.”

It was in this ocean of sibling rivalry that Daniel felt the squeeze. As the youngest, the baby, the smaller brother, he had to fight harder, be more aggressive just to keep up. His father saw he could lose his temper easily under this strain, but thought it could be turned into a positive trait if controlled.

“You just get to a point where you’re sick of getting beat up on, you’re sick of losing. You can’t score on the court, you keep getting boxed out and shoved around, so I had to learn to fight back. They keep pushing you down,” Daniel once told Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star.

Explained Dirty Dan, “I was the one that would get really mad because physically, I couldn’t keep up with them. So I’d have to do anything — push, shove, start throwing things. I had a little bit of a temper, and my parents talked about it maybe being an issue. But my dad thought, ‘That’s going to help him out someday when he can control that. That competitive drive, it’s hard to teach. But he’s got it.’”

Brad and his brothers saw this side of him often.

Fuel to make plays

“He was only two years younger than me,” said Brad, “but he was always nipping at my heels in everything. He was always pushing himself. There wasn’t a very big gap in abilities between me and Dan.”

It was a trait that served him well at Colton High in California and at his college choice, BYU, where he excelled as a hard-hitting safety for Bronco Mendenhall, now head coach at Virginia.

After Week 14 of the 2020 season, Dirty Dan had 342 career tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 23 pass breakups, 10 interceptions and three defensive touchdowns.

Kansas City’s Daniel Sorensen (49) runs with this interception late in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. After Week 14 of the 2020 season, Sorensen had 342 career tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 23 pass breakups, 10 interceptions and three defensive touchdowns.
Reed Hoffmann, Associated Press

Baby brother can play with energy and passion. He can walk the talk.

“I can look back now and appreciate what a special talent he is, and in sharing those memories, recognize what a great player he has become,” said Brad

Of all the Sorensen boys, Brad believes Dan resembles his father Kory the most and picked up his father’s traits.

“He’s the most kind, soft-hearted person who is easygoing 95% of the time. And then he has this different side of him on the football field. After the Cleveland game and after the Bills game he said he thinks he just plays better when he’s angry. He’s got kind of a grudge, so he looks for ways to get himself fired up and take it to the next level.

“He looks for those opportunities to get himself riled up and angry,” said Brad, who added that it seems to intensify in the playoffs as witnessed on the much-publicized goal-line hit and forced fumble before halftime in the playoff win over Cleveland.

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Rashard Higgins fumbles the ball over Kansas City Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen at the goal line during an NFL divisional-round football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Kansas City.
Orlin Wagner, Associated Press

No cowardice in him

Brad’s job growing up was to keep an eye on Daniel. When he was 13 years old they were biking one day on a familiar trail and came upon a big jump. Trying to be the smarter one, Brad told Daniel they’d better avoid it and go on.

“We can’t do this or I’m going to get in trouble,” Brad told Daniel. “You’re going to get hurt.”

From there, the first thing Brad knows, Daniel is attacking the jump, racing down the hill and launching off it, sailing in the air and landing just fine.

“You know, that’s kind of how he lived his life. He’s not scared or afraid. You see that in some of the plays he makes on the field. It’s just the way he’s had to compete, scrap and fight. He’s not afraid of the big plays and he’s made big plays time and time again.”

Dirty Dan’s playoff goal-line hit that forced Cleveland receiver Rashard Higgins to fumble proves that theory. The play, which did not result in a flag for targeting, gave the Chiefs the ball on the 20, which led to a subsequent field goal before halftime. Without star QB (Patrick Mahomes), the play proved critical to the Chiefs’ momentum and subsequent win. NBC Sports’ Michael David Smith called it “the most consequential play of the year.”

That play proved so big for K.C. and so devastating to the Browns, Daniel’s mother, Roxann, made the mistake of searching her son’s name on Twitter following that game. What she saw was stunning. People were tweeting that Daniel ruined their season, should have been fined, it should haven’t been ruled a fumble but a defensive penalty.

“I was surprised how serious some fans got with it,” said Roxann.

“It was a legal football play,” said one of his college coaches at BYU, Kelly Poppinga, now co-defensive coordinator at Virginia. “Both guys went low, trying to make a play and Daniel forced a fumble with a legal hit.”

In a season that included Sorensen making a 50-yard pick-six from Denver QB Drew Lock, a fourth-quarter interception of Bills quarterback Josh Allen to preserve a 25-17 win, and that Sunday Night interception of a Las Vegas Raiders Derek Carr pass in the final stanza to secure a 35-31 Chiefs win, you’ve got a capsule of Sorensen’s composition.

That’s a pretty good resume of this season’s game-changing plays.

“That pick-six was my favorite,” said Poppinga. “We follow the Chiefs closely because the other safety, Juan Thornhill, No. 22, is one of our Virginia players.

“But honestly, the thing I’m most impressed with in Dan, and we talked about this all the time as a staff, is just his consistency. Man it’s been impressive, like I’m blown away that this is like his seventh year. He’s only getting better with the experience he’s had.”

Big hitter? Playmaker?

Poppinga can still hear the collisions from Sorensen’s days at BYU.

“Well, first of all, he was gonna smack the crap out of people. I don’t know if you’d put that in the newspaper, but he was gonna light you up. That was the one thing we always knew about Dan. He was never going to shy away from contact and would actually seek contact.

BYU defensive back Daniel Sorensen, right, is congratulated after taking an interception back for a touchdown during game against Idaho State in Provo, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011.

BYU defensive back Daniel Sorensen, right, is congratulated after taking an interception back for a touchdown during a game against Idaho State in Provo, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

We’re always looking for that in a strong safety position that played for us. That is, finding a guy that we knew was going to show up every single day, not just in games but practices. I remember there were some practices where he literally knocked some dudes out. I was concerned so we had to pull him back a little bit. You didn’t have to always tell him to hit a guy, he was going to go after it every single play.”

Tom Brady and Tampa Bay?

It’s in Sorensen’s DNA to welcome the big challenge.

He’ll be watching Brady’s eyes, dialing up images of films, adjusting his angle in a split second. The habits of a sage veteran. Pass catchers, be advised. Sorensen isn’t going to tiptoe through this Super Bowl game.

He has a hunger to win and if he can generate something to be angry about, watch out.

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