Photo: 2020 Gadsden City High School graduate Daniel Sparks, pictured playing for the University of Louisiana at Monroe last season, recently transferred to the University of Minnesota. (Courtesy of Daniel Sparks)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Daniel Sparks will continue his collegiate academic and athletic career in the North Star state.
2020 Gadsden City High School graduate, who started a punter last season for the University of Louisiana at Monroe, transferred to the University of Minnesota late last month.
As a true freshman for the Warhawks last season, Sparks punted 30 times for 1,337 yards and an average of 44.6. He had six punts travel over 50 yards with a long of 56. He also handled kickoffs.
Sparks, who felt it was time to move on from UL-Monroe after the school hired a new football staff, will start the spring semester at Minnesota in January 13. The 2020 Golden Gophers went 3-4 and finished fourth in the Big Ten West Division.
“I really enjoyed playing at Monroe, but when the coaching staff got fired, I hit the [NCAA] portal, and Minnesota seemed like a good fit,” said Sparks, who is considering majoring in either biology or chemistry. “They’ve got a good football program and the school is really good academically.”
Sparks earned Class 7A All-State honorable mention recognition at kicker and a member of the 2019 All-Messenger football team at punter in 2019 after going 6-for-8 on field goals with a long of 46 yards while making 18 of 20 PAT attempts. In the Titans’ 17-14 victory over Grissom in Week 9, Sparks kicked a 30-yard field goal, went 2-for-2 on extra points and booted a 47-yard punt near the end of the game that pinned the Tigers on their own 2-yard line and secured Gadsden City’s first and only win of the season.
“I had a coach in Birmingham that trained me, and I drove down there every single day so I could get better,” said Sparks. “I pretty much stayed grounded and worked hard.”
Sparks noted that he tries to clear his mind when asked about handling the mental pressure of the position.
“Usually I just try to think about something completely different. I’ve found that if I focused too much in the moment, that’s usually when I mess up, so I try to make like nobody is watching.”
Sparks also was a standout soccer player at Gadsden City, making the All-Etowah County team after finishing the abbreviated 2020 season as the team leader in goal scored.
Gadsden City head football coach Ali Smith said that Sparks was the Titans’ most valuable player during the 2019 season, both on and off the field.
“Daniel is a very self-driven young man, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t end up as one of the top kickers in the nation. He has the ability to change the field position at any time in a game, and he’s very cool under pressure. Daniel was the face of our program and a guy who you’d want to be out in front for what you’re doing. He’s a tremendous kid who has worked very hard to get himself where he is today.”