BUFORD — Ryan Daniel seemingly knew everyone in Buford.
He grew up there, was a star athlete at the high school and returned as a teacher and coach when he finished college. A 6-foot-3 former offensive lineman, he was more of a gentle giant who was beloved by the football players he coached, the special education students he taught and just about everyone else in the community.
Those who loved Daniel were in shock Thursday when they learned of the 30-year-old’s death from cardiac arrest. The popular teacher was playing a pick-up basketball game at the high school gym before school Thursday when he collapsed.
A statement from Buford City Schools superintendent Geye Hamby confirmed that Daniel passed away from a heart attack. Attempts to revive him with CPR and one of the school’s many defibrillator were unsuccessful and he was later transported to Northside Hospital-Forsyth in Cumming.
Before 10 a.m., most of the school had received the news and the hallways were filled with somber faces and people sharing hugs.
“Two words to describe him, beloved and favorite son of Buford,” said Wolves head football coach Jess Simpson, who coached Daniel as a player and then worked with him as a coach. “He’s one of those guys who had such a tender heart for everybody. It didn’t matter who you were. He just cared for everybody. He’s one of those guys who always made your day better. And those special ed kids, he was great with his students. They adored him.
“He loved these people up here. He loved this town. It was kind of in his veins.”
Daniel was a standout offensive lineman at Buford before playing football at Catawba College (N.C.), but also grew up playing basketball and baseball. He also was an accomplished high school baseball player — Simpson fondly remembers a grand slam home run Daniel hit in a region-clinching victory over rival Greater Atlanta Christian.
On the football field, he was part of a Buford senior class that laid the foundation for the team’s unprecedented success over the past 12 seasons. He was a stalwart on the early teams of former Buford coach and current athletic director Dexter Wood under a coaching staff that featured Simpson as defensive coordinator.
“(Daniel) was an iron man, a two-way player in high school,” Simpson said. “He played D-tackle and O-line. He was a bell cow, a leader, a guy who loved football and loved Buford football. We went 10-2 his senior year in the fall of ‘99 and we always credit him and his group of seniors for getting this thing going like it has been.”
The 2000 Buford graduate was an assistant football coach for the football program’s amazing run of four straight state titles from 2007-10, but his duties weren’t limited to on-field work as he also supervised all the football team’s managers. He coached three sports in the school system, including middle school basketball. His Buford Middle players were brought together Thursday morning to receive the news.
The Wolves’ football players gathered Thursday morning at the fieldhouse, where they got the news.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Ryan’s family and with all who knew him and loved him,” Hamby said.
"He was like one of my own children," said Phillip Beard, chairman of Buford City Schools. "This is a shock to everybody."
Daniel also was known around Buford for his fitness. He worked out frequently and people always saw him jogging around the city.
Beard said Daniel was playing basketball in the high school gym Thursday morning with other coaches, when he fell ill.
“He was in great shape,” Simpson said. “He worked out all the time. That’s why this doesn’t make sense. He was at least 50 to 60 pounds lighter than his playing weight.”
Daniel is survived by his mother, Sandra, and his younger sister, Dara. His father, Ron, passed away in 2006. Funeral arrangements haven’t been announced.
“Ryan loved and he was loved,” Wood said. “He loved his mom and sister and extended family, and they loved him. He loved his wonderful, close friends and they loved him. Ryan loved his Buford football family, and they loved him. He loved his BHS students and they loved him. He loved the Buford community and its people loved him.
“Ryan was just one of those special people who loved life and loved people and they loved him in return. Most of all, Ryan loved God, and he knew that God loved him. We are going to miss him, but he will never be forgotten.”