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Behind Kansas City safety Daniel Sorensen’s competitive fire

Daniel Sorensen is a quiet, engaged father at home but when he gets on a football field, he turns on a switch as Dirty Dan. Here’s a look at where he gets it

Kansas City Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen (49) leads his teammates out onto the field before their NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019.
Reed Hoffmann, Associated Press

Kansas City safety Daniel Sorensen is pretty chill the week after his forced fumble and breakup of a Houston Texans fake punt propelled the Chiefs into the AFC championship game. It is being called the biggest play in the biggest comeback victory in Kansas City franchise history.

You’d think Dan would be all over social media, gulping down interviews and promoting the plays media members are predicting Chiefs fans will be telling their grandchildren about someday — the bombshell day by Dirty Dan.

But no, when the dust settles and he’s put his kids to bed, Sorensen falls into his nightly routine of watching film, studying opponent tendencies, breaking down keys and devouring the cerebral part of football that has made the six-year veteran so valuable.

In last week’s win over the Texans, Sorensen played every defensive snap (80) as well as 29 special teams plays. If you add some offensive plays as a backup quarterback, receiver or running back, it would be exactly what he did in high school in Colton, California — he was all in.

Last Sunday, Sorensen’s wife kept getting calls from her siblings telling her, “Hey, Danny’s trending on Twitter.” She didn’t know what that meant. “We don’t do much social media,” said Whitney Sorensen.

Dan Sorensen kept it simple after that big win when asked about his tackle of Houston’s blocking back on the fake punt. “I was just doing my job.”

And even that answer made him an even more endearing figure amongst a fan base that hasn’t always been kind to the former BYU safety, an undrafted free agent.

Chip off the block

Sorensen is a quiet, unassuming soul, a kind of introvert who shines when games begin. He always has. It’s in his nature. He gets that fire on the field from his late father, Kory Sorensen. Playing 110% is in his DNA.

“They are both competitive and intense, but turn into completely different people when they leave the field,” said his mother, Roxann Sorensen, who traveled from her home in American Fork this past week to be a grandma, mother and cheerleader in Dan’s home.

“They are gentle giants, but when they are in a game, they turn into … I don’t know what you call it.”

Kory Sorensen coached all his kids in soccer, baseball and basketball, but didn’t allow his sons to play football until high school. He didn’t want them to lift weights when they were kids.

Kory passed away April 3, 2019, due to complications from multiple system atrophy, an atypical form of Parkinson’s disease.

Kory was a beloved basketball, football and baseball player at Provo High in the ’70s, respected by his teammates for his upbeat personality and drive. He smiled easily, was confident and a natural leader. The son of legendary educator Wilson Sorensen, who was the president of Utah Technical College (the precursor of Utah Valley University) from 1946 to 1982, Kory was raised with a solid foundation about life and sports. He imprinted that love on his offspring as he and Roxann raised them in Southern California.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, Kory was a 10,” said Provo classmate Syd Sperry. “Kory’s decency transcended what I thought was possible. I have never met a more compassionate, caring human in my life.”

Sperry remembers Kory’s junior year of high school when all the juniors were sick of seniors winning the traditional bonfire competition at the school. Sperry and Kory made plans to skip classes for a week and scrounge for wood. On the appointed night, the juniors had the biggest fire and it burned so hot it melted a convenience store sign across the street and windshields in the school parking lot. “Our principal canceled the event that year and Provo High never had another bonfire competition again,” Sperry said.

Before Kory lost his ability to speak before his death, he was asked what Dan thought of the Chiefs’ season-ending loss a year ago. “I don’t know. He’s so mad, he won’t say a word about it. It’s been that way for months,” said the father. “He hates to lose.”

The Sorensens were one of the most respected families in Provo in the ’60s and ’70s. The kids were athletes and student council members or student body presidents.

Daniel Sorensen poses with his parents, Roxann and Kory, following a Chiefs game.
Provided by the Sorensen family

“Both Kory and Dan are the youngest in their families,” said Roxann. “Both are super competitive be it football, basketball, pingpong or a game of Monopoly or Settlers. Both love kids. Kory was giving his kids a ball as soon as they were born, tossing a ball, having them hit socks with a bat, dribbling a soccer ball, playing catch with a football.

“Dan is the same with his kids. He built a sports court in his basement for the kids where they are always playing with a ball. Dan likes to work on wood projects as Kory did, who learned that from his father, Wilson. Both are gentle giants off the field, funny, kind, nice guys. Both are spiritual and dedicated. Dan is always in training mode with workouts, eating healthy and a (driven) mindset.”

Dan was driven to achieve in athletics going up against his older brothers. They and his father were the group he wanted to please. At his father’s funeral last spring, Dan said his father made everything a competition, even seeing who could be first to get the mail out of the mailbox.

Roxann remembers many days Daniel would come home frustrated and sore, but determined after playing sports against his older brothers. It made him tough.

Dirty Dan

Being a tough hitter earned him the nickname Dirty Dan in Kansas City — a nice Latter-day Saint guy who turns nasty once a game kicks off. The name came not because he was a dirty player but because he played hard.

In 2017, his special teams coach, Dave Toub, commented on the nickname and how it applied.

”He’s a quiet guy but he has the nickname ‘Dirty Dan’ for a reason,” Toub said. “When he steps on the field, he turns into that ‘Dirty Dan’ guy. It’s not a nasty thing, it’s just that he plays hard and he’s tough and a courageous guy. It’s a respectful thing.”

Kory and Roxann’s family is comprised of surprising overachievers who had the physical skills to stand taller than most in their peer groups growing up. Kory was a four-sport letterman at Provo High and played basketball at what is now Utah Technical College. Roxann’s father, Stan Gleave, played basketball and baseball for BYU in the ’50s.

The Sorensen family: back row: Trevan, left, Bryan, Dan, Emily, Brad; front row: Cody, left, Roxann, Kory.
Provided by the Sorensen family

Daniel’s oldest brother, Trevan, 40, was a tight end at UNLV, followed by Cody, 39, who played wide receiver at Utah. A sister Emily, 37, participated in volleyball and soccer. Bryan, 34, was a JC All-American tight end at San Bernardino Valley College, and Brad, 31, played quarterback at BYU and Southern Utah, where he became the first Thunderbird ever drafted in the NFL.

Dan is now 29. The kid who was once beaten up regularly by his elders is now a punishing tackler at the highest level of the sport. He can lay the lumber, as attested last Sunday.

The Chiefs were down 24-0 to the Texans in the second quarter when Houston decided to go to punt formation, call for a fake and run by Justin Reid, who took the snap and raced to his right with hopes of gaining the needed four yards for a first-down conversion. But Sorensen snuffed it out at the onset and raced towards Reid, nailing him with a tough hit and takedown two yards short.

That play electrified the crowd and KC sidelines. On the ensuing kickoff to Houston, Sorensen punched the ball out of the hands of the Texas return man and the Chiefs recovered, setting up another score.

Strength at home

In Sorensen’s home in the suburbs of Kansas City, Dan has the perfect support system in his wife, Whitney, who grew up in a family familiar with the rigors of being on competitive teams.

Neither he nor his wife like to be the center of attention and are humble parents just plugging away at the American dream in the heartland.

Whitney’s brother is former Timpanogos High, Salt Lake Community College and BYU guard Skyler Halford. Growing up, Whitney played soccer, ran cross country, was a competitive clogger and member of BYU’s folk dance team that traveled through Europe and the United States performing.

“She is patient with the children and driven to be involved in the family. She always makes our family her priority and makes time for me and the kids,” said Dan. “She is a friend to everyone and works just as hard off the field as I do on the field.”

Their oldest is Brooks, 4, who spent last Tuesday with Dan at the Chiefs’ training facility on weightlifting day where he played catch with players and went through one of his favorite routines, getting footballs signed.

“He’s a huge fan and can tell you just about every team in the NFL,” said Whitney. “He makes sure he gets kicker Harrison Butker to sign his football. He wants to be a kicker someday and loves hanging out with the team, wearing Dan’s jersey.”

Kansas City Chiefs safety Dan Sorensen with his wife, Whitney Sorensen, and children, from left, Brooks (4 1⁄2 years old), Harrison (10 months) and Kennedy (3 years old).
Provided by the Sorensen family

The second is a girl, Kennedy, who turned 3 on Thursday of this week leading up to the AFC championship. “She enjoys going to the games and watching all the games,” said Whitney. The youngest is 10-month old Harrison.

A family team

Whitney is active in the Kansas City Chiefs wives organization that does two community service events each month, including staging baby showers for wives of servicemen and serving food in homeless shelters.

She’s found that former BYU lineman and current Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has been a great support to families of players, always greeting family members and making it a priority to spend time with his own family, which is spread around the Kansas City area.

Dan agrees with Whitney’s assessment. “He loves his team and family and treats the team like family. He loves football. Coach Reid takes the time to have a personal relationship with his players. He gets the most out of his players and makes everyone around him better. He lets you be you. He’s funny and has a great sense of humor.”

Once upon a time back in his freshman days as a BYU player, Dan was listed as the eighth-string safety and wasn’t on any special teams list. He decided to go and sit in on all the special teams meetings until they noticed him, and he eventually played on special teams.

As his college career ended, he was a BYU captain and career leader in pass breakups.

This week, as an undrafted free agent in his sixth season, he enters a conference championship as the toast of the town.

But you wouldn’t know it by talking to him.