Disc In: A Chat with Danny Landesman

April 24, 2020
By Evan Lepler - 
"Disc In" Interview Series Archive

He may have just turned 18 during tryouts last year, but Danny Landesman was already a fairly familiar face for Los Angeles Aviators’ leadership. A fixture in the LA youth scene as the son of two local ultimate legends, the talented teen had long ago been eyed as a future prospect.

“I’ve played with Danny Landesman for maybe five years,” said Zach Theodore, prior to the start of the 2019 season. “He’s almost always open and has been scoring a lot at practice.”

He made his official debut on April 12, 2019, and the speedy, confident cutter quickly illustrated that his immense potential and preseason production would immediately translate into actual AUDL action, scoring five goals in his debut and 15 goals in his first three games. Overall, in his 10-game rookie campaign, including the playoffs, Landesman registered 32 goals, 13 assists, and four blocks, with just three throwaways in 92 attempts (for a 96.7 percent completion rate). 

“Danny is an incredible athlete and ultimate player who will only continue to get better,” Aviators All-Star Sean McDougall declared last April. “It’s a real treat to watch him out on the field. I told him at one of our first practices that he would be scoring all our goals.”

Like previous teen phenoms in this Disc In: Next Generation series, Landesman made his mark on professional ultimate even before graduating from high school. Along with New York’s Tristan Yarter and DC’s Jacques Nissen, Landesman also earned a spot on the USA Men’s U-20 National Team that was scheduled to compete in the World Junior Ultimate Championships in Sweden this summer. Despite the unfortunate circumstances that canceled the event and halted their freshman years of college ultimate too soon, the trio will remain linked as the three members of this particular Team USA squad that already possess professional experience. 

Landesman matriculated to the University of Colorado last fall and had been considered one of college ultimate’s top newcomers prior to the pandemic’s pausing of the season. Now, like most undergrads, he’s back home, waiting out the current situation and wondering when he’ll be able play his favorite sport again. The unique aspect of his setup, compared to the rest of his contemporaries, is that he does not need Zoom or any other communication device to directly connect with the Aviators’ new head coach. 

Earlier this week, Landesman generously took the time to answer my questions about about surviving the quarantine, experiencing college ultimate for the first time, and anticipating playing for his father when the next AUDL season begins. The conversation has been edited slightly for clarity.

Evan Lepler: Starting fairly simply, how are you, where are you, and what's life been like in your current hometown over the past month? 

Danny Landesman: I’m holding up pretty well. I am currently back at my house in southern California, finishing my freshman year of college remotely. I got home about a month ago, and life here is more or less completely shut down. Even all of the trails around me are closed, so I’ve been mostly confined to my house. Some things I have acquired a liking for recently are home workouts, ping pong, and every single Ultimate Frisbee video on the internet. 

EL: How has the experience of shifting to handling college remotely gone so far? What's the typical day like and how jarring has it been to make the transition from on-campus student to what you're doing now?

DL: It definitely wasn’t easy transitioning to online classes, but I feel like I have more or less gotten the hang of it. A couple things that I had to adjust to were the fact that all my classes were one hour before they started in Colorado [because of the different time zone in California] and that I had even more work than before. However, half of my classes had pre-recorded lectures that I could always go back to for reference, so that definitely helped a lot. 

EL: Ultimate obviously feels somewhat secondary to everything, but I'm definitely curious to ask how your college ultimate experience had gone thus far and what the emotions have been like handling the realization that this season almost certainly won't reach its conclusion? 

DL: My college ultimate experience was so fun and I could probably go on and on about how fun the short season we had was and how distraught we all were when we found that everything was cancelled. Tournaments in the fall like Missouri Loves Company [in early November] helped me get to know everyone really well, and I had already grown some pretty strong friendships on the team. Presidents Day and Stanford were super fun because I got to come back to my home state and play against some old friends. After winning Stanford, we were very confident about the rest of the season, so when we learned that there wouldn’t be a Nationals, of course we all were filled with sorrow. I can’t wait to play again with Mamabird, whenever that may be, because they are such a fun team.

EL: Before going further, can you enlighten me about your overall athletic background and explain how you got your start playing ultimate? 

DL: I have basically played ultimate since I was around seven or eight years old and I would hop in small pickup games. Both of my parents are the reason I play, and I definitely wouldn’t have as much fun when I play if it wasn’t for them. Another sport that I started playing at around the age of four and didn’t stop playing until I got to college was soccer. Playing soccer throughout school and also in club helped me start to understand some field awareness that you need to use in Ultimate and also my stamina and agility definitely improved. 

EL: It sure has become more and more common for 18-year-old high school seniors to make an impact on professional ultimate teams, but I still think it's noteworthy every time it occurs. What are your primary memories from trying out for the Aviators right as your were turning 18 and then learning that you made the team? Were you confident or did you surprise yourself through the process?

DL: I was pretty nervous at my first day of tryouts last year, looking at how big and experienced everyone else was. I had watched Aviator games from the stands for about two years with my parents, so I was kind of just shocked to actually be trying out for this team and knowing that I have a chance to actually make it on the roster. I think the first day of tryouts was a little shaky, personally, but after going to another, I think I made it pretty clear that I could hang with most of these players. 

EL: You made your AUDL debut for the Aviators on April 12, 2019 against San Jose and caught five goals that day in a Los Angeles victory; what was that experience like? Were you nervous going into the game? Any memories from that day you're especially proud of or humbling "Welcome to the AUDL" moments that stand out? 

DL: I was definitely very nervous going into my first AUDL game, especially because I was on the O-line and HATE messing up, and the fact that there are a lot more people than usual watching you play. However, as soon as San Jose pulled to us for our first offensive point, and the disc was in the air, my head was really just focused on the game and all the other little distractions went away. It definitely took a few points to get used to at first, but to me it seemed like I was just playing another game of ultimate and having such a fun time. 

EL: Obviously it didn't take too long for you to become a pretty consistent contributor for the Aviators' O-Line... How did your confidence level evolve as the season progressed and what were the general lessons and takeaways that you emerged with after your first season of professional ultimate?

DL: I feel like my confidence definitely increased throughout the whole season, but there were certainly times [when it wavered, like] when I would get skied by [Seattle Cascades All-Star] Khalif El-Salaam or drop a somewhat easy pass. Some things that I took away from my overall first professional season were that everyone in the league is very athletic and of course that ultimate is just the best sport and most fun thing ever to participate in. 

EL: For year two, whenever it begins, your father, Jeff, was named the new head coach of the Aviators. What was your reaction to that news and what will it be like playing professional ultimate for your dad? 

DL: I was very surprised when I learned that my dad had taken the role of coach for the Aviators a couple months ago. I knew that Tyler Bacon was not going to be coach anymore, but I definitely did not expect my dad to be chosen to replace him. I know everyone on the team is really psyched to play with my dad as the coach and I also think that it’s going to be really fun. 

EL: Aside from ultimate, what's something else that you're especially interested in or passionate about?

DL: A couple other things that I am passionate about are taking hikes with friends and family, mountain biking, and card games. Due to the current situation, I have gotten the opportunity to do all of these activities rather frequently, which has definitely helped the fact that there is absolutely no ultimate. 

EL: Lastly, what are you reading or watching at the moment? Any recommendations of a book, tv show, or movie that others would enjoy?

DL: Some good shows I’ve recently gotten into: Castle Rock, Little Fires Everywhere, and The Society