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Friday, September 21, 2007

Paint him purple & gold

Memories of his father were the driving force behind Daniel Te'o-Nesheim's decision to play for the Huskies


When defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim arrived at Washington about 16 months ago, he stood on the turf at Husky Stadium for the first time and thought of his father.

The decision to return to Seattle was an easy one. But the journey had a few more twists and turns than he might have expected.

Te'o-Nesheim isn't a religious guy. And he doesn't believe in ghosts. But in the stadium he could sense the man who died when Te'o-Nesheim was 14.

Before his sudden death in September 1999, David Nesheim worked for the family's contracting company as a painter. He laid a layer of paint somewhere in the stadium when it was renovated in the late 1980s.

That's part of the reason Te'o-Nesheim dons purple and gold -- because his father, the man who taught him to snap a football, is out there.

"I sometimes wonder how many times it has been painted over, or what he actually did here," Te'o-Nesheim said. "He loved football. He played center at Edmonds High and was teaching me to snap the ball that summer (before he died)."

His father's lesson, and untimely death from an aortic aneurysm, pushed Te'o-Nesheim in an unlikely direction -- to Hawaii and to former Huskies All-America center Bern Brostek.

Te'o-Nesheim isn't Hawaiian. His father was Norwegian, his mother is Samoan. He grew up just north of Seattle in Mill Creek. He attended Heatherwood Middle School until the summer after his father died.

"(His father's) death was extremely difficult on everybody," said Sandy Bell, Te'o-Nesheim's aunt. "We kind of all did our own things (to cope)."

His paternal grandfather sent Te'o-Nesheim to Hawaii Preparatory Academy, a boarding school in Kamuela on the Big Island.

His mother, Ailota, and older sister Marie moved to Samoa to be with family. Marie and Daniel added Te'o, their mother's maiden name, to their name.

After he arrived in Hawaii, Te'o-Nesheim excitedly stood before Hawaii Prep football coach Tom Goodspeed and said he wanted to play. His abilities didn't match his desire at first.

"From the beginning, he was this kind of tall, gangly kid with huge feet and, in fact, he didn't play much at the beginning because his feet hurt so much. He didn't have the right equipment and his shoes weren't even close to the right size," Goodspeed recalled.

Goodspeed asked Te'o-Nesheim where he wanted to play.

The teenager had no idea, so he said he knew how to snap the ball. Goodspeed pointed to a group of big kids -- linemen -- and to a gruff coach named Brostek.

"That was the moment I started changing," Te'o-Nesheim said.

Brostek took the boy under his wing, but it wasn't a pleasant mentorship.

"A lot of guys hated him because he was mean," Te'o-Nesheim said. "A lot of people quit because he made you feel like the worst football player ever. It was actually good because it weeded out the weak guys."

Te'o-Nesheim wasn't weak. He never got mad at Brostek. He was too scared to get angry with the man yelling at him.

"I'd just nod my head and say, 'OK,' " he said.

Getting with the program

The usual trappings of youth caught up with Te'o-Nesheim.

He got caught drinking during his sophomore year at Hawaii Prep and was expelled from the strict institution.

He went to the local public school for the next six months, before Goodspeed and Brostek brought him back.

"He always had a drive and purpose about him," Brostek said.

Goodspeed established guidelines for Te'o-Nesheim to return to the football team.

"The only way he was to keep playing was he had to get his act together. He knew his ticket to college and paying for it was playing football. When that kicked in with him, his junior year, he did it the right way. He took that and ran with it," Goodspeed said.

Te'o-Nesheim's body caught up to his desire. He was a menace on the football field and nearly broke the state discus record.

His mother and sister moved to Hawaii his senior year and the recruiting game began.

"All of a sudden, there was a mad rush to recruit him," Brostek said. "I thought the team that fed him the most would be the team that got him; it made me nervous."

But Te'o-Nesheim's heart was in Husky Stadium.

"I had family here. I grew up here," he said. "On my visit, I loved it. My aunt told me my dad painted Husky Stadium when he first moved here and I thought, 'Wow.' "

It was an easy decision. He became a Husky, following the footsteps of his position coach, the man who taught him to play from snap to whistle.

Te'o-Nesheim redshirted the 2005 season and moved into a starting role this spring.

Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham sees much of Brostek in Te'o-Nesheim, not just as a coach, but as a role model.

"By having the opportunity to meet (Brostek) when I was there recruiting him, I was extremely impressed because not only did he bring a football knowledge, but a toughness that he demanded," Willingham said.

At 6 feet 4, 255 pounds, Te'o-Nesheim is becoming a force. He has 10 tackles, including one for a loss, and his coaches have praised him repeatedly.

"I like the way that kid plays," defensive coordinator Kent Baer said. "He's got a motor and just works so hard."

Te'o-Nesheim is quiet, the kind of guy who will "knock your socks off and then help you off the ground," Goodspeed said.

Willingham called him a "cornerstone," with fellow defensive end Greyson Gunheim.

"When you look at them, they are doing all the things that we talk about in our program correctly," Willingham said. "They are the guys that, when you watch their effort, there is never a slow moment in the way they play.

"So if you see them dragging, it is because they don't have anything left to give. They do that whether it's on the field, off the field, in the classroom, in everything they are involved in -- that is their approach and their attitude.

"That's why I say that is the guy that we want to be building our program around. They have done nothing but make us a better football team in every aspect."


What teammates are saying about Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, below:

"He's a quiet guy, but he's goofy. Music starts to play and he always starts dancing. I'm not going to say that he has any rhythm, though. He's cool and a positive guy to have on the team. But, for real, that boy can eat! He'll eat anything. He'll come up and have three plates on the table just for him and those plates will all be full." -- cornerback Dashon Goldson

"When I was in high school, my best friend and I loved Taco Bell. I had mentioned that and (Daniel) told me he loved Taco Bell, too. He said in Hawaii that he would drive an hour just to go to a Taco Bell. Sometimes we go now and, I'm not kidding, every time we've been, he has ordered $24 worth of food and sits down and eats it all." -- defensive end Greyson Gunheim

"He doesn't have any oddball hobbies, or anything like that. He's just a quiet guy, but when he's on the field, he goes to work. I don't think there's any time, in a drill, just going off the field, that I've seen him walk. Off the field, he's chill. We hang out, relax, go to movies. We'll go to the Hawaiian barbecue on the Ave. ... (The Polynesians) are a tight-knit group with the team and he's part of that." -- linebacker Trenton Tuiasosopo

"Daniel, oh Daniel, he marches to his own drum beat and that's just Daniel. He's a very unique individual. His locker is right across from mine and he's just hilarious. He'll just stare at you and start laughing. He's a weird guy, and I mean that in a good way." -- linebacker Scott White

"He may be shy at first, but when you get to know him he is a really, really funny guy. He's off-the-wall, weird. Almost everything he does makes me laugh, but it's one of those things that we don't laugh at his jokes, we laugh at him because he's so goofy about it. ... One thing he does that's kind of weird is he has this mayonnaise thing. He puts mayonnaise on everything -- lasagna, spaghetti, all pasta, chicken -- everything. He also drenches his pancakes in syrup and then covers it in whipped cream." -- defensive end Brandon Ala

-- Molly Yanity

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