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Originally published Monday, August 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Huskies' Daniel Te'o-Nesheim never stops

Randy Hart, coach of Washington's defensive line the past 21 years, has rarely had a player he didn't think could play just a little bit...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Getting to know ...

Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, defensive end

Year: Junior

Hometown: Waikoloa, Hawaii (Hawaii Prep)

Major: Interdisciplinary visual arts. "I just wanted to do something that I enjoyed rather than something that was boring."

Create anything interesting? "I made a sculpture out of trash bags and actual trash. Jake [Locker's] dad saw me picking up trash after the Arizona game last year [for his project]. I was in the tailgate part and I was grabbing all the trash. That was pretty weird. They thought I was grabbing cans for recycling."

Everybody remembers you for the stop on Cal's Justin Forsett at the goal line last year. What do you recall of that play? "I was just lucky. If you just do your fundamentals and just go hard, plays will come to you. Then you have great teammates to help, too. At Oregon State, Greyson [Gunheim] flushed the QB out and I got a forced fumble. It was Greyson who made the play, but you don't hear that part of it."

Bob Condotta

Randy Hart, coach of Washington's defensive line the past 21 years, has rarely had a player he didn't think could play just a little bit harder, give just a little bit more.

But he may have met his match in junior defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.

"He's lit my fire more than I've lit his fire," Hart said, saying he has "never, never, never, never" had to worry about Te'o-Nesheim's effort.

Teammates back that up.

"We call Daniel 'the O-line terrorist,' " said UW guard Jordan White-Frisbee. "It's Te'o-ism instead of terrorism. He never quits. That's the thing that separates him from any other defensive linemen. His motor is always going. You think you've got him, and you let up and he'll come back and get you."

Those traits are especially important now, with Te'o-Nesheim the only experienced player on a defensive line that looms as one of the Huskies' biggest question marks heading into this season, which begins Saturday night at Oregon.

Te'o-Nesheim has started all 25 games he has played for the Huskies and was the team's defensive MVP last season — the only player on the line who has started a game there. Sophomore defensive tackle Cameron Elisara has made the most tackles of any returnee on the line other than Te'o-Nesheim, with a grand total of two.

So in every way imaginable, Te'o-Nesheim will be asked to lead up front, a task he began embracing this offseason when he was one of the organizers of workouts and voluntary practice sessions.

The soft-spoken Te'o-Nesheim says it's a role that's a little out of character for him. But like everything else UW coaches have asked him to do, it's one he accepts with no questions asked.

Says Hart: "He has credibility. We all follow those with credibility, and he has credibility."

It's been hard-earned.

Te'o-Nesheim was born in Samoa, then moved to Mill Creek when he was 5. He had just begun playing football at Heatherwood Middle School when his father, Daniel Nesheim, died suddenly of an aneurysm (his son's name later becoming a combination of his mother's and father's last names). Daniel Nesheim was a painter and one of his projects in the early 1990s was Husky Stadium, something Te'o-Nesheim takes pride in when looking into the seats during practices and games.

"It's pretty cool," he said.

After his father's death, the shaken family initially moved back to Samoa. Then, on his grandfather's recommendation, Te'o-Nesheim enrolled at a boarding school on the big island of Hawaii, Hawaii Prep.

It was there, as a ninth-grader, that football finally took off for Te'o-Nesheim when he chanced into working with former Husky center Bern Brostek, an assistant coach at the school.

"The coaches asked me what position I play and I said center, and they pointed me at Bern," Te'o-Nesheim said. "All he would tell me is how skinny I was and how weak I was because I was 135 pounds. He pretty much would make me eat and make me lift and make me do all this stuff that I really didn't want to do. And then I started to see the results."

As he grew — he is now 6 feet 4, 263 pounds — and his play improved, college scouts took notice. A high school teammate who was a year ahead of him, Max Unger, signed with Oregon, where he is now an All-America candidate at center. The Ducks recruited Te'o-Nesheim hard, as well, as did Hawaii. Oregon was even going to keep Te'o-Nesheim on the offensive line, where he felt at the time he was better.

But his connections to UW were too strong. He committed a few days before signing day in 2005, a few weeks after Tyrone Willingham was hired as coach, and Te'o-Nesheim is now the gem of that class.

He redshirted in 2005, but that relentless motor got him noticed immediately and he moved into the starting lineup for the opener in 2006. He has not been dislodged since.

He ranked sixth in the Pac-10 with 15 tackles for a loss last season, none more memorable than a hard hit on Cal running back Justin Forsett — one of the stars of this year's Seahawks training camp — for a 2-yard-loss at the goal line, forcing a field goal.

"That's him," Hart says. "Give him more opportunities and he'll continue to make those plays. I'll be shocked if he didn't pick his play up more this year going into his third year of experience."

New defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, noting the breakneck pace at which Te'o-Nesheim plays, says he hopes he can get him off the field for a few more snaps this year to keep him fresh.

But given the team's lack of experience up front, and Te'o-Nesheim's value, it's hard to imagine he'll be off the field long.

"The sky's the limit for him," Hart said. "If he didn't [play hard all the time] he'd still be a good college football player. But that's not him. That's not what he wants. He wants to go get it at the next level."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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