By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — In most circles, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim is a man of few words. Ask him how many sacks he expects to get during his senior season, and the University of Washington defensive end is more likely to break into one of his crazy dances than he is to produce an actual number.
“I just don’t share my goals,” he said last week, “because then people would know if I was a failure.”
After putting up 8½ sacks as a sophomore in 2007, and eight more last season, Te’o-Nesheim enters his final season as a Husky with high expectations — from both outsiders and from himself. With another 8½-sack season, Te’o-Nesheim would break Ron Holmes’s 25-year-old school record for career sacks (28).
But he’s not publicly throwing any numbers out there.
“I don’t ever get to where I think I’m going to get,” he said. “I’ve got high goals.”
One of those, Te’o-Nesheim will admit, is to one day play at the next level.
“It’s a goal,” Te’o-Nesheim said of the NFL, “but I’m not banking on it.”
On a defense that has set records for futility, Te’o-Nesheim has been one of the few bright spots. New defensive coordinator Nick Holt has gone as far as to compare the senior from Hawaii to former USC stars like linebacker Matt Grootegoed and current Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu in terms of the UW senior’s work ethic.
Quiet by nature, Te’o-Nesheim has been the Huskies’ undisputed leader in terms of productivity.
“People talk about motors, and Daniel’s motor never stops,” said teammate Cameron Elisera, a junior defensive tackle. “Especially for a pass rusher, when you have to have a first move, a second move and a third move, Daniel just keeps coming, move after move after move. When he goes after the quarterback, he never stops.”
UW defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu said that Te’o-Nesheim’s so-called “motor” has helped inspire the entire defense.
“If he sees one of us slacking off, he’ll jump on you,” Ta’amu said. “You can’t turn to him and say, ‘Well, why aren’t you working hard?’ Because he works hard on every play. That guy, you can’t say anything bad about him.”
During his first three seasons at the UW, Te’o-Nesheim has 19 sacks and 33 tackles for loss. His eight sacks last season marked half the total of the entire team. But his is not a household name in Pacific-10 Conference circles, due in large part to the Huskies’ struggles on the field.
One thing that’s certain is opposing teams knew all about him. Current Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said that when he was with USC last season, the Trojans went into the UW game with an eye on Te’o-Nesheim.
“We had a pretty good idea of where he was going to be on first and second down,” Sarkisian said. “The challenge was, on third down, knowing where he was going to be because we wanted to make sure we were getting our protection toward him and getting two guys on him.”
In preparation for his final season, Te’o-Nesheim has been working on even more moves in his pass-rush repertoire. He watches tape of NFL players like the Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware, although Te’o-Nesheim has yet to perfect the Pro Bowler’s moves.
“I’ve tried them,” he said, “but whether they work or not is another story.”
Seeing as how Te’o-Nesheim isn’t banking on the NFL, one would think that he’s got a backup plan in place. But as he enters his final year of college, the art major can sum up his future plans in just three words.
“Not a clue,” he said.
With another season of high sack totals under his belt, the 6-foot-4, 263-pound Te’o-Nesheim may find himself in an NFL camp one day, which would at least be a start.
“I’d be surprised if he didn’t get a shot,” said Elisara, his junior teammate. “I know he’ll get a shot. I’d be surprised if he didn’t make it. I think he could be just as effective on the next level.”
Running back Johri Fogerson rolled his ankle at Wednesday evening’s practice, but Sarkisian said he expects him to be all right. “That’s why they created tape,” the coach said. … Right tackle Drew Schaefer was back working with first team Wednesday. Senior Nick Scott, a transfer from Drake, took his place during Tuesday’s scrimmage. “We’re trying to keep that (battle) alive and keep them motivated,” Sarkisian said. … Sarkisian continues to be frustrated by the wide receivers’ inability to hang onto the ball at practices. … Linebacker E.J. Savannah (shoulder) returned to practice but worked exclusively with the No. 2 defense. Sarkisian said he’s trying to get Savannah back up to speed before re-inserting him with the starters. … Joshua Gage has been working in place of Savannah, but Sarkisian said that he hopes to see true freshman Jordan Wallace emerge as the top reserve at outside linebacker. … Freshman receiver James Johnson (shoulder) was back practi cing without any visible limitations Wednesday. … Only about a dozen fans attended Wednesday’s morning practice, and one of them stood out above the others. Sacramento Kings center Spencer Hawes, a former Husky basketball player, was among the attendees