SEATTLE — Washington’s Danny Shelton can sometimes be the biggest, meanest, most intimidating presence on the field. His ability to cause havoc as a defensive tackle is why many are expecting the senior to get picked early in the NFL draft.
Yet what will teammates remember about Shelton as he gets ready to play the final regular-season game of his career Saturday night against Washington State in the Apple Cup?
“At heart, he’s just like an 8-year-old child,” fellow defensive lineman Evan Hudson said.
Added Butkus Award finalist Hau’oli Kikaha, “We know Danny as a goofy guy.”
Need proof? During a timeout in the second half of last week’s win over Oregon State, Shelton was rolling around on the field firing off imaginary arrows at teammates, renewing a competition that started during practice the previous week.
For all his fun-loving antics with teammates, Shelton is dominant from his defensive tackle position. Depending on how Washington State tries to block the 6-foot-2, 339-pound Shelton, he should cause problems for the Cougars (3-8, 2-6 Pac-12) shaky offensive line on Saturday night.
When Shelton arrived at Washington, a professional career wasn’t a priority. His freshman season, he played with Alameda Ta’amu and watched him get drafted in the fourth round. That gave Shelton an indication that he might have what it takes to play in the NFL.
“Just realizing I have a great opportunity with the type of body that I have and the type of strength that I have, I have a great opportunity to create havoc,” Shelton said. “I just kept that mentality throughout all of the years, and I’ve really just grown as a player picking apart technique and defensive schemes.”
But it wasn’t until late in his junior season, after the departure of head coach Steve Sarkisian to take the coaching job at USC, that football became even more serious and important.
“As soon as the (previous) coaching staff left I knew right away I needed to step up and become a leader,” Shelton said. “I have these young guys that need leadership. I kind of took it on my part to grow up, mature and just play my (butt) off this season.”
Shelton and the Huskies (7-5, 3-5) will go into the Apple Cup with 16 tackles for loss and 81/2 sacks. Most of those came early in the season. Once Pac-12 Conference play began, Shelton was no longer getting single blocked. Double teams became the norm and his numbers dropped.
But by taking up two defenders, Shelton provided opportunities for others. His presence is part of the reason Kikaha is tied for the national lead with 171/2 sacks and fellow defensive end Andrew Hudson has 10 sacks. And when Shelton was single-blocked against Arizona two weeks ago, he had nine tackles, his most since playing against Georgia State in September.
“He’s playing a lot more physical. A lot more aggressive than in the past,” Hudson said. “He’s one of those guys when it’s not time to be locked in serious, he likes to joke around and fool around with people. He’s a guy who can do that. Some guys can’t.”
Off the field, Shelton was an academic all-district selection along with Kikaha. They were the first Huskies honored as such since 2001. The anthropology major also delved into teaching this season, leading a freshman orientation class.
“Excelling in academics alone is going to make my mom that much prouder of me. I’ve always taken that part serious and getting a degree is going to be one of the biggest things I receive in my lifetime. Just to know my mom is happy is going to make me happy in the end,” Shelton said. “Playing in the NFL (will) overall kind of seal the deal for me.”