This summer University of Washington junior Danny Shelton took advantage of a rare opportunity.
Shelton, an Auburn High School graduate and a starting defensive lineman for the Huskies, was among 11 UW student-athletes who participated in a study-abroad class in Tahiti, an extension of a Pacific Islander studies class Shelton took as part of his anthropology major.
For Shelton – also Polynesian, of Samoan descent – the 10-day stay was an eye-opener.
“We were able to work with elementary students and in the community and learn about their culture and how family-oriented they are,” Shelton said. “And that gave me more insight into my culture, because it’s similar.”
In addition to working with the students at Punavai Plain E’cole E’le’mentarie, several members of the class – Shelton included – helped out with some of the nascent football teams sprouting up in Tahiti, where soccer and rugby are king.
“It really just opened our eyes, and we remembered how important football is,” he said. “Despite all the hardships, they still show their love for football, and that was shocking for us. We’re at the point where we have been playing football for most of our lives. It’s become a job. But seeing how fun they take it reminded us how fun it is. It gave us a mindset that playing for the other guys, the team, is what matters.”
Shelton said that lesson, that newfound love for the game, helped him weather the storm that kicked up after the last regular season game, when head coach Steve Sarkisian announced he was leaving for the University of Southern California.
“We found out the same day that everybody else did,” said Shelton, who was recruited by Sarkisian. “It was out in the media before the team met. I felt just like any other player, disappointed and a little angry. But in the end, you’ve just got to move on. I learned that my freshman year when my defensive coach left. I had to talk with the older guys and decide whether I wanted to stay. In the end I stuck it out and gave the new coach a chance.”
“Football is a game of business. (Sarkisian) has to what he has to do, and we have to do what we have to do as a team. That’s kind of what we’re doing. We’re talking with the younger guys and just getting it into our heads that in the end you’ve got to just keep pushing and doing what you do on the field.”
On Dec. 27 the 8-4 Huskies take on the 8-4 Brigham Young University Cougars in the Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Field in San Francisco, with Marques Tuiasosopa as interim head coach.
“I think Coach Marques is doing really good,” Shelton said. “He’s emphasizing fun for the young guys. We’ve all been through a lot this year, and he’s doing a great job making it fun and not pushing us too much. We’ve built a trust with him, and we want to work for him. It’s a hard time for the coaches as well, and they’re just doing what’s best for them and their families.”
In addition to Tuiasosopa, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and defensive-line coach Tosh Lupoi should be on the sidelines for the Fight Hunger Bowl. And although rumors continue to circulate about which of the coaches will remain after new Husky head coach Chris Peterson takes charge, Shelton said it doesn’t affect his preparation for the game.
We’re just going to keep playing and working together as a team,” Shelton said.
And after the game, the Peterson-era begins.
“We got to talk with (Peterson) the Friday after Sark left,” Shelton said. “First impressions mean a lot, and I think he did a great job with that. I feel like the team likes him. We don’t know what to expect from him, but we’re just going to be coachable. We’ll be ready after the bowl game. One thing is that he’s been around practice, watching us and how we work. And that says a lot about him.”
Regardless of how the Huskies finish the season, Shelton said, he’s already looking ahead to the work he needs to put in for his senior season.
“After the season it’s working on more technique and speed drills for pass rushing,” Shelton said. “I felt that I was used more as a run stopper and gap stuffer. I want to improve and do more pass rushing.”
“I want to finish my degree and see what my chances are in the NFL,” Shelton said. “That’s my plan.”
A true student-athlete
In addition to his success on the field, for which he was named an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention for his play on the defensive line this season, Shelton was honored with his second All-PAC-12 academic First Team nomination. Shelton, an anthropology major, has a 3.47 GPA.