HAWAII GROWN REPORT
COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Wilson Afoa, both local high school stars, anchor the Huskies' defensive line.
Home is where the heart is
The magnitude of tomorrow night's game between No. 11 Hawaii and Washington isn't lost on the Huskies' local contingent.
"This is probably the biggest game I have ever played in my life," Hawaii Prep ('05) graduate Daniel Te'o-Nesheim said.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound sophomore teams with senior Wilson Afoa (Saint Louis '03) to comprise half of the Huskies' starting defensive line.
Sophomore walk-on Jay Angotti (Punahou '06) and freshman Kalani Aldrich (Kamehameha-Hawaii '07) also are on the Huskies roster. Angotti has played in all 12 games on special teams this season while Aldrich is redshirting.
Washington (4-8) is coming off a stunning loss to Washington State in the Apple Cup and can only play spoilers to the Warriors.
It's already a big game for the kids returning home, but the stakes have been raised thanks to Hawaii running the table to this point.
After breaking through against Boise State, the Warriors are now playing for a rare shot at a BCS bowl game.
Suddenly, there's so much more on the line.
"This isn't go home and play your friends," Te'o-Nesheim said. "The whole nation is going to be watching. This is a huge deal."
Afoa and Te'o-Nesheim passed up opportunities to play for Hawaii to travel to the Pacific Northwest.
Both cited wanting to experience playing in a major conference against the nation's best teams as reasons for leaving the islands.
Little did they know Hawaii was on the verge of establishing itself as a top-15 ranked team.
"I couldn't even imagine UH playing a game as big as this when I was in high school," Te'o-Nesheim said. "I can't imagine what it's like for them over there. It's going to be really exciting."
Te'o-Nesheim was thrust into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman and has stayed there ever since.
His7 1/2 sacks this season lead a Husky team that has struggled to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
That isn't good news going up against Colt Brennan and Hawaii's potent passing offense.
The Huskies have given up more than 500 passing yards in a game once already this season, and they know they have to get to the quarterback to avoid it happening again.
"(Brennan) is basically the headmaster of their offense and we're really going to have to get after him to stop their offense," Afoa said.
Afoa has played in Washington's last 44 games and has 24 tackles for loss, but it hasn't been the career he envisioned when enrolling at UW.
He will finish without ever playing in a bowl game. After a 26-year period in which the Huskies never had a losing season, they haven't had a winning one during his time there.
"It has been real tough, but all I can do is look forward to the future now," Afoa said. "I hope that I set a good example for the younger guys to pick up the pace and return Washington to glory."
The Huskies showed signs of finally bouncing back this season after opening 2-0, including a 24-10 victory over Boise State to end the nation's longest winning streak, which now belongs to Hawaii.
But Washington's schedule, which features five teams that were ranked in the top three at one point in the season, caught up with the Huskies as they lost their next six.
They rushed for more than 400 yards in a victory over California two weeks ago, but were upset in last week's Apple Cup after blowing a fourth-quarter lead.
"Last week's loss was real tough on us, especially the seniors," Afoa said. "We're looking forward to this Hawaii game as an opportunity to redeem ourselves and send the seniors out right."
It also has opened the door for some in the Seattle media to call for the firing of coach Tyrone Willingham, who is 11-24 as he wraps up his third year.
He is the first coach to endure three straight losing seasons at Washington and is only 1-8 against the Northwest rivals.
He took over a program that was in shambles and Afoa, who knows what it was like both before and after Willingham's hire, says they have the right man in charge.
"Coach Willingham got our program headed into the right direction and has great players coming in," Afoa said.
"I believe in them and I believe they are going to turn our program around."