Moni, a rambunctious 1-year-old pit bull with short brown hair, nips and pesters Juicy, a salt-and-peppered majestic-looking 2-year-old Husky, who fights back before retreating behind the massive legs of her owner.
“I call Moni my defensive lineman because she’s put on a few pounds and is starting to look like her dad,” Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton said, laughing as he patted his tummy on a recent fall afternoon at Washington’s Red Square. “My husky, she’s more of the athletic one. She’s always wanting to run around. I have to take her out for long walks just to get her energy out. She just runs around when I let her go. She’s a real people pleaser.
“They’re both nice dogs. That’s how I raised them: to be nice and well trained. I’m still trying to train them on a few things. It’s a work in progress. It’s just like having kids. You got to keep teaching them fundamentals and keep parenting them.”
Shelton smiles like a proud papa when he talks about his dogs. They’re more than pets. He considers them a part of the family he and his girlfriend, Maria Mariano, have created.
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They give him reasons to smile and laugh. And that’s a good thing for someone dealing with anger issues and still coping with the tragic shooting death of his older brother Shennon, a popular basketball and football coach at Cascade High who died May 1, 2011.
“My pups give me responsibility,” Shelton said. “To keep me out of trouble, I like to put a lot of responsibility on my back. So right after practice, I know they’re at home waiting for me so I have to hurry up, get dressed and get back home because they can’t eat without me. When other guys go out or things like that, I go home and I’m with my dogs and my girlfriend.”
The 6-2, 339-pound Shelton also keeps busy on the field. The standout senior is tied for fifth in the NCAA with seven sacks and eighth with 9.5 tackles for loss.
If Washington (5-1, 1-1 Pac-12) is to have any chance to upset No. 9 Oregon (5-1, 2-1) Saturday at Autzen Stadium, then Shelton has to play well against potential All-American center Hroniss Grasu and anchor a defensive front against the Ducks’ rushing attack, which averages 217.2 yards per game.
And yet, Shelton would just as soon talk about anything else than football. He loves the game, but he’s equally passionate about his family, his Samoan heritage, his anthropology studies, his students — he instructs a freshman orientation class, his first foray into teaching — and yes, his dogs.
“I have a great group of students,” Shelton said. “They’re all locked into the lesson plan, and I’m excited to continue to work with them. I have a chance to change their lives and also change mine in the process.”
As far as football goes, he adds: “I try to be as regular as any student is when I’m on campus. I try to — not lay low — but kind of hide my football identity just because I don’t want people to keep talking to me or asking me about football.
“If anything, I want people to ask me how my classes are going. I try to keep away from football as long as I can when I have free breaks. When I’m with football, I’m dedicated and going at it. When I’m off of football that’s my alone time with my dogs and my girlfriend and basically having a regular student life.”
Shelton has squeezed nearly everything that he could out of his four-year tenure at Washington.
On the football field, he leads the Huskies with 49 tackles. He’s a candidate for a handful of postseason awards and is considered a potential first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
Shelton also participated with the UW track team as a shot putter in 2012 and ’13.
And in the classroom, he was twice voted first-team All-Academic in the Pac-12. Last year, he was among 11 UW student-athletes who participated in a study-abroad class and studied colonization in Tahiti.
“I’ve been through a lot with my family over the years, and the one thing that I learned from all the adversity that we’ve faced is to worry about what’s in your life right now,” Shelton said. “Don’t look forward. Don’t look in the past. Embrace and take the opportunity that’s in front of you and succeed at what you’re doing.
“Have 100 percent focus on what you’re doing right now.”