Turning Negative into a Positive: Heimuli Thrives on Lost Yardage, a Husky need

After a redshirt season, the touted linebacker from California should be ready to make quarterbacks and others miserable behind the line.
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As good as the University of Washington defense was in coverage and with the big push up front last season, the Huskies couldn't get into the backfield coming through the gaps.

Starting inside linebackers Kyler Manu and Brandon Wellington finished with a miserly 2.5 and 1.5 tackles for loss, respectively.

In a handful of games, backups Edefuan Ulofoshio and Jackson Sirmon were better than the first-teamers, with 3.5 and 2 TFLs, but more is needed. 

The UW got downright spoiled in 2017 while using its human tornado, first-team All-America selection Ben Burr-Kirven, who simply would not take no for answer when it came to dropping people behind the line.

Which brings us to Daniel Heimuli. 

The 6-foot, 225-pound inside backer has got an impressive resume when it comes to this job. He's got a nose for the ball. In dealing with negative yardage, his play is real positive.

Heimuli rang up an incredible 47.5 TFLs in his career for Menlo-Atherton High School, which sits in East Palo Alto, California, in the shadows of Pac-12 rival Stanford University. 

As the defensive most valuable player of the Polynesian Bowl in Hawaii, he recorded 3.5 more TFLs in the postseason showcase, pushing him over the half-century mark as a high schooler.

"He's shown some big-time flashes," UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said.

This is the 58th profile of a returning Washington football player, each of which can be found on the site by scrolling back. While the pandemic has interrupted and delayed team activities, Husky Maven/Sports Illustrated offers continuous coverage of the team.

Much is expected of Heimuli, so much that people were a little surprised when he redshirted and didn't appear in any Husky games in 2019.

"He started out a little slow, so that's one of the reasons we ended up redshirting him," UW linebackers coach Bob Gregory said. "I think he made progress on the scout team. He made progress in the winter. He certainly came in as a highly recruited guy and real physical, impactful guy."

Heimuli, in fact, picked up offers at a harried rate similar to his TFLs. He had 25 scholarships dangled in front of him, which was still more than anyone else in his class. He ended up picking the Huskies over Alabama and Oregon, as shown in this video.

 Why no Crimson Tide?

"When I made my trip there, it just didn't feel like home," he said.

It helped that high school teammate Noa Ngalu, a defensive lineman, had signed with Washington several months before he did, giving him a ready-made running mate in Seattle.

Heimuli and Ngalu sat side by side when the former revealed his college destination  to a packed Menlo-Atherton gymnasium.

Noa already wore a purple UW hat when his friend looked at the three hats placed in front of him and put on a purple one himself.

"They have a really good family environment," Heimuli said of the Huskies. "It was the first Pac-12 team that offered me in my sophomore year."

The scouting report says Heimuli moves real well in space and is extremely physical. The stat sheet says to expect TFLs to come in bunches. 

Plus he seems to know his way to the backfield. He just needs to get on the field first.

SUMMARY: Some players need a little extra time to grasp the intricate assignments that come with college football. They can't just go out there and hit people. That's what happened to Heimuli. 

GRADE (1 to 5): Heimuli gets a 3, based on all those scholarship offers. He should be plenty motivated to pursue an inside starting job, especially since no one has locked either one of them down yet. Once he gets started, he likely will live up to all that vast potential.  

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