Nov. 3, 2000
by Bri Niemi
The scene took place a little over a year ago at the 1999 Husky Football Banquet. The Earle Glant Tough Husky Award had been given to offensive lineman Dominic Daste. As he walked up to the podium to accept his award, first-year head coach and emcee Rick Neuheisel told his players -- more specifically the freshmen -- to take note that "this is the player you want to strive to be like."
The award and the halo were both rightfully given to Daste, who had suffered a major injury during the conclusion of his freshman season, only to redshirt his sophomore year and rehabilitate himself to the best possible state. His story is one of strength, dedication and the refusal to leave the teammates with whom he arrived on campus in 1996.
Coming out of Damien High School in LaVerne, California, Daste was recruited by Arizona, Arizona State, and Washington.
"When I came up here the coaches were really outgoing and I just mixed with them well," says the 6-3, 305-pound lineman. "When I went on some of the other recruiting trips I didn't have that same feeling with the coaches. I just knew that this would be the best place for me."
Former head coach Jim Lambright and staff felt the same way. Daste contributed immediately as a backup at offensive guard in 1996, and was one of seven true freshmen to play during the season. It would turn out to be a tremendous year, as the offensive line helped running back Corey Dillon shatter many Washington records, including most rushing yards in a season (1,555) and rushing touchdowns in a season (22). All was a lot for an 18-year old to take in.
"When I first got here, I didn't really know what to expect," remembers Daste. "I was still in awe of everything. Being given the opportunity to play as a freshman is something that I will always cherish. I got to go to Notre Dame and play in all these incredible games. I was playing Division-I football and I was the happiest guy in the world."
The happiness, unfortunately, would come to an abrupt halt. Playing to a capacity crowd in Husky Stadium, Daste was seeing significant time in a 42-3 blowout over Oregon State. On a third-quarter play in which Daste was blocking for Jason Harris, the pile of players fell on Daste's legs from behind. His ankle was broken and completely separated, everything torn inside. Lambright called it one of the worst injuries he had ever seen. Daste had two surgeries in which doctors inserted 12 screws -- 10 that remain today -- and a 15-inch plate to hold the ankle in place.
"I had never been injured before, so I thought that it might have just been a broken bone, and at first that was all the x-rays showed," Daste says. "I really wasn't all that worried. I had no idea how bad it was until the doctors told me I had to go into surgery the next week. It was kind of devastating, but I knew it came with the sport, and that it was just the nature of football."
The injury would end Daste's season and change his life forever. His dreams of taking his game to a higher level would have to be put on hold as he focused on the basic things -- walking, for instance. His injury would be something that would never go away, and in fact, would only get worse if he continued to play football. Doctors tried to warn Daste of the repercussions he would face down the road.
"It was important that he understand that we're invulnerable when we are 19 or 20," said then-UW trainer Dennis Sealey. "It's when you're 45 or 50 that it can become a problem. He faces arthritis either way. The issue is whether he is willing to accept that he may have more of an arthritic development if he continues to play."
The decision to return was not a hard one for Daste. The pain he would endure, for the sake of the team.
"The more and more that I thought about it, I knew that I wanted to finish with the other linemen I came in with," says Daste. "We are all really good friends and it was important for me to go out playing with these guys. It was something I had to do for myself."
The closeness of the offensive line is well known and is something that players credit for their success. They live together, hang out together, and together share some of the best moments of their lives. Dominic will be a groomsman in senior lineman Chad Ward's wedding this coming June.
"The offensive line is pretty much inseparable," says Daste with a smile. "I don't know if a lot of other positions hang out as much as we do. I always say we are like grumpy, old men. We sit around and aggravate each other, but we wouldn't have it any other way."
Daste has come a long way since the frightening moments late in 1996. He has overcome what many thought to be a career-ending injury, and contributed to the team both on and off the field. He is set to graduate from school this March, earn his teaching credentials, and then will teach in primary school. Daste's credits his success, in part, to his parents, Diane and Maceo.
"My parents have been everything to me," says Daste. "As soon as I was hurt, my mother was here. They have been there for me through thick and thin. They have been a very big influence on my life."
The final games in Dominic Daste's career at Washington are here. While most people would be shocked to know that he is still playing four years later, considering the seriousness of his injury, Daste shrugs off all amazement.
"I'm sure if anyone else went through what I did, they would do the same thing," Daste says. "I think I have been very lucky, they put me back together very well. The doctors did a fantastic job."
"Dominic had to do more and endure more than a lot of other guys who are playing," says offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson. "He's an inspiration to a lot of guys in a lot of ways. He still has got some game and he's made a great contribution to us. He's really played some very, very good football."
For Daste, the road has been a little different, and in some respects, a lot harder. However, there isn't anything for which he would trade it in, or do any differently.
"Your senior year gets here fast," he says. "As a freshman, I heard guys talk about that feeling of everything being for the last time but I didn't understand it. It will be weird, I'm sure I will tear up."
He has an incredibly positive attitude, an amazing work ethic, and has become quite an inspiration to his teammates and coaches. When his helmet is taken off for the last time, and his number belongs to someone else, Dominic Daste will still be the person they strive to be like.