Not long before he died, David Nesheim taught his son how to snap a football.

The way Daniel Te'o-Nesheim looks at it now, that long-ago lesson from his father led to his playing defensive end for the Eagles.

"The last sporting thing we did together was to go out in the backyard and he taught me how to hike the ball and he taught me how to long-snap," Te'o-Nesheim said Thursday after another workout for rookies and selected veterans.

According to Te'o-Nesheim, if he hadn't followed his father into their Seattle backyard as a 12-year old for snapping instructions, he may have never chosen to play center on his first football team.

And if he hadn't told his high school coach - after quitting the game for two years following his father's sudden death - that he was a center, Te'o-Nesheim might not have met Bern Brostek.

His position coach in high school, Te'o-Nesheim calls the former Rams offensive lineman his "surrogate dad," and credits Brostek with molding him into the player he is today.

"He had a lot of people help him," Brostek said by telephone. "But he did most of it himself. I think because of his father's passing he really wanted to please everyone . . . and that gave him his inspiration."

Selected out of Washington in the third round of April's draft, Te'o-Nesheim has mostly been under the radar since last month. The two things he is probably most known for by Eagles fans are his peculiar name and the even more peculiar answer he gave reporters moments after he was drafted. (He told them he was "lying down and looking at the ceiling" when his name was called.)

But there's more to the 22-year-old Te'o-Nesheim (pronounced tuh-OH NESS-ime) than his Samoan-Norwegian surname.

There is, of course, his father's death.

"He was perfectly healthy and one day went to work," Te'o-Nesheim said. "And he didn't come back."

David Nesheim, a commercial painter, died from an aortic aneurysm. One of his coworkers was sent to pick up Daniel from school.

"I was like, 'Who is this guy?' I told the lady at the front desk, 'I don't know him,' " Te'o-Nesheim said. "And then I saw him tell her something and her face just got all serious. And I thought to myself, 'What the heck is going on?' "

Te'o-Nesheim was to play in his first football game that Saturday.

"I just quit after that," he said. "I really didn't want to play sports anymore."

Te'o-Nesheim didn't play in any competitive sports for the next two years as his family moved from Seattle to Hawaii. He enrolled into Hawaii Prep Academy, with his grandfather's assistance, and decided to give football another try.

When the 135-pound freshman showed up for the first day of football practice, the coach asked what position he played.

"I was like, 'I play center,' and he pointed me at [coach] Bern Brostek," Te'o-Nesheim said. "He ended up being my surrogate dad."

Brostek, who played in the NFL for the Rams from 1990 to '97, saw something in the scrawny, fatherless kid. He cajoled and prodded Te'o-Nesheim into eating more and lifting more weights.

"When he first saw him we didn't see much," Brostek said. "We thought he was the smallest Samoan we had ever seen."

About the same time that he began to add more weight, Te'o-Nesheim and his mother, Ailota, had decided to add her Samoan last name to one he carried from his father.

"Being born there, you just really have a lot of pride in the country," he said.

By the time he was a senior, Te'o-Nesheim had filled out to be 6-foot-3, 265 pounds, and was garnering scholarship offers. Hawaii offered first, but when Washington came aboard, the decision was almost a foregone conclusion. Brostek was a graduate, as was Te'o-Nesheim's father, who helped repaint Husky Stadium in the early 1990s.

The Huskies recruited Te'o-Nesheim as a defensive end - he was playing both ways by his junior season in high school - but he resisted the idea at first.

"When I introduced myself at Washington I said, 'Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, I play center,' " he said. "Everybody started laughing."

Soft-spoken and occasionally shy, Te'o-Nesheim can be painfully honest. When a Philadelphia reporter asked why he wasn't watching the draft when his name was announced, Te'o-Nesheim told the truth: He was on the floor, staring at the ceiling.

Te'o-Nesheim explained that his aunt was driving him bonkers as they watched the draft unfold and he just needed some space.

"She just blew the whole draft out of proportion. Oh my God. She kept going, 'This is the one [pick when he would be selected]. This is the one,' " he said. "So I just went upstairs."

And then the Eagles called. Many draft analysts did not have Te'o-Nesheim, Washington's all-time sack leader, going much earlier than the fifth round.

Te'o-Nesheim knew how far he had come - from that Seattle backyard 10 years ago to the cusp of the NFL.

"If I didn't go in the yard that one day, who knows?" Te'o-Nesheim said. "It's so cool. That one day might have made a huge difference."

Extra points. The Eagles signed rookie safety Ryan Hamilton, a Council Rock North High grad who played for Vanderbilt, after he was waived by the Saints. They released cornerback Josh Morris, an undrafted rookie out of Weber State.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.