An understudy is expected to be ready when his number is called.
At 4:40 p.m. Pacific Time this past Saturday, in Donovan Dalton’s 40th game as a Rainbow Warrior, the coaches yelled for No. 29.
Dalton replaced safety Khoury Bethley, who was ejected. Bethley had started in place of ailing Ikem Okeke. Dalton made eight tackles — exceeding last season’s total of six — in the 53-20 loss to Washington.
“That was the first time getting 50-plus snaps (in a game) for three years,” Dalton said. “It felt different. It felt comfortable. I felt good getting back into the swing of things playing football, doing what I love to do.”
It had been a circuitous route for Dalton, who grew up in Apple Valley, Minn. Before his junior year, he moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., where he enrolled at Desert Mountain High.
“My GPA was horrible there,” he recalled. “I had to move out of there, and get to Saguaro (High School) halfway through my junior year. I finished my school year out there. I was able to get my grades up and talk to a lot of college coaches and get on the radar. And that’s how I ended up here.”
Through mutual agreement, Dalton spent the 2017 season as an academic redshirt. He was allowed to practice, which meant he faced the Warriors’ top offense every day.
“I practiced against John Ursua, and that helped me a lot,” Dalton said.
Dalton said the redshirt year proved helpful in acclimating to Hawaii and college.
“Patience was the main thing,” he said. “I’m a guy who always likes to go out there and play right away. I had to be patient, and wait my turn.”
In 2018, he played in 12 games, mostly on special teams. He had five coverage tackles on kickoffs. His lone defensive tackle netted a 1-yard loss.
Dalton has found a home on defense after being a two-way player in high school.
“I like defense a lot more,” he said. “I like the physical play. I like hitting people instead of being hit.”