The powerful connection that led Danny Shelton to New England and reunites him with late father

Massive nose tackle describes Junior Seau, Vince Wilfork as role models he plans to follow with Patriots in search to be part of an NFL winner.

Danny Shelton greets Patriots owner Robert Kraft following his trade on March 10. (New England Patriots)

There was a lot more that drew Daniel Saileupumoni Shelton to New England than a simple football transaction.

The record will show that – on March 10, 2018 – the Patriots traded a 2019 third-round pick to the Browns for Shelton and a 2018 fifth-round pick. But as Danny “Feast Mode” Shelton pointed out on Monday in first exchange with New England reporters, he has long felt a connection to Boston.

On Sunday, from a Boston cemetery, the 24-year-old, three-year NFL veteran nose tackle posted a picture of himself next to the headstone of Gaston Shelton, his father. Gaston died in 2008, when Shelton was just 15.

“The last time I was out here in Boston was 2011 for a family reunion,” Shelton recalled. “My dad’s side of my family is Peruvian and we haven’t really been in touch with them during my childhood. In 2011 we had the opportunity to have a family reunion and we also had the opportunity to go up to his gravesite, so that was the last time I had seen my dad’s gravesite.

“It was really just heartwarming to be there. It was a crazy story because all of the cemeteries were closed and I couldn’t get a hold of anyone to help me find my dad’s grave. Luckily, my oldest brother has great memory and all I had to do was use FaceTime and show him where I was and he got me to my dad’s gravesite and we were able to take photos and take him flowers.”

“We separated from my dad when I was younger,” Shelton explained. “I want to say like 2000, 2002 maybe, so I didn’t see him until maybe the year that he was about to pass in 2007. It was tough at the time, but at the same time my relationship with my dad was different from my older siblings. I was brought up different from my siblings. It was a hard time for us, but I’m just glad that we’re able to be closer to my dad now and to be able to play in front of him.”

When you listen to Danny Shelton, you get a strong sense of the calm with which he tries to live his life. He got word of the trade to New England after returning from his Bora Bora honeymoon with his wife.

Ever since, everyone has been learning more and more about the player who has suffered through a 4-44 mark in his first three NFL seasons in Cleveland, including last year’s horrific 0-16 campaign.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is part of the formula to winning is doing your job,” Shelton said, repeating the most famous mantra in Foxboro. “I see that everywhere at the facility with everyone just staying focused and having that same goal leading toward success. That’s what I want to be a part of.”

He has been through a lot in his still very young life, gaining perspective that is impossible to teach.

On May 1, 2011, the spring before entering the University of Washington, Shelton and his brothers were involved in an altercation at an apartment complex in Auburn, Washington. According to the police report, Shelton’s brother Gaston, was at a friend’s apartment when a fight between a group of men broke out. While Gaston was recording the incident on his cell phone he was punched and struck the man back. Three men, including a man named Olenthis Woods, assaulted Gaston causing multiple cuts.

After the attack, Gaston called his wife and told her to tell Danny and his brothers that he was ambushed. Danny and his brothers Kevin and Shennon then arrived at the complex along with a cousin and a friend. The six men then began to search for Olenthis Woods. After they approached his home, Woods’ mother and sister attempted to have them leave while Woods himself went inside his home to retrieve a handgun.

Gaston and Shennon Shelton stood at the front door while the others surrounded the sides of the house. Woods then shot Gaston Shelton in the chest after telling him to back up. Shennon Shelton then lunged at Woods and was shot in the head, dying from the wound. Although Gaston would survive, Auburn prosecutors decided not to charge Olenthis Woods, declaring self-defense.

Danny Shelton turned to K-9 emotional therapy, which he embraces fully to this day.

“Following my brother’s passing in 2011, my family received a Rottweiler puppy from a family friend,” Shelton said. “I was in college at the time, but I would make it back home and I’d see their relationship with the dog and I’d see how it would kind of bring them back to the old ways – having fun, laughing.

“Just bringing it back to the good times that I remembered and being away from them at college, it was tough at the time. I also wanted that connection. I wanted that relationship. I wanted to fill that gap that felt empty from my brother passing. I think that overall, really, pushed me towards making that decision and getting Moni, my first dog. Also, my girlfriend at the time – my wife now – but my girlfriend at the time, we both thought it would be a great opportunity for us to dive into a relationship with the new puppy and kind of mature together and just add more responsibility. One dog turned into two dogs, and then two dogs turned into three and now four. We’re planning on staying at four.”

His four dogs are Moni and Juicy (female) and Mojo and Juju (male).

“They’re emotional support animals, so I had them trained,” he said. “For me, it’s just that warm feeling I get coming home and seeing their smiling faces. Whenever I’m in a vulnerable position or I’m feeling stressed out – Moni especially – she’s the one that will come over and she’ll notice it and she’ll cuddle up or she’ll do something funny to get me distracted. It’s just crazy how they know me so well, and they also know my wife, as well. They help my wife out, as well.”

It comes as no surprise that Shelton also views MMA training as a form of release.

“Yeah, most definitely. I feel it’s a different arena and it gets my mind off of football,” Shelton said. “I have fun with it. It’s nothing serious but at the same time I love doing the training. Jiu-Jitsu – I love the cardio that it brings and just being able to push myself even further. It’s a fun sport and I love the training; yeah.”

Shelton wore the No. 55 in college to honor his idol Junior Seau and it’s part of his twitter handle @Danny_Shelton55. He wouldn’t mind continuing that in Foxboro.

“I think it would be awesome,” Shelton beamed. “Any opportunity I get to wear the number I would take in a heartbeat. It’s just amazing to have this opportunity to play for a great organization and knowing that one of my role models, one of the guys I looked up to, played here. Actually, a couple of guys – Vince Wilfork, as well – just knowing that I’ll be able to play for a team that’s had such great talents here. I just want to add to the team’s success and to be a part of the team.

“Obviously, Vince Wilfork is one of the greatest tackles. For me, he’s someone that I still look up to even when he was with the Texans. I got the opportunity to reach out to him and kind of pick his brain and just learn a couple of tips from him. He’s been really responsive. He’s been a guy that has been really helpful this offseason and I’m looking forward to reaching out more and learning some more from him.”

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