Washington Redskins General Manager Charley Casserly says Kurt Gouveia was "one of the best college linebackers I've ever scouted as far as being instinctive and productive." Coach Joe Gibbs says Gouveia "definitely" could start at outside linebacker for the Redskins, and "do a great job."

Special teams coach Wayne Sevier thought so much of Gouveia that he used to have him play on all of the club's special teams. But that was before Larry Peccatiello, the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, began to use Gouveia as a replacement for Greg Manusky at middle linebacker in passing situations.

"I look at myself as a fortunate football player," Gouveia said.

Fortunate that Brigham Young University recruited him out of Waianae High School in Hawaii, when even the University of Hawaii was not interested.

Fortunate that one of BYU's assistant coaches was Hawaiian and able to help Gouveia overcome homesickness in cold, faraway Provo, Utah.

Fortunate that the Redskins selected him in the eighth round of the 1986 draft even though their national scouting service hadn't listed him, then kept him despite a knee injury in preseason.

"We thought he was worth the investment," Casserly said.

On Sunday, when the Redskins play the NFC East-leading New York Giants at Giants Stadium, they will be looking for Gouveia to help cover speedy running backs Rodney Hampton and Dave Meggett. Gouveia said he is not interested in chasing them.

"I just want to hit them," he said.

Like the day he left an indelible impression on Ken Schmidt, who coached the outside linebackers at Brigham Young. When Gouveia was a freshman, he played on BYU's junior varsity, and Schmidt remembers wondering whether Gouveia ever would be able to play for the Cougars.

Gouveia erased all doubts one afternoon during his sophomore year.

"We were doing pass rush drills against the offensive linemen, and they were always getting their hands on our facemasks," Schmidt said. "So, in a meeting one day, I said, 'The next time one of them does that, I want you to rip his head off.' "

Gouveia complied. Matched up against a senior guard who put his hand on Gouveia's facemask, Gouveia proceeded to grab the guard's facemask and tear his helmet off.

"We called him The Grouch," Schmidt said, "because on the field, man, he was an ornery sucker."

Off the field, Gouveia busied himself with more mild pursuits -- needlepoint, for example.

"I used to do that just to get away and relax my mind and think about things," he said. "Now I need to study my film, study my game plan. I don't have time to do things like that."

A 6-foot-1, 175-pound quarterback and safety in high school, Gouveia was the first player in Hawaii's history to be named the state's best offensive player and best defensive player in the same season. But the University of Hawaii's coaches had recruited Gouveia's high school quarterbacking predecessor and were not pleased at the way he had progressed. They also had a number of other safety candidates.

So Gouveia was off to a school he never had heard of until his senior year in high school, when a teammate received a recruiting letter from BYU. At first, it was not an entirely pleasant experience.

Knowing BYU was interested in him as a linebacker, Gouveia said he arrived in Provo weighing about 230 pounds.

"It just didn't work with my body," Gouveia said.

Being so far from home his first time on his own almost didn't work out with his mind. "He's a real homeboy," said BYU assistant coach Norm Chow, himself a Hawaiian.

Even with Chow at BYU, Gouveia almost decided to stay in Hawaii after returning home following his freshman year. However, he married his high school sweetheart Loree that summer, slimmed down to 210 pounds and went back to Provo having "made up my mind I was going to make a career of" football."

He helped BYU win a national championship in 1984 and earned first-team all-Western Athletic Conference honors in 1985. However, the Cougars always have been known for their offense and Gouveia seemed invisible to pro scouts who somehow managed to find defensive teammates Jason Buck, Leon White and Todd Shell.

Gouveia was not invited to the 1986 national scouting combine in Indianapolis. But the Redskins, famous for their finds in late rounds of the draft, had him under surveillance all the way.

"Without a doubt," Peccatiello said, "I felt that after looking at the films, Kurt was the best football player of the {Cougars'} bunch. As far as actually going out and making the plays, doing the job, winning the one-on-one confrontations, I thought he was a real good football player. And their defensive coach, Dick Felt, told me, 'He's my best football player.' "

Casserly, who said he did not scout Lawrence Taylor at North Carolina, said: "I've been doing this since 1977 and I'm not one to exaggerate. But I stand by my statement that he was almost as good a college linebacker as Hugh Green, who was the best one I ever scouted."

Nevertheless, Gouveia said he "never thought" he would be drafted. Relatively undersized and slow to be an NFL linebacker, he has made up for those deficiencies with marvelous football instincts. Add his years of pro experience and subtract the retired Neal Olkewicz from the Redskins' middle linebacker picture, and Gouveia has begun to come into his own.

"Now I know the system well," he said. "I know where everybody's going. I can really react to certain plays well. And each month, each week, each day, you hope to get better and you expect yourself to get better. I think it's happening."