Dec 11, 2011, 10:51 PM EDT
Manti Te’o didn’t win the Lott Impact Award Sunday night in Newport Beach, with Boston College’s Luke Kuechly receiving the prize. But Te’o did steal just about all the headlines, when he announced that he’d be returning for his senior season at Notre Dame.
The Irish’s All-American linebacker, who many thought would be destined for the first round of the NFL Draft, announced late Sunday night that he was returning for one last season at Notre Dame, returning a critical piece to the Irish defense.
“I feel I’m not done at Notre Dame,” Te’o said, as reported by Fox Sports’ Lisa Horne. “I’ll be coming back to Notre Dame.”
For anyone that’s been listening, Te’o has long proclaimed he’d be playing four seasons in South Bend, first announcing the plan when he decided to delay his Mormon mission and stay at Notre Dame after his freshman season. But with Te’o submitting his paperwork for the NFL’s draft advisory board this month, there were big worries across the Irish fan base that the team would need to replace their leading defender.
Those worries can’t be put to rest, as Notre Dame’s sports information director Brian Hardin confirmed the news minutes after the original word broke via Twitter.
This is the second year in a row where Brian Kelly’s biggest recruit wasn’t an incoming freshman, but rather getting a final year from the Irish’s best player. Last year, Kelly and his coaching staff took to re-recruiting Michael Floyd, pulling out all the stops to get the wide receiver to return, and Floyd turned in a year that certainly helped his draft status. Te’o cut the anticipation short this year, announcing over a month early that he’ll be back, likely feeling that he’s got something left to prove in an Irish uniform.
Te’o leads the team in tackles, sacks, and tackles-for-loss.