Nov 14, 2012, 3:19 PM EDT
It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that Manti Te’o will be playing his final home game at Notre Dame Stadium. From the day he chose Notre Dame over USC at a high school banquet in Hawaii, Te’o’s was expected to do big things at Notre Dame. Yet in his senior season, it’s hard to fathom that he’s surpassed the expectations of even the most enthusiastic Irish fans.
In a 24:7, ESPN-era that does its best to create heroic journeys for athletes that may not live up to the hype or expectations we heap on them, Te’o continually overachieves, doing just as much off the field to engender hero-worship as anything he’s done on the field. That’s no small feat when considering the record-setting season Te’o is having, a year that rightfully has him in the Heisman Trophy discussion.
At a school as polarizing as Notre Dame, where adulation is often counterbalanced by scorn, Te’o has managed to stay above the fray, almost universally admired by friends and rivals alike. (Put simply, if you’ve got a problem with Manti Te’o, you’ve got a problem with yourself.) Whether it’s his jaw-dropping athleticism on the field, his bravery and humility off it, Te’o has embodied everything Notre Dame wants not just in a student-athlete, but in a representative that’ll live on far longer than the three-and-a-half years it has taken Te’o to graduate.
In all the decades it took to build the legend of Notre Dame, it’s amazing to think that a Mormon from Hawaii, who committed to Notre Dame after witnessing one of the darkest moment in Notre Dame Stadium of the past 20 years, has almost single-highhandedly sparked a long awaited revival of Irish football.
But that’s Manti Te’o.
There will be other five-star recruits, All-American linebackers, and Notre Dame greats to walk out of that tunnel. But it’s hard to think of anybody that’s done more for a Irish football program that has so desperately needed a singular player to lead it out of the malaise of the past 20 years.