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.
Drue Tranquill was named a first-team Academic All-American. The junior safety, who returned from his second major knee injury during his three-year career, earned the honors after posting a 3.74 GPA in mechanical engineering.
Tranquill is Notre Dame’s first academic All-American since Corey Robinson earned the honor after the 2014 season. He finished second on the team in tackles with 79 and lead the team in solo stops with 52. He also had two TFLs and an interception.
Tranquill is Notre Dame’s 60th Academic All-American, the third-most of any school behind Nebraska and Penn State. He’s active in the university community, serving as a mentor for the Core Leadership Team for Lifeworks Ministry, and is a member of Notre Dame Christian Athletes. He is a also member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and Rosenthal Leadership Academy.
It’s been too long. Let’s talk about the season, the decisions ahead and where Notre Dame stands after its nightmare of a 2016 season.
Drop your questions on Twitter @KeithArnold or in the comments below.
If you’re interested in hearing my recap on the USC game and where Notre Dame’s goes now that the season is over, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, with Newsweek’s John Walters.
The wheels are in motion for Malik Zaire‘s exit from Notre Dame. What felt like an inevitability after Zaire lost out to DeShone Kizer after the Texas game is now a reality, as the Ohio native is expected to receive his release tomorrow, according to a report from Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated.
Sampson identified four programs as potential landing spots for Zaire: Florida, Pitt, Michigan State and Wisconsin, Power Five programs that all had better seasons (minus the Spartans) than Notre Dame. All have uncertainty atop their quarterback depth chart, though none look like guaranteed jobs.
With Notre Dame out of a bowl, Zaire can get a jump start on looking around, capable of taking visits and finding a home after the semester. That would let him join a program in time for spring drills, where he’d compete and be able to play out his final year of eligibility.
When Zaire leaves he’ll join a line of recent quarterbacks to finish their eligibility elsewhere. Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix, Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson all either played or were recruited by Brian Kelly and finished their careers elsewhere. That could leave a scenario—one many predict—where the top-two on Notre Dame’s depth chart depart, Kizer to the NFL and Zaire elsewhere, turning the keys over to Brandon Wimbush who redshirted this season.
Sophomore Jerry Tillery issued an apology for two controversial incidents against USC. Notre Dame’s defensive tackle was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a referee caught him stepping on Zach Banner‘s ankle. Cameras also spotted him intentionally hitting Aca’Cedric Ware‘s head after the Trojan running back was injured after a collision with Nicco Fertitta.
Tillery wrote on Twitter:
“I want to take full responsibility for my actions on Saturday. I am truly sorry. I acted in a way that was out of character for me. What I displayed in those two instances were completely unbecoming and not indicative of the kind of player or person I am. My actions in those two instances do not represent what my family or Notre Dame has molded me to be. I want to especially apologize to Aca’Cedric, Zach, their families and anyone else affected by what I did. I assure you I will learn and grow from this moment and become a better man because of it.”
While the backlash on social media has been harsh, USC head coach Clay Helton downplayed it.
“It was a poor decision by a young person. I know it’s not Notre Dame football and I know that’s not Brian Kelly,” Helton said. “He’s been a class act the whole way and I know he’ll address it with his player and handle it in a way that he sees fit. I have always found Brian to be a man of class and integrity.”
Ware himself responded via Twitter, doing his best to put the incident to rest.
Kelly stated after the game that he’d review the incidents, both plays Kelly didn’t see happen live. With the season over, Tillery’s discipline will be handled internally.