Jan 7, 2013, 12:23 PM EDT
The final entry in a series on ten below-the-radar players whose performances helped key the Irish’s run to the national title game. Others include Zeke Motta, Danny Spond, TJ Jones, Prince Shembo, Theo Riddick, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tommy Rees, Mike Golic Jr. and Stephon Tuitt.
MIAMI — It’s a stretch to think that Manti Te’o — Notre Dame’s returning All-American at middle linebacker — is someone that could ever fly under the radar. Yet as we sit here in Miami, waiting for Notre Dame to play for the national championship, it’s impossible to quantify what Te’o has done for this football team.
But it’s even more difficult to define Te’o’s mark on the university as a whole. After some long, difficult years for the thousands that flock to South Bend every autumn and the millions that keep tabs on the program from afar, it’s finally fun to be a Notre Dame fan again. And that transformation was largely because of Te’o’s transcendent senior season, where he carried a team on his back, through tremendous adversity, and on the way went from a great Notre Dame player to an Irish legend.
“Time will test this, but I think when we look back 10 years from now, he’ll be at the very top of that list,” athletic director Jack Swarbrick told the New York Times back in October. “He’ll be with Montana and Huarte and Brown, Hornung.
“Not only was he great, not only was he a member of a very good team, he had that once-in-a-lifetime intersection of who a person is, and who the institution he represents is. The match is so perfect it feels preordained.”
Te’o the man is a story of its own. But from a football perspective, it’s difficult not to have our memory clouded by the accolades and awards earned by Te’o for his fantastic senior season. It makes it hard to remember that while Te’o was a great player, he developed his craft tremendously between his junior and senior seasons. He refined his game on the field, and improved probably more than any other player on the roster. Not bad for a guy already playing at an All-American level.
While an ankle injury slowed Te’o down as a junior, he still made an incredible 128 tackles, including 13.5 for loss as he became a semifinalist for the Bednarik, Butkus and Lombardi awards, trophies he took home this season. And while bringing down ball carriers was never a problem for Te’o, he had a few weaknesses: A propensity to miss some open field tackles, and a difficulty forcing turnovers. To be an elite player, you need to make game-changing plays. And through three seasons, Te’o had a statistical anomaly in his game that couldn’t be overlooked: He hadn’t taken a football away from the opponent.
All of that is what makes his 2012 season so incredible. Always a great downhill player, Te’o was not much better than average as a cover linebacker heading into his senior season. Through a commitment to get leaner and faster, Te’o played remarkably in space, and became a turnover forcing machine. With Notre Dame playing a lot of two-deep coverage, Te’o found himself roaming the middle of the field, like a ball-hawking center fielder that played dangerously shallow. Te’o’s seven interceptions were only bested by Phillip Thomas of Fresno State’s eight. Of the national leaders, only one other linebacker is in the top 30.
While Te’o’s tackle numbers are down this season, his productivity tackling is up. Notre Dame coaches charted only two missed tackles for Te’o, a number Te’o surpassed in 2010’s season opener, when Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco first got their hands on No. 5.
Te’o’s development as a player can’t be overlooked. His legacy — strictly on the playing field — has gone from a great player of his era, on par with Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, or Justin Tuck, to the defining player of the post-Holtz era. And his footprint on the program will pay dividends for years to come.
Having your best player be your best leader and example-setter changed the Notre Dame program. After two decades of inconsistency and frustration, too often seniors on mediocre teams became disenfranchised — frustrated over their role on the team, their tenure as a player, or their experience on whole. Veteran skeptics have the chance to poison the youth of a team, and that carried over during an era of difficult transitions, coaching missteps and losing seasons. Te’o helped change all that.
Tonight will play a large role in defining Manti Te’o’s legacy. While he always will have the hearts of Notre Dame fans, a victory could push him into the rare realm of a collegiate superstar. Notre Dame’s own version of Tim Tebow, only with a promising professional career on the horizon. An impressive performance by the Irish defense and a game-changing play or two from Te’o could push his name into the conversation for heralded awards like Sportsman of the Year. That’s what happens when a transcendent player and a blue-chip brand unite.
With the season finale just hours away, Te’o’s Notre Dame journey will be complete tonight. Win or lose, he’s carved his place into the lore of the school. And in doing so, he leaves the football program in a much better place than he found it.
Aug 19, 2014, 9:57 PM EDT
With access to Brian Kelly, his assistants and a handful of veteran players, today’s Media Day felt a little different than most. That’s understandable, with the aftermath of unexpected academic suspensions still lingering over the program. With the investigation still on media lockdown, speculation has varied widely, but it’s clear that Kelly is moving forward, the only thing a head coach can do.
Aug 18, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT
The Irish practiced today without four suspended veterans, as an academic investigation continues at Notre Dame about potential Honor Code violations committed by DaVaris Daniels, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams. And with rumors swirling and little actual info coming out of anyone inside the program, Phillip Daniels was a guest on NBC 5’s Sports Sunday, and spoke candidly about his son’s situation.
Aug 18, 2014, 6:07 PM EDT
Providing depth in 2013, sophomore Isaac Rochell just became a very large part of Notre Dame’s plans this season. Irish A-to-Z continues with a lock at Notre Dame’s accidental starter at defensive end.
Aug 18, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Notre Dame plays Rice in less than two weeks. While that might take a backseat to the interest following the academic investigation that’s underway, the Irish are preparing for a football game, and 15 practices into camp, things are starting to come together.
Aug 17, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT
Among the fleet of celebrity sons playing on Notre Dame’s football team, sophomore Corey Robinson looks poised to make his own name in 2014. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at the young receiver.
Aug 16, 2014, 2:53 PM EDT
Life goes on for Notre Dame’s football team, as the Irish practiced inside Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday morning. After practice, Brian Kelly addressed the assembled media, talking for over 20 minutes, primarily about the suspensions of DaVaris Daniels, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams and the internal investigation taking place.
Aug 15, 2014, 9:29 PM EDT
The college football world stared at Notre Dame on Friday. Some snickered as they hoped to see smoke and fire emerge from the Golden Dome. Irish fans braced for impact, with even the most level-headed dreading impending doom, with things getting worse by the minute as Notre Dame brass stayed silent.
Aug 15, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
An investigation is taking place at Notre Dame, the university announced Friday. With a news conference scheduled for 6 p.m., four Notre Dame football players have been taken off the field and held out of practice and competition until the investigation is complete.
Aug 15, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT
As rumors swirl out of control, multiple reports have Notre Dame suspending four players for the season as the result of an academic probe.
Aug 14, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT
Heading into fall camp, surprises were expected on the defensive side of the ball. But while everybody is talking about Brian Kelly naming Everett Golson his starting quarterback, the Irish head coach’s comments about his evolving defense were probably the most illuminating we’ve heard from Kelly in years.
Aug 14, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Notre Dame announced this morning that graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy is taking a leave of absence from the football team to battle cancer. The former Irish captain is in his first season working with the Irish under Brian Kelly after retiring from the NFL.
Aug 13, 2014, 7:48 PM EDT
After using the graduate transfer rule to fill niche roles like situational punter, Notre Dame landed a potential difference maker in Florida graduate Cody Riggs. Irish A-to-Z takes a closer look at the diminutive cornerback.
Aug 13, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
While it may have taken longer than many expected, Brian Kelly named Everett Golson his starting quarterback after practice on Wednesday. The senior beat out sophomore Malik Zaire, who put up a valiant effort.
Aug 12, 2014, 11:27 AM EDT
A year after struggling to get on the field, Max Redfield has emerged as one of the key pieces of Notre Dame’s defense. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at the former five-star safety.
Aug 11, 2014, 4:18 PM EDT
As fall camp continues, we take a (way-too) close look at the latest UND.com practice video, with the Irish going 11-on-11 in full pads.
Aug 11, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
Notre Dame practiced on Monday inside Notre Dame Stadium, their first official workout on the team’s new playing surface. After following the transformation from natural grass to FieldTurf, getting inside a stadium that hasn’t been enough of a home-field advantage over the past few years was critical.
Aug 11, 2014, 10:34 AM EDT
Our annual exercise is over and the result is a Top Five that was as close to consensus as possible. On a roster with unproven talent and unprecedented depth, part of what makes this list interesting and fun is that I put zero qualifications on the logic used to rank players. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.
Aug 9, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT
Sophomore wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a groin tear, Brian Kelly announced after practice on Saturday.
Aug 9, 2014, 12:31 PM EDT
After a freshman season spent watching and learning, sophomore linebacker Doug Randolph’s eligibility clock begins in 2014. Irish A-to-Z continues.
Aug 8, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT
After three seasons looking for a position, it’s now or never for senior Anthony Rabasa. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at the seldom-used Miami native now playing defensive end.
- With all eyes watching, a dig for truth begins at Notre Dame 132
- Academic misconduct investigation underway at Notre Dame 58
- Multiple Reports: Notre Dame set to suspend four players for season 130
- Ready or Not: Young Irish defenders making moves 82
- Kelly names Golson starting quarterback 78
- Irish A-to-Z: Max Redfield 56
- With all eyes watching, a dig for truth begins at Notre Dame (132)
- Multiple Reports: Notre Dame set to suspend four players for season (130)
- Kelly addresses academic investigation (128)
- Phillip Daniels feels confident son DaVaris will be cleared (91)
- Ready or Not: Young Irish defenders making moves (82)