2013 NFL Combine

Trolling Te’o


With the NFL Scouting in the rear view mirror, the focus of the NFL juggernaut will now shift to free agency, set to open in roughly ten days. As it’s been with the professional game, we’ll see blockbuster moves — big money contracts going to players that seemed destined to finish a career in the city where they started, only to see thirty-million guaranteed reasons to reconsider.

And perhaps that’s a good thing for Manti Te’o. Because the NFL Draft’s most high profile prospect, and the one with the most ready-made story to write, found himself in the crosshairs daily, getting Tebow-like interest on SportsCenter, while easily being the most written about athlete in Indianapolis last week.

At one point, SBNation’s Andrew Sharp lampooned the attention, penning an article with the title, “Manti Te’o can’t outrun his past at the NFL Combine,”

Here’s a quick snippet:

Manti Te’o ran the 40 on Monday and finished 20th of 26 linebackers in Indianapolois. He stumbled to a 4.82, and he knows it wasn’t good enough. “I was running near a 4.6, a 4.5,” Te’o explained afterward. “Today was just a long, long day.”

Maybe he was weighed down by his conscience.

Or hey, maybe not. I’m not here to call anyone a liar.

We’ll never know the truth of what happened with Lennay Kekua. All I know for sure is the ghosts caught up to Manti on Monday. Maybe you saw a 40-yard dash, but I saw a kid who can’t outrun his past. The weight of the whole experience slowed him down. Looking back now, if Manti was going to spend his nights talking on the phone to an imaginary person, maybe he should’ve called Leon Sandcastle. At least he could’ve gotten some useful advice for the combine.

Instead, Te’o called his time in Indianapolis an “exhausting process” when it was all over.

You know what else was exhausting?

Trying to make sense of his story the past few months.

The column read as a composite of the last month of headlines about Te’o, a joke not caught by many fans that had read all but the same thing by columnists that this fall had hailed the linebacker as one of the best, and most complete collegiate players of the past decade.

But two forty-yard dashes run two-tenths of a second slower than many expected, has suddenly made people forget that the reason Te’o was so well known this year is more for the statistically ridiculous season he had, not because of any hype machine that created him. No imaginary dead girlfriend can intercept six passes and make over 100 tackles.

Still valid opinions vary on what happens with Te’o. Yahoo! Sports’ Michael Silver had some really strong quotes from an NFL head coach about Te’o, that makes you question the logic of at least one team’s draft board.

“Of all the people here at the combine, the one person you don’t want to be is him,” the unnamed head coach told Silver last weekend. “Seriously, I’d rather have six positive drug tests, a DUI, a domestic-abuse charge and some theft incidents than have to deal with all the questions that guy’s going to face. He’s going to be probed by most of the teams, and all of you guys, until his head is spinning. Trust me, it’s gonna be brutal.”

There’s little doubt why that coach didn’t want to be identified after throwing out that preposterous statement. But it also perfectly plays into the machine that’s been spinning so strongly since Deadspin broke the original story that struck at the foundation of Te’o.

And while it’s been easy for those that only saw the two-minute puff pieces and SportsCenter segments, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King painted a different picture of the former Irish linebacker after spending a week in Indy culling information. He even caught up with the man most responsible for Te’o being at Notre Dame in the first place, Nevada head coach Brian Polian.

“The reason I’ve been so upset at how Manti has been portrayed is that I know him. He doesn’t conspire to trick anyone,” Polian told King. “The people who would be so cynical, so jaded or such Notre Dame-haters simply don’t know him. You have to see how he grew up. He lived in a little town on the North Shore, where everyone knows everybody. Then he goes to a prestigious private school and, I’m not going to lie, he was sheltered. Then he goes to Notre Dame, and there aren’t many places that protect and shelter their students like Notre Dame. This whole story happens, and he’s guilty of one thing: trusting some sicko, because that’s what he does, he trusts people. He’s not jaded, he’s not worldly, he’s naïve. So he trusts someone who doesn’t deserve to be trusted, then he’s totally embarrassed by it when he finds out it’s phony. Really, what is this kid’s crime?”

For those that have spent four years following Te’o, that’s continued to be closer to the stance that I’m comfortable with. But then again, I just want the story to stop. For Te’o, that’s a little bit closer, with only a Pro Day left before he’s taken in the NFL Draft, and becomes just another former college star making a living playing on Sundays.

Until then, if you can’t deal with the Te’o trolling, do yourself a favor and exercise your ability to ignore it.


Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.