With news light on the college football front (we’re still putting the pieces together for some long-form offseason features), let’s take a quick look at San Diego, where Manti Te’o‘s life as an NFL football player just got started.
Te’o debuted at rookie minicamp, where reporters and coaches got their first look at the former Notre Dame All-American, the second round draft pick of the Chargers. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, in his popular Monday Morning Quarterback column, chronicled Te’o’s first days as a professional, just a few weeks after signing a four-year rookie contract that’ll be worth an estimated $5.1 million.
While he slid a dozen picks farther down the draft than most expected, Te’o’s still projected to be an immediate plug and play player for the Chargers. Here’s a snippet of King take on the Chargers new inside linebacker, now sporting #50, in honor of the state of Hawaii.
San Diego coach Mike McCoy told me Sunday, after the rookie minicamp, that the staff expects Te’o to be an every-down linebacker. He said Te’o will take his place as the starting Mike linebacker — the strongside ‘backer in San Diego’s 3-4 defense, alongside veteran Donald Butler — in team drills when OTAs begin. “Our plan is for him to play three downs, and when we scouted him, we believed that’s what he’d be,” McCoy said. “But he’ll have to earn that, obviously. We’re going to play the best guys, and if he’s the best guy on all three downs, he’ll be in there.”
What he told reporters last week won’t surprise those who knew him well at Notre Dame when the subject of dealing with the veterans came up. It was the right answer. “You’ve just got to keep your head down,” Te’o said. “Know you’re a rookie. Keep your head down, keep your head in the playbook. Work hard. Obviously, you’ve got to earn the respect of the veterans. That will come in time. But with what I’m going to do with my work ethic, that will come soon.”
Local media reported that there was five times as many reporters on hand for rookie minicamp than ever before, with all eyes on Te’o. The NFL Network sent Alex Flanagan, no stranger to Te’o, and while it’s tough to gather too much from a rookie working out with other rookies in helmets and shorts, Te’o was reportedly at the front of every line and leading the way.
That’s the best way for Te’o to work his way out of a Tebow-like celebrity spotlight and back into the role of football player. He may not ever be anonymous, but Te’o sounds smart enough to know he’s got to earn the respect of his teammates first.
DeShone Kizer was named the Monogram Club’s Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season at the 96th annual Notre Dame football awards banquet. Kizer was voted team MVP by his teammates, after throwing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for 472 yards and eight scores.
He was one of 15 players honored with an award at the “ECHOES,” with the following accolades being given:
Equanimeous St. Brown, Offensive Player of the Year.
James Onwualu, Defensive Player of the Year
Greer Martini, Next Man In award
Drue Tranquill, Rockne Student-Athlete Award
Cole Luke, Nick Pietrosante Award
Isaac Rochell, Lineman of the Year
Quenton Nelson, Offensive Lineman of the Year
Scott Daly, Special Teams Player of the Year
Alex Bars, Newcomer of the Year, Offense
Nyles Morgan, Newcomer of the Year, Defense
Ben Stuttman, Scout Team Player of the Year, Offense
Jonathan Jones, Scout Team Player of the Year, Defense
Mark Harrell, Father Lange Iron Cross
Tyler Newsome, Irish Around the Bend
Notre Dame named seven captains for the 2017 season, the most to wear the ‘C’ in school history. Quarterback DeShone Kizer, linebackers Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan, offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, safety Drue Tranquill and walk-on receiver Austin Webster were all given the honor.
McGlinchey returns in the role, the 22nd different two-time captain in the program’s history. New to the job are the rest, including Kizer, who has yet to make a decision on if he’ll return for 2017 yet.
After worries about the team’s leadership heading into the 2016, the naming of captains in the immediate aftermath of the season is a change—Brian Kelly not naming his team’s official leaders into August training camp last year. It’s not an unprecedented move for Kelly (he named Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd team captains at the banquet following the 2010 season), though it points to some changes—some subtle, others not—that’ll likely take hold after a four-loss season.
Webster, a rising senior reserve wide receiver from California who has yet to register a stat in a Notre Dame uniform, made his debut as a sophomore in 2015 against UMass, is the first active walk-on to receive the honor.
Notre Dame received the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks on Friday afternoon. Picking the Irish over a national offer list that included Michigan, Tennessee, and local programs USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-7, 335-pound Banks reminded all that even if the Irish only won four games this season, Harry Hiestand is still one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country.
Banks made the commitment from a ceremony at his high school in El Cerrito, California. And when he picked the Irish, he added to Notre Dame’s impressive offensive line haul, joining Dillan Gibbons, Joshua Lugg and Robert Hainsey — a key piece of the puzzle moving forward.
Banks is a consensus 4-star recruit and a Top 200 prospect. He took an official visit to Michigan in November, but has been a long-time target of Hiestand’s, visiting South Bend in September and welcoming Brian Kelly and Hiestand into his home after the USC game.
As a big recruiting weekend gets started at Notre Dame, the annual Echoes Awards will serve as the beginning of an important home stretch for a program without a bowl game. As Kelly still looks to lock in a defensive coordinator, not to mention other staff changes still in the air, Banks takes back some of the lost momentum, a key commitment heading into a holiday dead period before a furious finish leading into the first Wednesday in February.
Banks is No. 18 in the Irish recruiting class. He’s an early-enrollee, ready to hit campus within weeks and compete on the interior of the offensive line during spring ball.
Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.
Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.
While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:
Dear Notre Dame students and staff,
My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:
“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”
I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!
Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.