Tag: Manti Te’o

Te'o Victory Stanford

For the legend of Te’o, awards don’t matter


Whether or not Manti Te’o ends up a Heisman Trophy candidate is hardly the point.

But you can’t blame many of us looking for ways to quantify the senior linebacker’s greatness, both on and off the field. At a position where stats only tell part of the story of a player’s dominance, midseason All-American nominations, Sports Illustrated covers, and glowing national columnists profiling the Hawaiian leader of the Irish don’t necessarily miss the point, but they largely don’t do Te’o justice either.

That Te’o is a terrific football player, the best defender to play at Notre Dame in countless years, isn’t what makes him the subject of just about universal praise. It’s that greatness combined with the stoic determination he has shown in the face of mind-numbing adversity, showing a grace and composure when talking candidly about grieving two personal losses, and putting into perspective what football has meant to him throughout all of it.

That’s what makes just about everybody, including Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, rave about Te’o’s leadership.

“Unquestionably, as a leader, there has not been anybody in my 22 years who has been a better leader both on and off the field, and represent the kind of ideals you want in college football,’’ Kelly said. “And I don’t think it’s close.’’

The decision to return for his senior season, made without family deliberations or NFL advice, set the table for Te’o’s legend to build. But his exemplary work both on and off the field this fall, and the mutual admiration that he shares with Notre Dame and its community, has put him on a pedestal we haven’t seen in decades.

In an era where sporting icons seem to crumble by the week, a 21-year-old Mormon athlete from Hawaii is forcing his way onto Notre Dame’s Mount Rushmore.

“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 said. “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.”

The most recent example of that intersection wasn’t on Saturday night, where his eleven tackles helped stop Stanford in their tracks. It was during a media blitz, where Te’o spent 15 minutes with sports talk icon Jim Rome. The interview spent some time on football, but delved deeper into the personal struggles Te’o has dealt with over the past few weeks, and the resolve and faith inside of him that has gotten him through the difficult times.

For a talk show host that’s made his living talking with interesting guests, it’s no small feat that Te’o floored Rome just like he has hundreds of ball carriers.

“I am speechless after that conversation with Manti Te’o,” Rome tweeted yesterday to his 933,170 followers. “One of the most astonishing, inspiring conversations I’ve ever had with an athlete.”

The tweet spread like wildfire across the internet yesterday, echoing across the superhighway more than a thousand times. Interviews like this will only help push Te’o’s candidacy for postseason awards and recognition to new heights, doing more for Te’o than any campaign launched from under the golden dome.

But in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Whether or not Te’o heads to New York for the sports most prestigious award doesn’t matter. Whether or not he continues to will an Irish team with a mediocre offense to improbable victories, isn’t going to quantify what makes Te’o great.

While the Irish defense continues to hold opponents out of the end zone, don’t expect any debates to stop. But with just seven games left in his collegiate career, don’t let the minutiae get in the way.

Manti Te’o is a special football player. And an even better human being.

Leave the rest of it to somebody else.


Te’o earns his way onto the cover of Sports Illustrated

Manti Te'o SI

The issue should have arrived in mailboxes around the country yesterday, with Sports Illustrated featuring Manti Te’o on the cover of thousands of magazines. It’s the first time Notre Dame has been featured on the front since 2006, when Brady Quinn, Tommy Zbikowski, and Travis Thomas were on the cover of the college football preview issue.

Teo’s regional cover was sent to the majority of the Midwest, hitting all of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, eastern Missouri, Ohio and parts of Canada. (The rest of the country got the Baltimore Orioles, and an issue featuring sports in the Nation’s capital.)

The profile on Te’o, written by former New York Times writer Pete Thamel is a wonderful read, and while it doesn’t uncover anything particularly new on Te’o or his journey to South Bend, it’s a terrific reminder that Notre Dame landed a transcendent defensive player that has perfectly bridged the gap between the past and the present.

Te’o has more than done his part in the locker room, embodying the Hawaiian traits of humility and family. He is delighted that his teammates now refer to each other as uce—Samoan slang for bro—and relish the meaning of the word. Te’o and Toma, his roommate and fellow Punahou alum, invite teammates over for dinners of Spam and eggs— “that is my weakness, Spam and Pam,” Te’o says with a laugh— and host games of spades nearly every night. “There’s just more of a closeness with this team,” says Toma, one of the Irish’s most reliable wide receivers. “We’re actually having fun again.”

Te’o’s leadership by example reached a high point when he decided to forgo first-round NFL money and return to South Bend for his senior year. One presentation he sat through with his parents, Brian and Ottilia, showed that staying in school could cost Manti $4 million. Brian and Ottilia are both in education, and Manti is the oldest of their seven children. (One brother, Brian Jr., passed away at three months old.) “We had never seen that many commas before,” Brian says.

Manti’s reasons for returning will inevitably be used as an Irish recruiting pitch for years to come. He told students at a pep rally at Dillon Hall, “You’re the reason I’m coming back.” Te’o also wanted something else: to experience Senior Day with his parents. At the end of his junior season, he watched as Steve Filer, a five-star linebacker who never panned out and tore his ACL as a senior, took the field for the last time. “I saw Steve crutch out there and the joy that his parents had in their eyes,” he says. “That’s when I realized, ‘Mom and Dad, it doesn’t matter. I want to share that with you.’”

While rumblings of a Heisman Trophy campaign have started on the internet, there’s no current plan for Notre Dame to start one. (Of course, Te’o’s play on the field might do the sports information department’s job for them.) Still, if there’s any question how good of a football player Te’o has become this season, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco let his opinion be known yesterday.

“Manti’s the finest football player in America, all positions, all teams in college,” Diaco said. “And he’s the best football player that I’ve personally coached.”

Counting down the Irish: The top five

manti-teo getty images

You could do a lot worse than the two players that topped every judges ballot. Both Manti Te’o and Tyler Eifert are consensus preseason All-Americans, and both will be the anchor of their respective units this season for the Irish.

In Eifert, new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin has a weapon as versatile as any in the country. At 6-foot-6, 251-pounds, Eifert has the size to attach to the formation, block in the running game or break free down the seam. He’s also got the athleticism to split wide, acting as a super-sized wide receiver that’ll wreak havoc on opposing secondaries.

In Te’o, the Irish have their ultimate tackling machine, especially with a healthy Te’o looked more fit and fast than ever. The heart and soul of a unit that needs to elevate its play even while replacing three key pieces in the secondary, Te’o will be asked to do a lot during his final season in South Bend.

There was a clear-cut divide between Te’o and Eifert and everybody else. Te’o received four first-place votes while Eifert received two. From there, Cierre Wood emerged as the third-best player on the roster. Behind him, three-year starting left tackle Zack Martin. And perhaps the most surprising vote-receiver of all, sophomore Stephon Tuitt, who absolutely looks the part of an All-American defensive end, but still needs to prove it on the football field.

Once again, here’s our voting panel:

Eric Hansen, South Bend Tribune @HansenSouthBend
John Walters, The Daily @jdubs88
John Vannie, NDNation.com
Eric Murtaugh, representing OneFootDown.com  @OneFootDown
Ryan Ritter, representing HerLoyalSons.com @HLS_NDtex
Keith Arnold, NBCSports.com’s Inside the Irish @KeithArnoldNBC

Here’s the list as it stands:

IRISH 2012 Top 25
25. Zeke Motta (S, Sr.)
24. Tommy Rees (QB, Jr.)
23. Andrew Hendrix (QB, Jr.)
22. Davonte Neal (WR, Fr.)
21. TJ Jones (WR, Jr.)
20. Robby Toma (WR, Sr.)
19. Christian Lombard (OL, Jr.)
18. Davaris Daniels (WR, So.)
17. Troy Niklas (TE, So.)
16. Bennett Jackson (CB, Jr.)
15. Ishaq Williams (OLB, So.)
14. Everett Golson (QB, So.)
13. Chris Watt (LG, Sr.)
12. Prince Shembo (OLB, Jr.)
11. George Atkinson (RB, So.)
10. Kapron Lewis-Moore (DE, Grad.)
9. Theo Riddick (RB, Sr.)
8. Jamoris Slaughter (DB, Grad.)
7. Braxston Cave (C, Grad.)
6. Louis Nix III (DT, Jr.)


5. Stephon Tuitt (DE, Soph.) That Tuitt finds himself at No. 5 is largely a product of what’s expected of the hulking sophomore, not necessarily anything that happened during his freshman season. While the 6-foot-6, 295-pound second-year player put up solid numbers during his freshman season (30 tackles, 3 TFL, and 2 sacks), it was a season that was hampered by a bout with mono, and a disciplinary blip that cost Tuitt the chance to play at Purdue.

While Aaron Lynch was the headline grabber last season, many inside the program view Tuitt as the future star, and his imposing frame and impressive athleticism make this sophomore a star in the making. Anchoring the spot across from Kapron-Lewis-Moore, and able to slide inside on pass-rushing downs, Tuitt is the type of athlete Notre Dame hasn’t often had on the defensive line. Expect a big jump in production from Tuitt, who will line up everywhere across the defensive front.

(Highest ranking: 3rd. Lowest ranking: 11th)

4. Zack Martin (LT, Sr.) After winning Notre Dame’s lineman of the year award in his first two seasons playing, Martin has the left tackle position locked down for the Irish. At 6-foot-4, 304 pounds, Martin may lack the dominant size you’d expect from a bookend left tackle, but after sitting out his freshman season, all Martin’s done is produce, anchoring the offensive line in both of Brian Kelly’s first two seasons.

Martin has received the proper national notice this offseason, finding himself on a variety of watch lists. Whether Martin propels himself into one of the elite linemen in the country will largely depend on how well Harry Hiestand’s troops perform during a daunting 2012 schedule. With a fifth-year of eligibility still available, Martin could be a rare four-year starter at left tackle.

(Highest ranking: 3rd. Lowest ranking: 9th)

3. Cierre Wood (RB, Sr.) Jonas Gray’s breakthrough senior season may have diminished the year that Wood put together last year. Averaging over five yards a carry, Wood ran for 1,102 yards and 9 touchdowns, only the 16th 1,000 yard season in Irish history. At 6-foot, 215-pounds, Wood has shown impressive durability running inside while also showing plenty of speed and breakaway skill, providing a surprising amount of big-yardage runs throughout the year.

There’s no doubting the struggles Wood and the Irish running game had against USC last year, with Wood’s five carries for five yards putting a large statistical hole in his season. But over the two years he’s been featured in the Irish offense, big plays have come rather easily for the Oxnard, California native. In games that he’s received 10 carries or more, only once (2011’s 16-14 win over Boston College) has Wood failed to break a 10-yard run.

Wood has a fifth year of eligibility available to him, but it’s unclear whether he plans to use it. In an offensive backfield now filled with weapons, it’s also unclear how many touches the Irish plan to give Wood. But with surprisingly good hands and versatility, it’d be wise to get the ball early and often to the offense’s most reliable runner.

(Highest ranking: 3rd. Lowest ranking: 9th)

2. Tyler Eifert (TE, Sr.) In the golden era of Irish tight ends, Eifert has shown himself the best of the group, putting together a first-team All-American junior season as Eifert lead the country in catches among tight ends. At 6-foot-6, 251-pounds, Eifert is a walking match-up problem, and without Michael Floyd split wide, expect the football to go to the big Fort Wayne product even more often this season.

Eifert’s ascent is a pretty impressive one, with the senior not all that long ago being a forgotten name. Injured early in his freshman season, there was little expected of Eifert during his sophomore season until tight end Kyle Rudolph went down with a hamstring injury. From there, Eifert put together an impressive run, making all but one of his 27 catches down the stretch for the Irish as they rallied and ended 2010 with four straight victories.

Eifert was the only tight end on the Maxwell Award’s watch list and has been a preseason first-team All-American on multiple lists. He’ll likely be the first tight end taken in next year’s NFL Draft, even though he has a final season of eligibility remaining.

(Highest ranking: 1st. Lowest ranking: 2nd)

1. Manti Te’o (LB, Sr.) Rarely does a highly touted recruit come in and do exactly what is hoped for, but Manti Te’o has absolutely delivered the goods during his three seasons in South Bend. After an All-American campaign with 128 tackles during his junior season, Te’o shocked the college football world when he announced he was returning for his senior season.

At 6-foot-2, 255-pounds, Te’o is a prototype inside linebacker, with terrific instincts and speed that takes him sideline to sideline. He also showed himself to be a threat in the pass rush, contributing five sacks last season after logging onto two combined in his first two seasons. After an ankle injury plagued him throughout his junior season, Te’o cut weight during spring workouts, looking leaner and quicker (and finally healthy) through spring drills. Entering camp, Te’o is the unquestionable leader of the Irish, was a first-team preseason All-American, and will be one of the first middle linebackers selected in the NFL Draft.

(Highest ranking: 1st. Lowest ranking 2nd)

Weekend notes: Swarbrick, Watch Lists, Life after Floyd, and more


You can’t blame Jack Swarbrick for taking a vacation. With his work helping to put together a college football playoff done, Swarbrick and his family took a much needed vacation. But that didn’t stop word getting out that Notre Dame was in discussions with the ACC about in-roads to the Orange Bowl.

Earlier in the week, Notre Dame’s John Heisler confirmed discussions.

“Since the development of the new plan for post-season football, the ACC and Notre Dame have had discussions relating to the Orange Bowl,” Heisler said. “While presidents have been consulted, the discussions have been between ACC conference staff and Jack.”

With the bowl system obviously in the midst of a shake-up after the playoff is instituted during the 2014 season, Notre Dame is deadset on correcting a situation that has the Irish awfully scarce on bowl opportunities outside of the BCS.

Yet reports that Notre Dame has set out to commandeer the bowl game as partners with the ACC might be a little far fetched, as Jack Swarbrick acknowledged earlier this week, during an interview with local NBC affiliate WNDU.

“I think there’s been a little bit of misunderstanding with all of that,” Swarbrick told Jeff Jeffers. “It’s been portrayed as a Notre Dame discussion or somebody else’s discussion but it’s much more a collective effort to structure something that has a solution for the other side of the Orange Bowl. “So a lot of us are engaged in that,” Swarbrick continued. “It isn’t limited to Notre Dame. We’re making progress but there’s more work to be done.”

Regardless, it’s a proactive step in the right direction for Notre Dame, who already used their exemption into the Champs Sports Bowl and have limited bowl options right now for years they don’t qualify for the BCS.


It’s that time of year again. Watch List time, where dozens of good players are included on a list trying to anticipate postseason awards. It’s a bit silly, but certainly a nice honor for some of the better football players in the country.

Let’s run the list of Irish players getting mentioned:

Manti Te’o – Lott Trophy, Bednarik Award, Nagurski Award,
Braxston Cave – Rimington Trophy, Outland Trophy,
Tyler Eifert – Mackey Award, Maxwell Award
Zack Martin – Outland Trophy,
Kapron Lewis-Moore – Nagurski Award,
Cierre Wood – Maxwell Award

The list for the Lombardi, Butkus, Biletnikoff, Davey O’Brien, Doak Walker, and Walter Camp awards have yet to be released, but this should get you up to speed.

It’s worth noting that Eifert is the only tight end on the list for the Maxwell Award.


As the Irish offense tries to figure out how to live life after Michael Floyd, Blue & Gold’s Lou Somogyi did a great job pointing out that the Irish have a pretty good track record of rebounding after losing a key offensive player.

Here’s Lou’s top three examples over the past 25 years:

1. How Now Without Brown?
Senior Tim Brown won the Heisman Trophy during an 8-4 season and was the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft.
1988: Although no one on the 1988 team caught more than 16 passes, the Irish improved to 12-0 to win the national title.

2. Backfield In Motion
1992 :
The star-studded backfield for the 10-1-1 team featured No. 2 NFL pick Rick Mirer at quarterback, 5th-place Heisman finisher Reggie Brooks at tailback, and junior fullback Jerome “The Bus” Bettis went pro early as the No. 10 pick.
1993: The unheralded trio of quarterback Kevin McDougal, tailback Lee Becton and fullback Ray Zellars emerged superbly while the Irish finished 11-1 and No. 2.

3. Action Even Without Jackson
QB Jarious Jackson broke Joe Theismann’s 29-year school record for most passing yards in a season (2,753) and was the second leading rusher with 464 yards. Alas, the Irish also committed 30 turnovers and finished 5-7.
2000: When freshman QB Matt LoVecchio was thrown into the fire, Notre Dame averaged 74 yards less per game than with Jackson — but it committed an NCAA record low eight turnovers to finish 9-2 and earn a BCS bid. The efficiency, resourcefulness and team play of 2000 is a good template for the 2012 Irish to follow after the 2011 unit averaged 413 yards per game (similar to 1999) but committed 29 turnovers (similar to 1999).

The days are likely over of a team winning a national championship with no receiver catching more than 16 balls, but an optimist could make a good argument that losing Floyd will help keep the Irish offensive attack more balanced.

Notre Dame will still have its instant mismatch, with Tyler Eifert moving all around the field. But the Irish’s reliance on Floyd last season might have handicapped a quick strike, vertically driven offense Irish fans have been expecting to see since Brian Kelly came from Cincinnati.


A few final tidbits on recent Irish commitment Justin Brent, who is set to sign in the ’14 class. We’ll find out how good Brent is during his junior season, a breakthrough year for most high school players.

Even if we don’t know just how high Brent’s ceiling is yet, a year ago football was almost an afterthought for the Indianapolis athlete. Focused on his basketball career, Brent almost gave up on football completely, with the 6-foot-3 point guard drawing interesting from heavyweights like Indiana, Purdue, Georgetown, Marquette, and others.

“I’ve been playing basketball my whole life and I’ve also played football my whole life, but I think basketball is where it’s at,” Brent told InsideTheHall.com last July. “With football, I was contemplating not even playing this year, but I guess a lot of coaches like an athlete that play two sports and plus I just like it a lot to play. But I was always nervous about the fact that I could receive an injury. But I’m going to stay with it. College wise, I’ve gotten one letter from Texas A & M and it was just a questionnaire, but that’s the only thing I’ve gotten for football. I don’t think I see myself playing football in college, I think it’s basketball.”

Good thing for all involved that Brent decided to stick with football during his sophomore season. The athleticism that had college basketball coaches taking notice will undoubtedly help Brent on the gridiron.





Te’o overcomes doubts to fulfill promise with the Irish

Manti Te'o junior

Before Aaron Lynch or Louis Nix struggled with second thoughts about the decision to spend four years in South Bend, there was another highly touted prep phenom that had great expectations heaped on his shoulders.

Manti Te’o, the lifeblood of the Irish defense, and one of the most recognized players in all of college football, almost walked away from his commitment to Notre Dame. Choosing the Irish over USC in a last-minute Signing Day change of heart that was spurred on by a belief that Notre Dame was where he could make the biggest impact both on and off the field, Te’o’s first season in South Bend was hardly as smooth as we might remember now.

Speaking at the Downtown Athletic Club of Honolulu, via his hometown Star-Advertiser, Te’o recalled those first days in South Bend, when the Irish linebacking prodigy was just another in-over-his-head freshman.

This from the Star Advertiser’s profile:

Three years ago, everything seemed fine when Brian Te’o would speak on the phone with his son, who had just left for college. “But then I got two calls. (Notre Dame quarterback) Jimmy Clausen’s dad called me and we had a long talk. Then a call from a coach, and we had a long talk.”

Manti Te’o would put on a happy voice for his dad. But things weren’t going so well for the Fighting Irish freshman linebacker. He hardly got reps. When he did, they quickly became fodder for film-room examples of how to do things incorrectly.

“After two practices I waited until everyone left the field and sat and cried on the bleachers. ‘What am I doing here? I want to go home,’ ” Te’o told the Downtown Athletic Club of Honolulu on Tuesday. “I was no longer that big fish in the small pond.”

Now he’s big enough to share his story of wanting – if ever so briefly – to give up. He knows it might inspire at least one person in despair to keep trying and fight through like he did, and that’s what it’s all about.

Te’o soon adjusted to college football and Notre Dame. If he needed reinforcement, he soon got it from Brian, who told him, “This ain’t Punahou and that ain’t the ILH, so you better get beyond that.”

Irish fans will likely feel their blood boil picturing loud-barking defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta drilling the talented freshman in meeting rooms, using negative reinforcement on a youngster who was likely the most talented player on the field for the Irish defense, even if he didn’t know ten percent of what he needed to do.

That said, it’s interesting to remember Brian Kelly‘s earliest comments on Te’o after watching his entire freshman season of tape after taking over the Irish program in December. Here’s Kelly on what he saw in Te’o, as the Irish prepared for their first spring practice under the new regime.

“He’s a college football player. He’s got that, you know, excitement, that passion,” Kelly said then. Those are the guys I want to be around. I’m passionate about what I do. I want to be around guys that love the game, love being around it. So he brings that energy on a day-to-day basis. But he’s got to get much better as a football player. He wasn’t very good. And he understands that. He’s been committed to learning. Remember, he hasn’t been here a year. He’s a freshman. So I just love the energy that he brings and the passion that he wants to be a great player.”

In the last two seasons playing under Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, we’ve seen a steady rise in the baseline level of Te’o’s play, matching the raw ability that he walked in with that made him a ready-made All-American candidate. Even while battling through an injury that robbed him of his explosiveness for much of his junior season, the consistency in his on-field play is what makes the senior linebacker such a terrific player.

Te’o’s terrific development over the last two seasons doesn’t mean things have only been smooth between Kelly and his star defender. When Kelly had some polarizing comments about the players he inherited from the previous regime, it was Te’o that bristled among the most, taking to Twitter before being among the team leaders in the locker room as the Irish ironed out their differences.

Yet Te’o’s decision to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, announcing his plans spontaneously at the Lott Impact Awards back in December without going through any  NFL evaluation process or other overwrought deliberations, shows you the type of student-athlete he’s matured into.

“This was a tough decision, and I found myself praying about it often,” Te’o said back in December. “Ultimately, I really want to experience my senior year at Notre Dame. The happiest moments so far in my life have come when I am spending time with people I love. I wanted to spend another year with my teammates and the coaches on our team. I don’t think any sum of money can replace the memories I can create in my senior year.

“Graduating from Notre Dame is really important to me. Many people encouraged me to go to the NFL because I could always earn my diploma later in life. If I did that, though, I would not have the chance for the same experiences that are ahead of me in my senior year, and I would not have finished at Notre Dame with the guys I started with and care so much about. When I weighed all the factors that went into this decision, it just felt right to stay at Notre Dame.”

That’s a long way from the guy that battled his emotions and self-belief as he cried on the empty bleachers of Notre Dame Stadium.