Over the course of his career at Notre Dame Manti Te'o became much more than a star linebacker. Te'o was the face of the program and arguably the face of the university throughout a 2012 senior campaign that included a 12-0 regular season and an obscene number of individual awards. He became a household name across the country.
Te'o grew up in the quiet town of Laie on the North Shore of Hawai'i and played his high school football at Punahou High School with his best friend Robby Toma. Coming out of high school Te'o was rated by most services as the top inside linebacker recruit, and one of the top 5 overall recruits in the country. Notre Dame fans were elated when Te'o committed to then Notre Dame Head Coach Charlie Weis in February of 2009 and he became an instant fan favorite when he stepped onto the field the next fall.
As a freshman in 2009 Te'o appeared in all 12 games and locked down a starting spot in week five. Even in a broken Jon Tenuta/ Corwin Brown mess of a defense the freshman Te'o recorded 63 tackles to include 5.5 tackles for a loss. Te'o was still a little raw as a freshman but he had great instincts and was an outstanding tackler.
The next season Brian Kelly took over in South Bend and Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco installed his 3-4 No Crease defense. Te'o stepped in as the Mike Linebacker and spent the next three years as the cornerstone of a unit that ultimately became one of the best in the country.
As a sophomore in 2010 Te'o came into his own under Diaco's tutelage. The sophomore recorded 133 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, and 3 pass breakups. He became a leader both on and off the field. His stock was rising quickly.
As a junior in 2011 Te'o continued to turn in consist performances recording 128 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, with 4 sacks and 2 pass breakups. The defense was really starting to look like it had the potential to be championship caliber and Te'o was the star. Many thought that Te'o would forego his senior season to enter the NFL and realize his ultimate goal. Needless to say Notre Dame fans were elated when Te'o decided to return for his senior season with goals of graduating, participating in Senior Day and playing for a championship.
As a senior in 2012 Te'o continued to play outstanding against the run and also stepped up his pass defense to an ELITE level. Te'o registered 113 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 4 pass breakups and an astonishing 7 interceptions. While the offense struggled early in the season Te'o and the Notre Dame defense played lights out and established themselves as one of the top defensive units in the country finishing in the Top 5 in almost every statistical category.
Te'o was the recipient of several individual accolades following his senior campaign.
Heisman Trophy Runner-Up
Maxwell Award Winner (Top Player)
Walter Camp Player of the Year Award Winner
Unanimous First-Team All-American
First-Team Academic All-American
Bronko Nagurski Trophy Winner (Top Defensive Player)
Bednarik Award Winner (Top Def. Player)
Lott IMPACT Trophy Winner (Top Def. Player)
Lombardi Award Winner (Top Lineman/Linebacker)
Butkus Award Winner (Top Linebacker)
Te'o stock took a hit following an ugly loss to Alabama in the BCS Championship and the Lennay Kekua hoax that soon followed. Seemingly overnight the national sentiment towards Te'o reversed itself. Questions about his character flowed and some scouts questioned his speed and other individual aspects of his game.
I won't spin my wheels debating any of that but you can find his full NFL Draft profile HERE.
On the field I see Te'o as a natural leader with the intelligence to run any defense as a Mike Linebacker. Te'o has great recognition skills, plays downhill, gets off of blocks, tackles well and simply has a knack for showing up at the football in a hurry. As a pass defender he has the ability to cover running backs and tight ends in the flat, across the middle, and down the seam. Overall Te'o definitely has the ability to be the complete package at the next level.
Despite what anyone thinks I expect that Te'o will emerge at the next level as the player that we all found him to be during his four years at Notre Dame. He will catch a lot of "good-natured" grief from his teammates early on as a rookie but he will keep his head down, outwork everyone around him and his genuine character will quickly win over his teammates and coaches.
Having personally lived in San Diego for several years I also think that San Diego will be a great fit for Te'o off the field. San Diego is obviously a major metropolitan area but it has a feel that is considerably more laid back than most other NFL markets. The local media and fans won't be all over him like they might be in some other places which should ease his transition. It isn't the North Shore but it's about as close as you are going to get in an NFL market. In addition traveling to and from Hawai'i from San Diego is about as easy as it gets. Overall I really think this is a good fit for Te'o both on and off the field.
Once the season starts I believe that Te'o will quickly become a vocal leader that makes plays and represents himself and the organization well both on and off the field. Fans in San Diego will quickly grow to love him.
Mike Mayock summarized Te'o the best.
I think this kid's a three-down linebacker. I think he's a leader in your locker room. I understand all the off-the-field concerns, but at the end of the day, he's a leader, and you want him.
Best of luck Manti. We will always be rooting for you.