CFB: Notre Dame accelerating development of freshman LB Manti Te’o
By Brian Hamilton
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — His parents have visited twice, enduring the Hawaii-to-Michiana odyssey to watch Manti Te’o play. Brother Manasseh, 3, came the first time, even if he slept through big brother’s college football debut.
At church every Sunday, Notre Dame’s prized freshman linebacker gets questions about the previous game and the last time he ate in equal number. And as October’s chill creeps in, Te’o wears long sleeves to practice. He is comfortable, yes. But this isn’t even almost paradise.
“On my iPhone, I have the weather for South Bend and the weather for Hawaii,” Te’o said Wednesday. “And there’s a big difference.”
So the assimilation continues, though Teo’s most prominent adaptation might be accelerating daily. His first truly extended playing time resulted in a 10-tackle effort against Washington, the 6-foot-2-inch, 244-pounder’s obvious and considerable physical gifts at least balancing any obvious and considerable mistakes he made.
The deliberate rate at which Irish coaches incorporated Te’o left the consensus top 10 recruit with just six tackles in his first four games. Then came the cannonball-into-ice-water rate at which the staff used him last weekend, producing more agreeable results.
“We just made a decision that regardless of what offense was coming up next, we had to put him in there and go through the natural learning curve that you go through,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “And I think we gained a lot more than we lost.”
Even at the relatively straightforward weak-side linebacker spot, Te’o faced typical freshman battles with nuance. As defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta put it: “He’s used to just looking at the quarterback and running to the football.”
Gap control is one staple of the Irish defense. In high school, for Te’o, it was an anti-theft plan at a mall clothing store.
“You have to be a lot more disciplined to what your responsibilities are — for any high school athlete, that’s the biggest obstacle they have to overcome,” Te’o said.
“Getting more familiar with the plays and the scheme, I’ve learned to relax a lot more and just let my body move.”
The hope is that exponential improvement from Te’o likewise will bolster an Irish defense surrendering 403.2 yards per game. Te’o, meanwhile, already has found satisfaction at some levels, looking up after a tackle in the Washington game and seeing his parents smiling among the throng at Notre Dame Stadium, feeling quite at home in that moment.
“What I enjoy about football is what it has offered me,” Te’o said. “By bringing joy and honor to (my family), it brings joy and honor to me. That one play where I made a play and saw my parents smiling, that’s what I live for every day.”