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Te‘o appreciative of support in trying time

October 4, 2012
By TOM COYNE , The Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - The profile page on the Twitter account of Manti Te'o doesn't say he's a Notre Dame linebacker, that he's being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate or that he's a Sports Illustrated cover boy.

Instead, it features a quote from "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas: "Life is a storm. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes."

Te'o has been through a storm.

Article Photos

Manti Te‘o reacts following a tackle against Michigan last month.
AP photo

His maternal grandmother, Annette Santiago, died in Hawaii after a long illness on Sept. 11, and his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died in California of leukemia several hours later. Te'o didn't miss a practice that week, choosing to be with his teammates as the Fighting Irish prepared for their game at Michigan State, even though coach Brian Kelly told him he didn't need to be there.

Te'o calls it the hardest thing he's ever had to do.

"To be able to operate, and to be able to try to continue with my daily routine, but knowing that I just lost a woman that I truly loved, that was the hardest thing," the Punahou School graduate said.

The task was made even harder knowing he couldn't attend Kekua's funeral in California. Te'o said Kekua had made him promise he wouldn't miss a game, instead asking him to honor her with his play.

Te'o did exactly that. He had 12 tackles, one for a loss, and broke up two passes in a victory over the Spartans, and a week later had two interceptions, leading to a touchdown and a field goal, as well as eight tackles in a win over Michigan.

"At that time he may have been a little weak inside, but he never showed it out," defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. "He stayed strong. Watching him kept us going strong."

Te'o was able to get home for his grandmother's funeral during the bye week and said he feels rejuvenated as ninth-ranked Notre Dame (4-0) prepares to play Miami (4-1) on Saturday in Chicago.

"I've never felt so strong; spiritually strong," he said. "I could never thank the student body and the fans around the world for all their love and all their prayers and support. I truly felt all of that, and it's helped me to get past, help me get through these past three weeks and I'm truly grateful and I'm truly humbled."

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Te'o has played a role in seven of the 13 turnovers forced by the Irish this season, intercepting three passes, recovering two fumbles and hurrying the quarterback twice on passes that were picked off.

"He's a unique blend of being able to be kind and good and courteous and warm and friendly when he's not inside the gates or inside the stripes, and then when he's in there he's an absolute warrior," said Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.

Te'o's father, Brian, believes part of that is a Polynesian trait, citing Junior Seau and Troy Polamalu as examples. He also believes it's partially related to Te'o's Mormon upbringing.

"He understands that his actions have a direct impact on those who are watching him, and also the fact that his actions and decision-making does have a direct reflection on the family, on both my wife and I," Brian Te'o said. "We both remind him constantly."

Manti Te'o has 362 career tackles and is on pace to finish third on Notre Dame's all-time list behind Bob Crable, who had 521 from 1978 to 1981, and Bob Golic, who finished with 479 from 1975 to 1978.

Crable calls Te'o one of the best players he's seen at Notre Dame.

"He has great speed. He knows where the football is," said Crable, who spent six seasons in the NFL. "Unfortunately for him, as far as the tackling record goes, the game has changed so much. I don't know how anyone can get the tackles some of us old guys got just because they don't run the ball as much."

Kelly says one thing that separates Te'o from other stars is that he knows the names of every player on the team, even the walk-ons.

"He doesn't call them, 'Hey, 42, or 57.' He knows each of those guys. That's pretty unique," he said.

Notre Dame student-body president Brett Rocheleau said classmates love Te'o because he's one of them, taking part in campus events, walking around with his backpack and talking with other students.

"Every story you hear about Manti is that he is genuinely nice guy. He's one that is easy to talk to. He goes out of his way to carry on conversations," Rocheleau said.

The students showed their love for Te'o by chanting his name and wearing lei at the Michigan game and pep rally. Te'o jumped up in the crowd to celebrate the victory with them.

"I felt a sense of peace knowing that so many people cared about Manti instead of No. 5," he said.



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