NCAA FB

Te'o at heart of Notre Dame revival

Image: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (© Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo)
Manti Te'o says he's just trying to stay humble and rely on his team.
Share This Story

Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

MORE>>
 
   
 

CHICAGO

Manti Te’o was walking off the practice field a couple of weeks ago when he asked his coach what time it was. And he figured out right then and there, 12:01 p.m., that his girlfriend’s casket was being closed thousands of miles away. Te’o tells his story so calmly now, and with such strength.

Last month, within a six-hour span, he found out that his grandmother had died in Hawaii and that his girlfriend had died after suffering from leukemia. That’s what is in the heart now of the player most responsible for Notre Dame’s football renaissance. His girlfriend made him promise that he would keep playing, for her.

Te’o is Notre Dame’s revival. He is the heart of it. The Fighting Irish are 5-0 after beating Miami 41-3 on Saturday at Soldier Field. With the upsets across the country, they moved up to No. 7 in Sunday's Associated Press ranking.

And the amazing thing is how Te’o can talk about crying uncontrollably, and also can talk about staying focused and going to practice every day.

“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do so far,’’ he said. “To be able to operate, to be able to try and continue with my daily routine, but knowing that I just lost two women whom I truly love.’’

Notre Dame is always looking for something special, something magical to pin its greatness and legend on, as if it comes from a mystical place. I would prefer not to trivialize Te’o that way, as if his personal trauma can fold neatly into a football story, as a way to build it up.

His personal story is his personal story. Notre Dame football is Notre Dame football. And they only intersect in that Te’o is such a big part of both stories. Football is not the higher calling here.

The funny thing is that while Te’o is exactly what Notre Dame has been seeking for years, he doesn’t fit the way Irish legend demands.

NCAA FASHION POLICE

Oregon, Maryland and others show off their unique uniforms from this season.

Te’o is a Mormon from Hawaii who never paid attention to Notre Dame when he was growing up and didn’t know anything about Irish tradition or legend at all. He even surprised himself by signing with Notre Dame.

Well, whatever. He is an amazing linebacker who is leading a powerful defense. And he’s doing it through the hardest of times.

He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, in some regions, this week. He is coming up now as another Notre Dame Heisman Trophy candidate (not likely for a linebacker, especially with the way West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is playing).

Meanwhile, Te’o has gone through so much personally in the past few weeks while the Irish are moving closer to the top of college football again.

So I asked him after the game Saturday how he can deal with all of those things at the same time.

“It takes a lot of focus, and I think for me, just staying humble,’’ he said. “Understanding that with all this, just, attention, to stay humble and remember who to thank. The heavenly father. And to rely on my team.’’

Notre Dame is getting better every week. The defense hasn’t given up a touchdown in the past three games, wins over Michigan State, Michigan and Miami.

Everything is set up perfectly now. The Irish started the year under a cloud of years of disappointment. Rick Reilly wrote a powerful column for ESPN.com saying that Notre Dame “has been living a lie, as Lou Holtz likes to say. Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, nothing happened.’’

Basically, he was saying that enough is enough.

What’s going to happen now is that everything will go overboard the other way, as if Notre Dame is great again. To be honest, I’m still going to say — as I did after the Irish beat Michigan — that they are not back. There is no back, and they are starting all over, with a Mormon from Hawaii.

Irish Eyes

Want more in-depth coverage of Notre Dame football? Check out insider information, forums and exclusive video on Irish Eyes.

Not a Notre Dame fan? Find your team at Scout.com.

The team is definitely good again, with a great defense but a subpar offense. There have been changes in college football, with top teams coming now from Oregon, Kansas State, West Virginia. Notre Dame is crushing big-time programs that are not current. Michigan State is no good. Michigan is average. Miami? Let’s just say that Notre Dame beat a bunch of guys who were wearing Miami uniforms.

Miami has no defense. None. That said, for the past few years, Notre Dame had been just like those teams, living on the past.

The hard part of the schedule is coming. The Irish probably will beat Stanford on Saturday in South Bend, but that’s not a given. And they probably will lose at Oklahoma on Oct. 27 and at USC on Nov. 24.

Notre Dame hasn’t won a national championship since 1988 or a Heisman since 1987. Those streaks won’t end this year. But at least the Irish are in position to find out.

Quarterback Everett Golson offered the best hope Saturday. He had been unimpressive this season. But against Miami, maybe for the first time, he showed his ability to run. He rushed for 51 yards on six carries, and he threw for 186, completing 77.2 percent of his passes.

“I thought Everett grew up today,’’ head coach Brian Kelly said.

Again, it happened against a team without a defense. But Miami does have a good offense, and it managed just three points.

“It’s very crucial for us to just settle down,’’ Te’o said. “We’re getting a lot of praise and pats on the back. That’s nice, to get that kind of support. But we have to avoid all that kind of stuff. Know who we are.’’

There is no way to avoid it now. Not at Notre Dame, undefeated halfway through a season. But stay focused. Stay calm. Te’o may or may not be the inspiration. But he certainly is the example. He leads it all, but does it in pain.

Tagged: West Virginia, Michigan, Hawaii, Notre Dame

More Stories From Greg Couch

Member Comments

Please note by clicking on "Post comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Use and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be Polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.

powered by

College Football Pick'em on FOX


NCAA FB Videos

Sumlin annoyed by media's Manziel questions Posted: Jul 16, 2014
Kevin Sumlin responds to questions about life after Johnny Football by toying wi...

AJ Pasquale's journey back to UCLA Posted: Jun 17, 2014
UCLA football ops intern AJ Pasquale describes his own personal journey after th...

Winston issued adult civil citation Posted: Apr 30, 2014
Get the latest news surrounding Jameis Winston's recent shoplifting fiasco.

Get Inside the Locker Room with Scout.com

More Than Sports on MSN

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Nike Florida Gators Gridiron 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - Royal Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Florida_Gators/browse/featuredproduct/759777/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_759000/ff_759777_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Florida Gators Gridiron 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - Royal Blue
    Nike Michigan State Spartans Football 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - White http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Michigan_State_Spartans/browse/featuredproduct/760171/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_760000/ff_760171_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Michigan State Spartans Football 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - White
    Nike USC Trojans Fight On My School T-Shirt - Cardinal http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_USC_Trojans/browse/featuredproduct/761373/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_761000/ff_761373_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike USC Trojans Fight On My School T-Shirt - Cardinal
    Nike Alabama Crimson Tide Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Crimson http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Alabama_Crimson_Tide/browse/featuredproduct/829709/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_829000/ff_829709_xl.jpg&w=100 64.95 Nike Alabama Crimson Tide Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Crimso..
    Nike LSU Tigers Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Purple http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_LSU_Tigers/browse/featuredproduct/829740/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_829000/ff_829740_xl.jpg&w=100 49.99 Nike LSU Tigers Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Purple
    Nike Oklahoma Sooners Legacy 91 Dri-FIT Adjustable Coaches Cap - Crimson http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Oklahoma_Sooners/browse/featuredproduct/830935/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_830000/ff_830935_xl.jpg&w=100 21.95 Nike Oklahoma Sooners Legacy 91 Dri-FIT Adjustable Coaches Cap - Crimson
    adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish Hot Sideline Jacket - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Notre_Dame_Fighting_Irish/browse/featuredproduct/861243/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_861000/ff_861243_xl.jpg&w=100 69.95 adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish Hot Sideline Jacket - Navy Blue
    adidas Nebraska Cornhuskers Sideline Hot Quarter Zip Jacket - Scarlet http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Nebraska_Cornhuskers/browse/featuredproduct/861247/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_861000/ff_861247_xl.jpg&w=100 69.95 adidas Nebraska Cornhuskers Sideline Hot Quarter Zip Jacket - Scarlet
    Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Players Locker Room Snapback Hat - Charcoal/Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Alabama_Crimson_Tide/browse/featuredproduct/1087345/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1087000/ff_1087345_xl.jpg&w=100 29.95 Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Players Locker Room Snapba..
    Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Locker Room T-Shirt - Ash http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Alabama_Crimson_Tide/browse/featuredproduct/1093431/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1093000/ff_1093431_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Locker Room T-Shirt - Ash