Notre Dame LB Te'o adjusting quickly on, off field
On the first play against Washington, he made the tackle on a run up the middle. On the second play he delivered a hit that appeared to be a turnover until replay officials ruled the runner's knee was down just before the hit. He was in position to make the tackle on the next play, but Huskies quarterback Jake Locker broke free for a few more yards.
Te'o finished with 10 tackles against the Huskies, the most by an Irish linebacker in eight games. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said Te'o has continued to improve in practice the past two weeks as the 25th-ranked Irish (4-1) prepare for Saturday's game against No. 6 Southern California.
"Manti is getting to look more like a guy who has been out there," Weis said. "He is far from a finished product. But the fact he is getting so many reps now and he's got that one game of starting under his belt, I think that he looks a lot more comfortable. That being said, he's going against a dynamic offense this week, so he's going to have to be ready to bring his lunch pail with him."
Te'o is looking forward to facing the Trojans (4-1). USC was among the final teams he considered before opting for the Irish on signing day in February.
"I know more of them than possibly my teammates do, so it's going to be more fun," Te'o said.
The Irish haven't had a lot of fun against the Trojans lately, losing a record seven straight to their rivals, all but one of them by 20 points or more.
The Irish have done a little better off the field, though, beating out USC for players like Te'o, quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen and Dayne Crist, receivers Michael Floyd and Shaquelle Evans, tackle Sam Young, among others.
Te'o has shown flashes of what made him one of the top recruits coming out of Punahou School in Honolulu, making a tackle against Nevada his first play on the field. Against Purdue, Te'o sacked Joey Elliott for a 12 yard loss with 16 seconds left to help seal the 24-21 victory. He also had a tackle for loss against Michigan.
Even though the Washington game marked the first time he played extensively, Te'o is already sixth on the team in tackles with 16.
Te'o said he's learned a lot through the first five games, especially about adjusting to the speed of play in college. The hardest part so far has been learning the playbook and playing with more discipline, Te'o said.
Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta said that's not surprising.
"You come to college and it's a totally different aspect of the discipline aspect, the gap control, what your responsibility is," Tenuta said. "If you talk to him, he's used to just looking at the quarterback and running to the football."
The Irish know the 6-2, 244-pound Te'o will make mistakes "but his speed and athleticism cover for a lot of the things," Weis said.
Linebackers Toryan, Brian and Scott Smith, no relation, have helped Te'o with the adjustment.
"Smith, Smith and Smith are the guys that are the mentors for him," Tenuta said. "Those guys do a great job with him. After I chew him out, they help him."
The humble Te'o said he appreciates Tenuta's directness.
When asked what he thought his best play was, Te'o couldn't remember. But he could remember after making a play looking up in the stands and seeing his parents, Ottilia and Brian.
"I looked up and I saw my parents smiling. That was the biggest moment for me," he said. "Everybody knows that my family is No. 1 in my life. For them to make the sacrifice to come all the way over here just to see me play is truly a blessing for me."
Te'o is beginning to feel more comfortable. Aside from learning the playbook, the other big adjustment for Te'o has been getting used to cold weather.
"It's been hard, very hard. I haven't really gotten used to seeing the temperatures in the 40s so often in my life. On my iPhone I have the weather for South Bend and I have the weather for Hawaii," he said. "It's a big difference."