Manti Te’i in 2010 by Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy
When NFL scouts go down their list of things they are looking for in a middle linebacker there won’t be many checkmarks left off of their report card for Notre Dame’s Middle Linebacker, Manti Te’o. That is unless they are looking for an undisciplined diamond in the rough that punches teammates, starts fights with the opposition or is in fear of not finishing his degree or getting kicked off the team.
With the mighty fall of Vontaze Burfict last season and seeing his resurrection, there may be a scout or two looking for that, but, the team that drafts Te’o is getting the complete opposite.
Te’o is considered by many to be the best defensive player in the country and by some to be the best overall player, period. While some may argue if he is even the best middle linebacker, I would challenge anyone to prove that there is another player in college who possesses his play making ability, leadership, intelligence and character. Not only is Te’o the leader of the 3rd ranked Fighting Irish squad, he is also graduating six months early with a 3.32 GPA and, at only 21 years of age, has displayed a level of commitment and courage that many men much his senior would look up to.
When Manti Te’o came to Notre Dame, he chose the Fighting Irish over Sanford, he brought with him several awards for being the best defensive player in the country and the best athlete in a decade of Hawaiian sports. He also brought a sense of stewardship and leadership that was cultivated from his family. While in High School, as he was stacking up the awards, Te’o volunteered and helped many organizations including Head Start, The Hawaiian Food Bank and Shriners Hospital. Oh yeah, he is also an Eagle Scout.
While at Notre Dame, Te’o has racked up the tackles, he will most likely finish his career in third All-Time at Notre Dame, but, this season he has become a complete player as he has began to anticipate where the ball will be, not only in time to make a tackle, but to create turnovers. He currently has six interceptions, two forced fumbles and 92 tackles. His outstanding effort and maturity is a major reason why his team is ranked #3 in the BCS and #4 in the AP Poll standings.
At no time in his short career and perhaps in his life has his dedication and mental toughness been more clear than when, earlier this year, his maternal grandmother and girlfriend passed away several hours apart from each other. Two women that he loved deeply were gone, but, his dedication to Notre Dame football stayed. Heading the words of his girlfriend, he focused on the game against Michigan State that week, not missing a practice and played the game in her honor, missing her funeral, but honoring her memory by leading a defense that held, then #10 ranked, Michigan State out of the end zone, a feet that they would repeat a week later against Michigan as Te’o intercepted two passes.
“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,” he said.
The task was made even harder knowing he couldn’t attend her funeral in Carson City, Calif.. He said Lennay had made him promise he wouldn’t miss a game, instead asking him to honor her with his play. -Hawaii Tribune
So, let’s visit that imaginary scout’s checklist. Heart…Check…Leadership…Check…Tackle…Check…Determination…Check…Read Plays…Check…Intercept…Check…Force Fumbles…Check.
One thing is for sure, whoever lands Te’o in the 2013 NFL Draft is not only getting one helluva player, but, maybe even a better person.