Two days after Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Johnny Manziel got his chance to speak publicly for the first time, Notre Dame All-American linebacker Manti Te’o met the media for seemingly the 811th time in a press conference in which Te’o was named the recipient of the ARA Sportsmanship Award.
Te’o spoke for approximately 30 minutes, discussing a wide array of topics ranging from the impact Notre Dame has had on him to his NFL draft preparations to how he’ll stay in shape next week when he makes the rounds at the award shows.
“I asked Coach Kelly to make sure there’s a gym in whatever place we stay so when I come back I’m not a D-lineman,” Te’o said of life on the road next week. “As far as film study, I don’t think I’ll be able to do a lot of that.”
Fortunately for Te’o and the Irish, they’ll be a week ahead of their BCS Championship Game opponent, as Alabama and Georgia meet on Saturday to determine who will join Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7. The team will use the 44 days between the regular season finale at USC and the BCS Championship Game to recover from a physically and emotionally taxing season.
“Get healthy is the first priority,” Te’o explained. “Even though we’re off, we’re still staying in shape. We don’t have to be out there banging heads to keep our edges sharp. Coach Kelly has a perfect plan for us.”
Te’o said he’ll likely watch Saturday’s SEC Championship Game but does not have a rooting interest.
“I’ll enjoy it as a fan and as a future opponent. My main thing is finding out who we’re gonna play and to get a sneak peek at our opponent. Good luck to both teams and I’m just excited to see who we play.”
Both the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs defenses are also anchored by an All-American linebacker: C.J. Mosley for Alabama and Jarvis Jones for Georgia. Te’o praised both as elite players.
“I know about Jarvis Jones. I’ve seen C.J. Mosley play in the national championship last year. Both are incredible players.”
Te’o, a Hawaii native, was asked about the uniqueness of growing up in the Aloha State and the effect he has had on children back on the islands, who have few hometown heroes to look up to in the sports world.
“I can’t really say because I’m not home experiencing it,” Te’o said. “For me, my main thing is to show the kids back home that we can step out of that bubble. Hawaii is such a comfortable place. For us kids who grow up there, it’s definitely hard to leave. For us to leave that nest is something that’s very difficult.”
With Te’o scheduled to graduate from Notre Dame next month, the BCS Championship Game will mark the final hours of his time as a Notre Dame student-athlete. The senior reflected on his time in South Bend and what he’ll take with him when he says goodbye to his home for three-and-a-half years.
“[Notre Dame] is not a school. It’s a family and a place that you’ll always be connected with for the rest of your life.”
A near-certainty to be selected high in the 2013 NFL draft, Te’o said he has a general idea of his post-Notre Dame plans but is not sure where he’ll spend the weeks leading up to the scouting combine in February and the April 25 NFL draft
“I haven’t mapped it out specifically,” Te’o said, “but I’ll be going somewhere to train.”
First things first, however.
Te’o still has one final game in a Notre Dame uniform. The Irish are the only team standing between the SEC and the league’s seventh consecutive national title. Te’o expects a four-quarter battle when Notre Dame and the SEC champion square off in Miami.
“We understand how dominant the SEC has been in the past,” Te’o acknowledged. “It’s an opportunity that we’re looking forward to. We’re gonna get after it. Whoever we go up against is going to be one of the best teams we faced all year long.”
After traveling all over the country next week, it’s back to South Bend for Te’o for final exams and football practice before the team departs for Miami, likely around January 1. Te’o’s legacy will only continue to grow over the coming weeks as one of the most memorable players in the storied history of Notre Dame football writes the final chapter of his college career.