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Te‘o could be entering final college season

August 25, 2011
By RICK GANO , The Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Manti Te'o can clear up two issues immediately. His nose, broken last year in a game against Army, is fine, and his knee, which he had cleaned up with arthroscopic surgery in the offseason, is completely healed.

He reports that facial update with a laugh, but there's a serious question looming for Notre Dame's hard-hitting linebacker and the fans who watched him make 133 tackles last season - the most by a Fighting Irish player since 1983.

Might the Punahou School graduate's third season in South Bend be his last if the NFL beckons?

Article Photos

Notre Dame’s Manti Te‘o, shown forcing a fumble by Michigan’s Denard Robinson last season, had 133 tackles in 2010 — the most by a Fighting Irish player in 27 years.
AP file photo

"I don't really think about it. The task at hand is what is really important to me," he said of No. 16 Notre Dame's upcoming season, which starts Sept. 3 against South Florida.

"I'm just preparing myself to play the best brand of football that I have ever played and whatever comes up and whatever opportunities present themselves then I will sit down with my family and with my coaches and we will talk about it," he said. "Of course, we have talked about the future and the possibilities of it happening, but right now all that matters to me is this football team."

Te'o has faced some big decisions about his future already.

After starting 10 games as a freshman and recording 63 tackles as the Irish went 6-6 in what would be coach Charlie Weis' final campaign, Te'o had to decide whether continue with football or go on a Mormon mission.

He chose to stay with a new coaching regime led by Brian Kelly. Te'o's faith continues to play a huge role in his life, and he's attended a nearby Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Kelly said he isn't giving much thought to what might happen should Te'o be considered a top NFL prospect after the season.

"Manti didn't come here to go to the NFL. He would have gone on a Mormon mission," Kelly said. "He came here to be at Notre Dame."

Te'o is one of eight defensive starters back from a team that allowed an average of 9.8 points over the final four games of the season, all wins.

This spring, as Te'o sat out to mend his knee, he had a chance to do a lot of watching, and that helped him see the defense from a new perspective, learning what other positions do.

"If you know what's happening around you, you know why you are doing certain things," Te'o said. "I know why I got to be in a certain position on the field. That's why I took that whole spring to see what the defensive line does and it just furthered my knowledge of the game."

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said the ability to concentrate helps Te'o, even when he's not on the field.

"If you are really focused and your mind's eye is on a particular event, whether you are watching tape and know what to look at or are at practice, it can really move your game along," Diaco said. "He's one of the older players. And he has the skills and the ability to have a single-minded focus in those moments."

Te'o, who had 9 1/2 tackles for loss last season, sees room for improvement.

"I always critique myself," he said. "I can always work on bettering my game, coming back stronger and faster."



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