SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Manti Te'o is lighter, quicker and - best of all for Notre Dame - back for a senior season and ready to leave his mark as one of the greatest linebackers in Fighting Irish history.
"Since it's my senior (year) I want to do this. I want to win to make sure Notre Dame is back up there," the Punahou School graduate said at Thursday's media day.
"This is my only time to actually have control over that. Once I leave, I don't have. While I'm in that locker room and on that field, I have good control of what is going on."
Manti Te‘o has 324 career tackles, the eighth-best total in Notre Dame history.
AP file photo
Te'o enters the season as the No. 8 tackler in school history with 324.
"He's a big-bodied guy. He's fast. He's got real good initial quickness. He's got an instinctual and intangible nose for the ball," said Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.
"He's got a spectacular skill set and the intangible blue-collar mentality, so it's a unique combination."
Te'o had to make a tough decision on his future in December - stay in school or head to the NFL? He discussed it with his parents, saying he didn't want to miss out on a final season in South Bend.
"I know that if I prepare myself, both mentally and physically, and spiritually, I'll be fine and whatever happens, happens. I told my parents, if I come out my senior game, my last game of the season against Wake Forest, whether I come out in pads or on crutches, it will be worth it," he said earlier.
Te'o had already faced a choice regarding football once before. After his freshman year, he decided to forgo a Mormon mission and return to school.
"It was very difficult in totally different ways," he said. "Going on my mission was an experience like no other. It was something to help me grow as a person. Leaving for the NFL would help my family financially, so there were different situations, but I used the same tools to make those de-cisions - I prayed about it and talked to my family about it and weighed the pros and cons of each. I think I've made the right decision for me and my family."
Te'o, listed at 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, certainly wants to play in the NFL next year, and part of the reason for losing 15 pounds was to keep himself stronger and injury free.
"I think it naturally happened when I watched what I ate," he said. "I made the sacrifices I needed to make to be on the top of my game. People talk about injuries and the possibility of injuries, but a lot of those injuries occur when you are tired or out of shape, muscle pulls, stuff like that. If I'm in the best shape of my life, I shouldn't have to worry about that stuff."
Fellow inside linebacker Dan Fox was one of those overjoyed to hear that Te'o was coming back.
"The opportunity you can go play in the NFL, and for him to come back, that meant a lot to us and the defense," said Fox, who became a starter last year.
"He helps me out a lot. One thing I noticed is he's starting to trust me more - not that he didn't before. You can rely on somebody a little more the more they play."
Te'o's teammates rely him as a leader who will not hesitate to speak up. With a coach's knowledge of the Irish defense, he expects accountability from himself and those around him.
"He's hard on himself, and the moments where he may lose focus, or he may not give it his all, even those moments are decreasing," said Diaco, a former college linebacker at Iowa.
"Not only is he going to be one of the very best linebackers that ever played here, if not the best, (but) one of the very best linebackers to ever play college football."
Te'o said he hasn't given his place in Notre Dame history a lot of thought.
"I hope I stand out as one of the best, but I don't get too caught up in all that stuff. Hopefully at the end of the day I'm one of the best," he said.