SOUTH BEND, Ind. » Memories matter more to Manti Te’o than material things.
The chance to spend another year with his Notre Dame teammates outweighed any luxuries the linebacker would be able to buy with his NFL millions, the former Punahou star said Monday. It was the first time Te’o met with the media since announcing Dec. 11 that he would return for his senior season at Notre Dame.
“It’s the moments that you share with the people you love that you’re going to take with you,” Te’o said. “One day we’re all going to pass on, and I’m not going to be able to take a Cadillac, I’m not going to be able to take the big mansion and all that stuff. The only things that I’m going to have are the memories I have here at Notre Dame and with my family and back at home. Millions of dollars can’t buy those.”
Te’o, who was a finalist for the Butkus Award given to the country’s best linebacker, figured to be a high-round pick in the NFL Draft in April. But he didn’t even bother waiting for his draft evaluation before making his decision, which he announced at the Lott IMPACT Trophy dinner.
He had asked receiver Michael Floyd, who faced a similar decision last year, if putting the NFL on hold had been worth it. And he asked himself that same question as he watched the senior video during Notre Dame’s award banquet. The answers gave him all the information he needed to make his decision.
“Seeing them run out of the tunnel for the last time, I saw some of them in pads, some of them on crutches,” Te’o said. “I was always taught to make a decision on the worst-case scenario, and that’s my worst-case scenario, to come out on crutches. So I asked myself that question, would it be worth it? That could happen. Would I still be happy with the decision? There’s no doubt, no doubt in my mind it would be worth it.”
Te’o said he does not plan to take out an insurance policy.
Te’o’s decision to return is a huge boost for the Irish, who face Florida State on Dec. 29 in the Champs Sports Bowl. Te’o leads the Irish with 115 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 41⁄2 sacks — and that was while playing much of the season on a bum ankle.
The schedule gets much tougher next year for Notre Dame (8-4), with games against Oklahoma and Miami along with traditional rivals Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State and Southern California. Knowing Te’o is coming back will make facing that juggernaut a little easier.
“It’s absolutely a huge, huge piece,” defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. “Like I’ve always said, I believe Manti to be one of the very best inside linebackers in America. He’s one of the best overall defensive players in the country.”
He’s also a favorite with his teammates.
Fellow linebacker Dan Fox, Notre Dame’s defensive newcomer of the year, attributed some of his progress to Te’o. The veteran is always giving him tips, Fox said, and it’s those nuances that make the difference between a solid player and a standout.
“He is as high a character young man as they come,” Diaco said. “He’s a rare young man.”
While Fox said the Irish were thrilled when Te’o told them he was coming back, they weren’t surprised. Te’o cherishes the time he spends with his teammates, and giving that up was simply too high a price to pay for a multimillion-dollar NFL contract.
“If it wasn’t for my teammates, I wouldn’t be here. They make it fun,” Te’o said. “Everybody knows, there’s not much to do around here. I have a group of guys who are always calling me, ‘Hey, come over to the house and have a barbecue.’ Or, ‘Let’s do something, let’s go to the movies.’ Those are the times that mean the most.”