Saturday, February 07, 2009

Manti! | by Pat

At this point, he shouldn't need much introduction. But in case you're one of those smart people who stay away from the annual soap opera that is recruiting, here's a quick primer on ND's Signing Day coup, Hawai'i linebacker Manti Te'o.

  • Hawaii State Defensive Player of the Year (2nd year in a row)
  • Gatordate Hawaii State Player of the Year (2nd year in a row)
  • Parade All-American
  • USA TODAY National Defensive Player of the Year
  • Sporting News High School Athlete of the Year
  • inaugural Butkus Award winner for nation's top prep linebacker
On top of that, he's a 5-star recruit on both Rivals and Scout. Scout has him as the #1 strongside linebacker and #6 overall recruit. Rivals has him as the #2 inside linebacker and #12 overall recruit. ESPN has him with a 93 overall score, which translates to #1 linebacker recruit and #2 overall recruit on their list.In fact, in the four years they have been ranking recruits, only five recruits total have been given a higher score than Manti. He had a scholarship offer from everyone, with the Trojans and Bruins his runner-up finalists.

So yeah, he's good. If you want to see for yourself, enjoy.

Back to the announcement, here's video of Manti donning the right hat and signing his Letter of Intent. While fans were watching and sweating out the decision, so were the ND coaches.
"Notre Dame was the only school I didn't call," Te'o told during a phone interview. "I wanted to be respectful to the other schools and thank them for recruiting me."
You can see the jubilant reaction of the coaching staff (especially Polian) at the 6:35 mark in this behind the scenes video on There's a reason why Polian gets so much attention from the other coaches in the video. While Charlie undoubtedly deserves a lot of credit for his multiple trips out to visit Te'o, it was Polian who made return trip after return trip to keep up with the talented Te'o.

"I'd like to take this chance to thank the crew of United flight 81," Polian said with a smile. "I got to know them well, because I took the same flight every Wednesday from LAX to Honolulu."

Polian, Notre Dame's special teams coordinator and lead West Coast recruiter, made that journey 10 times in the last 14 months -- including three trips in December and three more in January -- just to visit linebacker Manti Te'o, one of the highest-rated prospects in the country.

The repeat flights worked and certainly helped to contribute to the ND-favored outcome.
"Their recruiting coordinator, Brian Polian, flew here every week from South Bend, and that just shows me his determination and dedication, and I took that into consideration,"
When you think about it, it's a stunner that a recruit that was arguably Pete Carroll's top defensive target picked ND over Southern Cal. The Trojans not only have a program running on all cylinders, but they hosted Manti the weekend right before he made his pick. It's a recruiting rule of thumb that the last school to get a visit usually has the best chance to sign said recruit. ND on the other hand brought Manti in for a freezing, snowy game and promptely lost to a 2-8 Syracuse team in embarrassing fashion. Then again, that horrific loss sent the ND squad to the Hawai'i Bowl, where Te'o was able to take in a few more ND practices and get a warmer look at his possible future teammates. He's also a religious person and an Eagle Scout, which certainly falls within the normal ND student Venn Diagram.

The legend of the top linebacker from Hawaii started to grow his sophomore year when, despite breaking his arm only four games into the season, he was still named 2nd team All-State. The accolades kept coming and, last month, he wrapped up his high school career in the Under Armour All-American Bowl on ESPN against the best players from rest of the US.
From the beginning of the first practice Wednesday, Te'o quickly demonstrated why he is considered the top overall linebacker prospect in the country. After dominating against lesser perceived talent out in the Hawaiian Islands during his high school career, Te'o didn't need long to stake his claim as the best linebacker and maybe overall player on the mainland. His great speed, striking explosiveness and uncanny instincts stood out all week, even to former NFL coaches who were in awe of his talents. Te'o took most of his reps on the inside, displaying the great scheme versatility he will bring to the next level. We knew he had the closing burst and overall tools to develop into a disruptive perimeter 'backer in college, but we were impressed this week with the short-area power, strength and leverage he showed between the tackles at the point of attack. Te'o made a living blowing up opponents' backfields in Orlando; he dominated in a fashion similar to that of last year's No. 1 overall player DaQuan Bowers.
Obviously with these kind of glowing reviews, expectations are going to be pretty high for Te'o right out of the gate. "Will Te'o start?" will probably dominate spring practice and the summer off-season as we slowly inch closer to the 2009 season. ND has shown a tendency to err on the side of seniority early in the season the past few years, but there should be little doubt that Te'o is being counted on to make an immediate impact to the linebacking corp.

After 2009 though, the future gets a bit more murky as Te'o likely will not be around for the 2010 and 2011 seasons as he takes his 2-year Mormon mission.
"The coaches support that and I'm happy that they do support my decision to do that," Te'o said. "I am going to do my mission after my freshman year. That is the plan as of right now."
Eligibility-wise, the mission won't affect Te'o. He will still have all remaining years of eligibility left when he returns. He will have the ability to switch to another school after the mission, so the recruiting of Te'o isn't quite done yet. But that's still a bit down the road.

The last time ND signed the USA Today Defensive Player of the Year, Kory Minor turned into a four year starter. But with so much hype coming in, he never lived up to the expectations in the eyes of some ND fans. Given all the fawning press for Te'o, including this post, Manti will be subjected to similar sky-high expectations whether he wants them or not. Then again Te'o isn't saying anything to diminish those expectations.
"My dream was to join a program that's building instead of joining one that's already built, and I knew if I could build a program into greatness that's when legends are created and that's when people are remembered forever and that's what I want to do," said Teo.