Manti Te'o Talks Faith and Football

Highly recruited LDS linebacker Manti Te'o has plenty of options on the table. The 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound native Hawaiian of Samoan descent has about 28 scholarship offers, and choosing a school won't be as easy as simply picking the highest-profile college that has offered him.

On the football field, Manti Te'o dominates in a manner far above his age, and judging by what he says, his decision regarding where to play college football will be a methodical one based on something much deeper than popularity or name.

"I'll definitely be getting down on my knees before I make any decision," said Te'o. "I'll be doing that especially before I make a decision as big as the one I'll be making. The Lord always knows what's best for you. My dad [Brian Te'o] always tells me that the hardest thing is to follow it because the answer you may get may not be the answer you want."

Applying principles of faith in an effort to achieve greater success is a position BYU fans are all too familiar with, thanks in part to Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall. It's no secret among the Cougar nation that he does not read the newspapers, watch sports shows or surf the Internet for information concerning his football program. In fact, the only bit of media Coach Mendenhall keeps in his possession is an article written by ESPN concerning the impossible task of forging success by incorporating faith-based principles into a college football program.

"As for the article on Coach Mendenhall and how it's going to be difficult, I think BYU is an example of how that is just the opposite," said Te'o. "You can see the success that the BYU program is having, and it's just a testament to what Coach Mendenhall is trying to do, and he's trying to implement religion into the game. For me, I think it's very important as a member of the [LDS] Church. We are always told that as members of the Church … if you take care of the Lord first, He will take care of you. BYU's program is just an example of that."

Te'o said he believes that one reason why Coach Mendenhall is having a quick impact on the college football world is due to the fact that his team plays for more than just football.

"I think he has his players play for a whole different reason," Te'o continued. "For us as members of the Church, we believe why Coach Mendenhall is so successful is because he is taking care of the Lord first, and if we do that He will take care of you. Coach Mendenhall's program isn't just designed around football. It's also designed around the Lord, and I think the Lord is definitely blessing the program. By the success that they've been having, I would definitely say that they've been blessed with the success that they've been having these past seasons.

"I also think that one of Coach Mendenhall's strengths is his ability to coach a player in a way that will further improve that particular athlete. He knows how to change up his coaching to fit a specific athlete."

Recently, coaches from West Virginia and Kansas State seeking to find the source of his success visited Coach Mendenhall. Mendenhall had the chance to share some of those universal religious-based principles that have bound his team together in playing towards a greater cause. Te'o said he believes this continued success brought about by the unique attributes found within BYU's program will only bring greater recognition to those faith-based principles.

"An example would be this past year," said Te'o. "USC agreed to allow me to serve my mission, when a couple of years back they didn't allow Stanley [Havili] to serve his mission. I think BYU is demonstrating that return missionaries can play and that young men who are called to serve can come back and be successful. I think BYU is definitely showing that."

With only seven draft picks in their stable, the Super Bowl champion New York Giants picked BYU linebacker Bryan Kehl as their first linebacker taken in the draft. Kehl once echoed Te'o's comments that those who are called to serve a mission can indeed fulfill their dreams.

In regards to fulfilling one's dreams, BYU extended a scholarship offer to Manti's close cousin Shiloah Te'o, and Shiloah accepted that offer. The Cougar coaching staff also recently extended a scholarship offer to another close cousin in Elder Malosi Te'o, who is currently serving a mission in New York.

"I think it's great," said Manti Te'o. "Before [Malosi's] mission his favorite team was BYU. He's always wanted to go to BYU. I think it's a great blessing for him and if he ends up going to BYU, it will be great to have another Te'o and athlete at BYU and on their team.

"I can honestly speak for all the grandsons. I think Malosi is the one that has blazed the trail for all of us. He was the first one and the oldest of all the grandchildren not only blazing a trail in a football sense, but by serving a mission. He writes us letters often, and to read them is a blessing just to feel the power behind his words. When he left, it was hard on all of us, especially his younger brother Levi. Shiloah went up to go say farewell to him.

"I guess we were so close because in the early stages none of us had brothers. Shiloah was the only boy in his family. I was the only boy in my family besides Malosi and Levi. We were the only boys in the family and we felt that us boys should stick together, so the bond between us started really young.

"I think out of all the cousins, Shiloah and I are the closest. Shiloah and I have always lived together. Everywhere I lived, Shiloah was [there]. All of us were always close, but when uncle Ephraim [Te'o] moved to the mainland, I think Shiloah and I took the mentality that we have to hold down the fort. Shiloah is one of my inspirations because I was too young to play with Malosi. Growing up, Shiloah was the man. On the Pop Warner team he was the quarterback and free safety. Being his younger cousin, he always protected me."

Manti said he thinks about the experience of playing with both Malosi and Shiloah in college all the time.

"I used to always think about that too in high school," said Te'o. "I thought it would be great to go to Kahuku to play with Shiloah, but as far as college, it's a different arena and you really have to think about it. But definitely, it would be really nice to play with my cousins."

True to years past, Te'o plans on attending the All-Poly Camp this summer, much like his older cousin Shiloah did. His uncle Alema Te'o founded the All-Poly Camp, and he feels he needs to pay tribute to both his uncle and the camp for helping him reach the pillars he was fortunate enough to climb.

"I'm excited, just like every year, to go to the All-Poly Camp," said Te'o. "My parents and I have decided that I need to go my senior year to pay respects to my uncle. I can honestly say that without Uncle Alema's All-Poly Camp, I wouldn't be in the situation that I'm in right now. The All-Poly Camp has given many the opportunities to showcase their talents in front of college coaches. It gave us the chance to learn techniques and drills from them and implement them into our own game, so I think the All-Poly Camp gave many of us an opportunity to expand our horizons and different options. That's what it's done for me."

Originally intended to be an avenue in which kids of lesser financial means could have a chance at furthering their football and educational careers, the All-Poly Camp was organized and funded solely from the heart and pocket of Alema Te'o.

"It's really been beneficial for kids who are less fortunate," Manti Te'o said. "It's beneficial because the camp has around 20 to 30 coaches, from the J.C. ranks to the Division I college level. These kids are able to get exposure to all of these different coaches and schools and don't have to travel and pay money to go to all of these individual college camps to showcase their talents in the hopes they can get a scholarship. They can just go to this one camp and be watched by 30 different colleges. It really helps and is a great opportunity for many."

The All-Poly Camp will feature many top football prospects the likes of Sky Line High School quarterback star Jake Heaps, Bingham High School lineman and Aiga Camp standout Talai Livai, and many others. Aside from the top-quality players and many Division I coaches that instruct and participate, a unique aspect of the camp is that it focuses on developing the athlete's ability to first see the football field.

"I think this part is a great addition to the camp, where they try and focus more on the academic side of things to help athletes learn that side," said Te'o. "It's very important because as all athletes know, in order to play football you have to do well in the classroom. Football is just the vehicle and academics [are] the key, and without the key the vehicle won't move forward."

Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, who recently met with and did a feature on Utah's top high school prospects, also visited Hawaii for a similar meet-and-greet with that state's top prospects.

"We had a photo shoot with him, so it was a great opportunity for some of the locals out here in Hawaii to get some national exposure," said Te'o. "There is an article coming out on Sports Illustrated where Punahou High School is honored as one the top athletic program in the nation, so it's a great blessing for our school."

Te'o is certainly not lacking exposure or attention. He was invited to both the ESPN and the Army All-American Bowls, and he has accepted an invitation to play for the Under Armor Bowl.

From his performance on the football field, Te'o also been honored with major accolades.

"Well, this year I five sacks and two fumble recoveries," Te'o said. "I had over 90 tackles and averaged over 11 tackles per game. On offense I had over 400 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, [and] averaged 11 yards per carry. I was named the Defensive Player of the Year for the state of Hawaii by the Star Bulletin. I was named First-Team for the Honolulu Advisor, and the Hawaii Gatorade Player of the Year."

As a national prospect, Te'o has a bevy of offers on the table that would take more than 10 toes and fingers to count them all on.

"I have offers from USC, Cal, BYU, Stanford, UCLA, Notre Dame, Colorado, West Virginia, Tennessee, San Diego State, Texas A&M, Oregon, Auburn, Baylor, Texas Tech, Hawaii, Florida, Washington, New Mexico State, Utah [and] UNLV." said Te'o. "Did I say Colorado? Wait, how many is that so far? Well, anyways I have around 28 scholarship offers so far."

With so many scholarship offers on the table, Te'o is going to start cutting the fat by narrowing his list of schools.

"I'm going to start narrowing my list by the end of summer," said Te'o. "I think by then I'll have everything narrowed down. I should have my top five by then."

At that point, Te'o will take his five trips before making that final decision regarding which coaches he will be mentored by and which campus he will spend the next four-to-five years of his life at.

"The plan is I'm going to wait ‘til signing day," said Te'o. "I think then I'll make it official."

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