"I've really grown a lot from last year and understand the game 100 percent more from last year," said Te'o. "I understand what it takes to be a college football player, and I also understand more of what it takes to compete for a starting position."
Now Te'o is adding the skills he's gaining at the college level to his natural instincts. There is a big difference between preparing at the high school level and at the college level. With a year under his belt, Te'o has become acclimated to the expectations of college football.
"The biggest change for me is film and learning the defensive plays," Te'o said. "You see it on paper and it's one thing, but when trying to execute it on the field it's a little different. There are keys, checks and reads that you have to use. It's a lot harder than in high school and you don't really realize that until you're at the college level.
"The speed of the game and learning the defensive formations and plays also is much harder," Te'o continued. "It's much more difficult than cover-three that you just ran in high school. In high school you just go to the flat and that's your zone. It's a lot different now where you might have to go vertical sometimes or break off a coverage. It just really depends on what your reads tell you to do."
Trying to gather and digest all the information that is thrown at you and applying it correctly to the practice field in such a short time is a daunting task for any football player. Oftentimes young players entering the college level are running off of instincts rather than a fundamental understanding of what's required at this level.
"Last year I just kind of did whatever," Te'o said. "I would just be going off my instincts not knowing for sure what I was supposed to. There were times when I got lucky, but this year I know where I'm supposed to be. If I'm not there I get a little hard on myself, so I'm just trying to push through everything and improve as much as I can."
One thing is for sure, the learning curve for becoming an effective strong safety should increase exponentially when your coverage responsibilities are tight ends like Dennis Pitta and Andrew George.
"Yeah, our responsibilities are covering all those big dudes," said Te'o while laughing. "They're always coming at us and trying to knock us off our spots, but we try to not let that happen. They've got tricks up their sleeves."
On top of facing some of the best talent for personal development, last year Te'o also received some help from senior safety David Tafuna during a time when it was most hectic for him.
"Last year David Tafuna really helped me out, and it just seemed like everything was just so fast and he was just throwing it out at me," said Te'o. "I didn't really have a whole lot of time to comprehend. I would mostly just react to what was going on. I just went out there and used what little I knew about the coverage, and just tried to make the most of it.
Although he's not 100 percent where he feels he needs to be, things are starting to settle for the young strong safety.
"This year everything is starting to sink in and I'm becoming more comfortable with everything that is required of you to play the position," said Te'o. "Instead of having the free safety call out the checks like last year and let them do it, I try to do it. I'm trying to call out the checks and the coverages so I can learn more. I've already seen over the past week how I've learned and grown as a football player by calling out the checks and formations on my own. I'm not 100 percent perfect yet but I'm trying to get there. I'll get there."