One Thing Remains

Manti Te'o learned how to lead his Irish teammates through trial and error. Now the goal is to march together toward one final destination.

Manti Te'o has a new goal, one unique to most aspiring athletes: he'd like to become a terrible football coach some day.

Yes, Te'o one day wants to give back and impart his wisdom and love for football to a new generation, but excelling as a head football coach isn't in his long-term plan.

"My dad has told me there are people that know how to play the game, and people who are born to coach," said Te'o half-jokingly. "Usually the guys that are best at the game are horrible coaches. So hopefully I become one of the best at playing the game and a horrible coach instead of an average player and a great coach."

Through three seasons, Te'o has long-since cleared "average" as a member of the Irish. In good health, Te'o will finish his Irish career third among the program's all-time tackles leaders. He'll likely rank among its top five in tackles for loss as well; second among linebackers behind mid-90s standout Kory Minor.

He's likewise projected to join late-80s star Michael Stonebreaker as a two-time Butkus Award Finalist, and potentially the program's first consensus first team All-America selection at linebacker since Stonebreaker did the same in 1988 and 1990.

There's only one thing missing from his collegiate resume.

"We all understand we've had the spotlight, but that's not worth anything if you don't win," said Te'o of his heavily-decorated senior class. "I know how it feels to sit in mid-January and watch a national championship. I want to play in a BCS bowl, and the way we're going to do that is focus on every team and every game. It's not, 'I can't wait to play USC or Michigan or Stanford or Oklahoma.' It's Navy."

The Strong, (Less) Silent Type

Not prone to seek attention with bold proclamations or the common post-play gesticulations that accompany many players of the sport's last two decades, Te'o has found a way to combine his natural bent to lead by example with a few well-placed words of wisdom.

"Harrison (Smith) did an amazing job," said Te'o of his friend and 2011 team captain. "He taught me to speak when needed, and to not speak when you're not needed. When you have that silent leader, that is way more powerful than a guy yapping around the locker room.

"I'm more of a leader by action so I've gotten confidence knowing I can be a quiet leader, but you have to balance and know you're teammates. How they all work: with Kona (Schwenke) I need to be more quiet, with Lou (Nix), a little bit more vocal. That's what makes a good leader."

Te'o concurs with head coach Brian Kelly that the 2012 team's chemistry is unique.

"We have guys who are leaders and guys who follow. We have chiefs and we have indians," he noted. "Everybody can't be a chief, and everybody can't be an indian. In that case everyone knows their role, the roles of others, and everyone respects those roles. In the past we didn't necessarily have respect for that distinction."

Backing it up between the lines

The next college football player who states the previous season's leadership and/or commitment to conditioning and excellence, is better than the season's at hand will surely be the first.

But anyone around the program over its last four seasons can see the physical difference between the offensive and defensive lines of the previous regime, and that of the current staff's collection of frames up front.

For Te'o, that's not solely due to God-given ability and athletic bodies found through recruitment.

"Physically everyone is faster and stronger. We look like a college football team," he said. "Its pretty intimidating actually. That all has to do with off-season training and our team in general getting after it.

"Coach (Paul) Longo is the best strength coach in America. There's nobody like him. He knows the importance of when to grind and when not to grind. And we've been fortunate to have leaders like Braxston (Cave), Zack (Martin), and Chris Watt, they've brought that group up," he continued of the veteran offensive front. "That's because Braxston and those guys have really taken control of that group, and coach (Harry) Hiestand is an incredible coach.

"They've built the mentality that, 'We're the core of this (unit), and this offense is going to be run through us."

As for the accepted strength of the 2012 Irish, their veteran front seven?

"There's definitely room to improve. We're not No. 1 yet, we have a lot of work to do, but we're on our way."

In good health, its safe to pencil in Te'o for another 120-plus tackles, another 12-15 tackles-for-loss, and national honors recognizing his impact on the game and team.

But if he likewise plays a role in 11 or 12 victories over the next four months, Te'o would join a more select group:

Notre Dame's legends.


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