Manti Te’o

Manti Te'o

Lance Tominaga photo

They grow up so fast. Can you believe Manti Te’o, the highly touted and dominant linebacker who graduated in blue and gold from Punahou in 2009, will enter his senior year at Notre Dame this fall? Te’o, who, in the opinion of many college and NFL analysts, would have been a first-round draft pick in this past April’s NFL draft, opted to return to Notre Dame to earn his degree, work on his leadership abilities and hone in on perfecting his trade as one of the nation’s most ferocious linebackers.

Te’o, a 6-foot-2-inch, 255-pound defensive specialist, is excited to wrap up his degree in graphic design, as he has had aspirations of becoming an architectural engineer.

“I always wanted to be an architectural engineer, but the engineering program is a six-year program, so I wouldn’t have finished on time with football. The next closest was to be a design major. I am a graphic design major, but also taking industrial design classes,” says Te’o, who was on MidWeek‘s cover March 18, 2009. “I love having the ability to design and create – to have an idea and to be able to create it into a three-dimensional object.”

Even with his tough demeanor and tenacious ability to get after opposing ball carriers, Te’o had his difficulties – as thousands of young college students do – in finding a comfort zone while acclimating to campus life at Notre Dame.

“It was hard coming from a place where you know everybody and you’re in a comfort zone. Then you go to a place that’s a whole new environment. For an 18-year-old, that can be a little overwhelming at times,” says Te’o, who couldn’t be more thankful in having his best friend Robby Toma with him throughout this maturation process.

“I don’t think I’d be able to transition as I did without him. He didn’t notice it, but just him being there made it not as difficult as it could’ve been. He helped me realize there are a lot of people who depend on me,” he adds.

Going on four years later, it appears Te’o has transitioned extremely well, especially on the football field. An All-American linebacker, he has a sound grasp on infusing both his natural athletic ability with leadership qualities. As coaches, analysts and the public have expectations for Te’o this year, he too has expectations for himself.

“I want to be a leader, make sure everyone is on the same page and playing beyond the interest of themselves. If we have 11 guys playing for each other, there shouldn’t be a team that can beat us,” says Te’o, who follows the leadership examples of some pretty reputable NFL greats.

“I definitely grew up watching Ray Lewis, I really like the way he plays; Sean Taylor and the way he attacked the ball. Troy Polamalu and Jerry Rice’s work ethic I look up to. I’ve always respected Junior Seau and how he always portrayed the Samoan culture. All these guys, I try to carry what they’ve already done and incorporate that in my game.”