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March 27, 2013

Tough part behind Te'o

Manti Te’o will still have to go through some “lab experiments” as individual teams interested in drafting him ask for one last up-close look before the April 25 draft.

But with the completion of Notre Dame’s Pro Day Tuesday, there’s relief, and a feeling of completing the test and turning the page to the next chapter in his life.

For Te’o - the victim of an elaborate scam that became national news in January - normalcy is the most welcome state of all.

“That was possibly the hardest time of my life going through that,” said Te’o, referencing the Ronaiah Tuiasosopo-Lennay Kekua hoax. “I’m very grateful for the guys I had in Florida, the family I have at Notre Dame, and obviously all my family members and friends and the whole state of Hawaii for their love and support.”

Te’o singled out former Irish tight end Tyler Eifert - sitting to his left in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex auditorium following the hour-and-a-half workout on Meyo Field in the Loftus Sports Center - for his ceaseless support during those difficult times.

Most of the scrutiny came at the Indianapolis Combine in February when the bizarre story was still a hot topic in the weeks following Notre Dame’s national championship tilt against Alabama.

“Everybody wants to know,” said Te’o of the line of questioning in Indianapolis. “Some guys just wanted a brief (explanation) of what happened. Some guys went into a little bit more depth. But overall it was a great opportunity, a good experience, and it went better than I expected.”

Asked how he responded to the inquiries, Te’o responded: “ Just focus on football. That was my message. I’m a football player. I made mistakes, but nothing that affected my play on the football field.”

Te’o found a comfort zone on Meyo Field Tuesday, where 13 former Irish players auditioning for the NFL scouts, as well as former coaches and teammates filling bleachers set up for observation, surrounded him.

“I’m just glad I’m out there playing football,” Te’o said. “I’m back home. I’m with my guys. That stuff is long gone. I’m at a place where I comfortable and I’m surrounded by people I know. I thought I did pretty good. I was very pleased with the way we performed.”

Te’o answered the most pressing football-related question - his 40-yard dash time - after clocking a 4.82 in Indianapolis. He ran, according to ESPN, a 4.75 and a 4.71. Te’o said one of the hand-held clocks had him at 4.69.

“I just expected to run faster than I did at the combine, and that’s exactly what I did,” Te’o said. “I was pleased with the way I performed in the other drills (at the combine), so the time I usually spend on those drills, I put in overtime in the 40.

“If you ask anybody who’s gone through this process, this is the best day ever. There’s a big, big burden off your shoulders. It feels like it’s your birthday.”

If anyone deserves a break from the scrutiny, it’s Te’o, who will not go to New York for the NFL draft and will remain at Notre Dame to continue his strength and conditioning plan.

Te’o said the most frequently asked question in Indianapolis was not about the scam, but rather, going from zero interceptions in 2011 to seven in 2012.

“I lost weight,” Te’o explained. “I got in the best shape of my life so when my mind said move, my body did. Two, I understood where I had to be, pass concepts and where guys like to go. And three, (quarterback) pressures and tipped passes, so credit to guys around me.”

Te’o believes he still has some work before his first spring mini-camp.

“The one area I’d like to improve on is getting off blocks and using my hands,” Te’o said. “Once I improve that aspect of my game, I think there will be more production out of my play.”

Te’o is glad to have the pre-draft work out of the way because from here, NFL teams will focus on his body of work on the field in game competition.

“It’s what you do on tape,” Te’o said. “We play football with a helmet on and shoulder pads. All these tests are something you want to do well at. You don’t want to say, ‘Look at my tape.’ It motivates you to improve.

“But it’s about your film. They’ve seen what I can do on the football field, and that’s where I’m comfortable. Find ball, hit ball.”

Te’o eagerly anticipates the next step in the process.

“It’s definitely a dream come true,” said Te’o of the upcoming draft. “When you play football and at the age when you decided, ‘Man, I really want to do this for a living,’ draft day is the day you dream of.

“(Today) was kind of like a grand finale thing with everybody there. I had guys around me that I spent the last four years with and I’m comfortable with. It was more comfortable performing here at Notre Dame.”

Back home again at Notre Dame never felt so good.





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