FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Manti Te’o, the slacker that he is, apparently wasn’t giving it his all during the 2012 regular season.
“Manti has actually practiced harder the last week since the award circuit, harder than he has all year long,” said Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. “He has improved his game leading up to coming to Miami.”
Of course, Te’o wasn’t leaving anything in reserve while leading the Irish to a 12-0 regular season and a shot at the national title against Alabama. But as his college clock clicks to zero come Monday night, he’s making sure that he maximizes the final moments and keeps giving back to the team/program.
“I know that a lot of the success you experience on game day was done throughout the week,” said Te’o as he, Diaco and several defensive players met with the media Thursday morning at the Harbor Beach Marriott in Fort Lauderdale.
“If I don’t prepare myself the best I can throughout the week, I won’t be ready for Saturday. You can’t just turn it on and off. You can’t just slack the whole week and then game day comes and you say, ‘Okay, I’m ready. I’ll go all out.’
“If you want to be successful this Monday, you have to prepare Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and Monday will hopefully take care of itself.”
Te’o was the media darling per usual as Alabama’s offensive players and Notre Dame’s defensive players held court. As he has throughout the 2012 season, Te’o was well prepared to represent his team and the Notre Dame program as he sat at the two-seat dais with Diaco.
“It’s been easy,” said Te’o of his adjustment to life back in the real world after collecting seven post-season awards in December. “When you’re in the middle of football, nothing else matters. Football is my sanctuary. It’s where I feel the most at home when I’m with my guys and my coach. That’s where I want to be, and I was just glad to finally get back from that week to spend more time with my guys.”
Te’o reflected on his early years at Notre Dame, which were an adjustment from his native Hawaii. He admitted that he made it difficult on himself by keeping others at arm’s length.
“When I first got there, it was a totally different place,” Te’o said. “I wasn’t going to let anybody in.
“Once I broke down those walls, I was surprised to see that Hawaii and South Bend are very similar. The people there are very loving and caring. South Bend loves Notre Dame. The people there are nothing but great to me and my teammates. Once I broke down those barriers, the similarities between the two places were (obvious).”
In addition to making the first-ever comparison between the Hawaiian Islands and South Bend, Ind., Te’o also talked about the thrill of being able to give back to his parents, Brian and Ottilia, for all that they’ve done for him.
“Any child’s greatest accomplishment is when they see the joy in their parents’ eyes and they’re able to do something for them that they couldn’t do before -- to repay them for the countless hours and days they’ve sacrificed so they can live their dream,” Te’o said.
One of those sacrifices by Brian Te’o was to learn how to prepare his son for his future football career, which became a given when Manti was just a young boy.
“My dad started out coaching Pop Warner,” Te’o said. “But he knew his son was going to play football, and he would go to every coaching clinic to learn the different techniques so he could be the best mentor and teacher for his son. I just happened to be that lucky guy to learn from him.”
The lucky beneficiary of Te’o’s tutelage also was Notre Dame, which has ridden his wave all the way to the national championship game. The example he has set both as a player and a person will serve as an inspiration for future recruits to choose the Irish.
“Two things happen when you go to Notre Dame: either you fall in love with it or you don’t,” Te’o said. “There’s no in between.
“All these guys that will come to Notre Dame aren’t because of me. They see the success we’ve had on the football field. Our sales pitch is done on the field. Then you combine that with the success in the classroom and the tradition, the aura of this school.
“You walk into that locker room and movies are made about that locker room. Movies are made about that stadium. For me to run out of that tunnel for the first time and to run out of there for the last time…I hope it’s a better spot than it was since I ran out of it the first time.”
Rest assured. It is.