vs. Wake Forest
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM, 107.3 FM
SOUTH BEND — Manti Te’o has been walking the walk for a long time.
Notre Dame’s senior linebacker had the walk down when he was in seventh grade, and his strut was the first thing that caught the eye of his future high school coach, Kale Ane, at Punahou High School in Laie, Hawaii.
“Wow, that kid looks pretty good just walking,” Ane said in a phone interview, recalling the first time he saw Te’o. “We don’t normally have kids look that good before they do anything, but he walked like he belonged and it was pretty easy to see. Just to see him walking on the field was pretty outstanding.”
What Te’o has done on the field has been even more outstanding.
As he gets ready for Notre Dame’s Senior Day on Saturday when the No. 3 Irish (10-0) play host to Wake Forest (5-5), Te’o is close to finishing one of the best careers in the program’s history.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder has 416 tackles with 34 for loss and 8 1/2 sacks in 48 games for Notre Dame with three more games to play. After Saturday, the Irish close the season at USC on Nov. 24 and then will play in a bowl game.
“He’s a unique player,” coach Brian Kelly said of Te’o. “I would say that the one thing that stands out to me is with all the things that have gone on off the field and all of the hype and all of the All-American and Heisman (Trophy) talk, he gets better each week. It’s amazing to me.”
It’s amazing to Te’o that he is getting ready to play his final home game, especially since Senior Day was one of the main reasons he decided to return instead of entering the NFL draft.
“I remember it felt like it was last week that I was talking to Michael Floyd and asking him to remember how it felt on his senior game,” Te’o said. “I remember him telling me, ‘There is nothing like it.’ … Now in a few days I’ll be experiencing my own Senior Day. I couldn’t have pictured it any better than to run out of that tunnel for one last time.”
It’s also hard to picture a better final season for Te’o, who is in the running to bring an eighth Heisman Trophy to Notre Dame.
Te’o has a team-high 92 tackles with 5 1/2 tackles for loss, and his eight takeaways (six interceptions, two fumble recoveries) are the second most in the nation.
But individual awards do not interest Te’o.
“I think when my name is being tossed around as a national champion, that’s what I’m looking for,” said Te’o, who had to deal with the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend during the season. “I’d rather be holding a crystal ball than a bronze statue. That’s just me.”
As for a lasting memory Te’o wants to leave at Notre Dame. It is very simple.
“Just one of the best, to not only play but to attend this great university,” Te’o said. “There have been great athletes that have come through here. Just to be mentioned amongst them is what I’m trying to be.”