IRISH STEW

Chargers LB Manti Te'o reflects on career at Notre Dame

IRISH STEW

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Manti Te'o is still settling in.

Since leaving Notre Dame following the 2012 season, the former Irish linebacker has struggled to find his rhythm in the NFL. After being selected 38th overall by the San Diego Chargers in the 2013 NFL Draft, Te'o -- a 6-foot-1, 241-pound linebacker -- has been hampered by repeated right foot injuries that have forced him to play in just 23 games in his first two seasons.

In a phone interview with und.com during "Notre Dame Day" on Tuesday, though, Te'o said that the future is looking bright.

"I’m feeling good. I had a great offseason," Te'o said. "I worked really hard and gave my body the time that it needs to heal. That’s football. A lot of things happen that you can’t control, and you roll with the punches and move forward.

"Hopefully moving into Year 3 with the Chargers, I’m hoping to stay on the field. I’m doing everything in my power to make sure that happens.”

Of course, that was never a problem at Notre Dame, where the All-American racked up a whopping 437 tackles in four seasons and led the Irish to a national championship game appearance in 2012.

And though he currently resides in San Diego, Te'o has fond memories of South Bend.

"I was just blessed to go to a school like Notre Dame, where you have that tradition," he said. "Every single game day, you have that atmosphere. That’s what I miss the most. I miss playing for Notre Dame and running out of that tunnel and playing in front of the 80,000-plus, and to hear them cheer and feel that energy."

Te'o spoke candidly about the difficulty in making a drastic leap to the NFL. And while it wasn't always a fluid progression, he has been able to gradually assimilate to another level of play.

"The transition for me, as far as football, was a little rough," Te'o said. "I had to make a similar transition when I went from high school to Notre Dame. You have to make the jump. It’s a similar jump that you have to make in the pros.

"It’s a jump that I’ve taken, and towards the end of last year I started to catch wind and get my groove back. I felt great.”

As for his last stop, Te'o -- who still avidly watches Notre Dame football -- didn't struggle to find the words to describe his second home.

“I know what makes Notre Dame special, and it’s the people. That’s the truth," he said. "Notre Dame wouldn’t be what it is without the people that are there now and the people that came before us, making it the special place that it is.

"It’s because of those people that I hold Notre Dame so dear to my heart and will forever hold Notre Dame close to me. It’s just a very special place.”

When Notre Dame made its run to the BCS National Championship Game in 2012, a transcendent player who wore No. 5, linebacker Manti Te'o, played a huge role. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)