Sunday, August 12, 2012

Manti – The Legend of Notre Dame

August 12, 2012
Chad Springer

Manti with his biggest fan.

17-year old Manti Te’o traveled 4,976 miles to visit the University of Notre Dame campus in late November 2008, with the hopes of getting a feel for the Irish football program, the campus, and how he might fit in here. Saturday was Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium and the Irish were hosting the Syracuse Orangemen, who arrived in South Bend with a horrid 2-8 record, and a lame duck coach in Greg Robinson. After losing to Syracuse, Manti watched as disgusted and belligerent Notre Dame fans and students pelted players and coaches with snowballs having just witnessed Notre Dame’s most recent “new low” (a 24-23 loss to the Orangemen).

Making the nearly 5,000 mile trip back to his hometown of Laie, Hawaii, Manti began sorting out his thoughts. He could attend any college in the country, but there were two that stood out to him, USC and Notre Dame. USC was still on top of the world and after the debacle on Senior Day in South Bend, followed by a 38-3 drilling at the hands of USC the following week, Irish faithful had all but conceded Te’o to the Trojans. Why would he want to come to South Bend?

Fast forward to February 3, 2009. Manti was still torn between Notre Dame and USC. Te’o and his family went through all of the positives and negatives about each school, they also prayed about his decision. In the early morning hours of February 4, he and his family decided that he would attend the University of Notre Dame. In a show of class that Notre Dame followers would soon know all to well, Manti called Pete Carroll and informed him of his decision, he was going to Notre Dame and this was final.

Manti was coming to Notre Dame and his legend was off the charts before he had ever stepped foot on campus as a student athlete. He had endeared himself to the Notre Dame community by making a decision that most of us may not have been able to make. He had decided to be a trail blazer and lay the groundwork for which many others would reap the benefits of.

Manti has made it OK again for elite defensive players to come to Notre Dame. Since Manti’s pledge in 2009, Notre Dame has landed blue chip standouts like Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Ishaq Williams, Aaron Lynch (transferred), Alex Anzalone, and Jaylon Smith. Would these players have come to Notre Dame otherwise? Maybe. Anzalone and Smith specifically mentioned Manti in their commitment press conferences and the former will wear number 5 when he arrives at Notre Dame.

Following the 2011 season, it was all but a foregone conclusion that Manti would skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft as a certain 1st round pick. Ahead of Notre Dame’s Champs Sports Bowl game, Manti shocked ND Nation and the college football world by staunchly declaring that he would be coming back to Notre Dame to play his senior season. The memories of his senior year as a student athlete were worth more than the millions he would instantly have in his pocket. Again, he had made a decision that most of us only wish we would make given the same circumstances.

While you will likely find many Irish fans that will argue this point, Manti is in fact, human. This writer witnessed Manti call out an autograph seeker at the Blue/Gold autograph session this past Spring. The gentleman had just gone through the line for the 3rd time with his 3rd helmet, which was certain to find its way to eBay, or a memorabilia store near you. Manti angrily reminded the guy that “my mom can’t afford to fly here for a game, but you’re making thousands of dollars off of me”. His attention quickly shifted to the youngster who was next in line to meet him and he was suddenly “Manti” again. He spent so much time with the awe-struck 6 year old that someone had to remind him to keep the line moving. If that’s the worst we get from a 21 year old who lives in a bubble 5000 miles from home, Notre Dame fans will take it any day of the week and twice on Tuesday.

No doubt, Irish fans will be talking about Manti for generations to come. As you enjoy one more Fall of Manti roaming the field, remember that his touch goes far beyond it. He is a Notre Dame man off the field as much as he is on the field, if not more.

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