FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Manti Te’o is not satisfied. There is always more work to be done, more effort and more preparation to do.
The Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy finalist claimed a litany of awards since the end of college football’s regular season but with the biggest game of his life approaching as the top-ranked Irish face No. 2 Alabama in Monday’s BCS National Championship, he is not resting on his laurels.
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said Te’o has practiced harder in the past week since returning from the award circuit.
“It’s for the simple fact that I know that a lot of the success that you experience on game day was already done throughout the week, and if I don’t prepare myself the best I can throughout the week, I won’t be ready for Saturday,” Te’o said. “Coach always talked about you can’t just turn it on and off. I can’t just slack the whole weekend and when game day comes say ‘okay, I’m ready,’ I’m going to go all out now.
“If we want to be successful on Monday, we have to be better on Wednesday and better on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and then Monday hopefully will take care of itself.”
Te’o won the Lombardi and Lott Trophies, the Maxwell, Bednarik, Nagurski and Butkus awards, and was named the Walter Camp Player of the Year – the first player to ever capture all seven titles – and was a consensus All-American. He leads Notre Dame with 103 tackles, is third in the nation with seven interceptions and has two fumbles recoveries.
It is little wonder why opposing offenses pay so much attention to the Hawaii native who is second among active players in the FBS with 427 career tackles.
“The thing that stands out to me about Manti is he always seems to find the ball, as do all great players on defense,” Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “You look at the interceptions, the tackles, he always seems to be around the ball. He has great natural instincts. Obviously he’s a phenomenal athlete. It’s going to be very important that we know where he is at all times.”
The fiery emotion Te’o displays on the field is nearly as notable as his penchant for game-changing plays.
“He shows (his emotions) for sure, which is not a bad thing,” Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta said. “People like that.”
Besides his knack for making big plays, Motta said what separates Te’o from others is his “off-the-field character.”
Those uplifting qualities don’t only resonate with his teammates.
“You know, on a day where maybe as a coach you might be feeling a little down or maybe slightly distracted with the world’s polls, Manti is easy to see, look at and see his face and immediately be energized,” Diaco said.
Fellow linebacker Danny Spond said Te’o’s work ethic pushes the rest of the team.
“He always works hard that’s for sure but if I’ve noticed anything he has definitely turned it up. That elevates us,” Spond said/ “To go and traveling so much and all the award stuff that he had to go to and not even taking a minute off, coming straight into our meetings and work even harder – where you think a lot of people would kind of slow down – is absolutely motivating.
“If he can give extra, we can give extra.”