Notre Dame football: Te'o back to his old self
The pain in his heart about what leadership should look like - his leadership - required some serious soul-searching.
“To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not that much of a yeller,” Te’o said Wednesday. “I’m not that much of a rah-rah kind of guy. I was never that type of player.
“But I found myself being more of a rah-rah type of guy and trying to get everybody pumped. I think that by trying to be that kind of player that I lost who I was.”
On a day when he made yet another cutdown for a national award semifinal - this time, the Bednarik - the 6-foot-2, 255-pound junior from Laie, Hawaii, assured the college football world he was back.
Not that there was a lot of lingering doubts after a dominating 13-tackle (2½ for loss) performance in a 56-14 smackdown of Navy.
“I told coach (Bob) Diaco (ND’s defensive coordinator) before the game, ‘Coach, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m just going to be pretty quiet. I’m going to be humble and I’m not going to say anything that much. If I need to say something, I’m going to say it. But I’m not going to yell and I’m not going to try to get everybody pumped up.’
“And it worked out well, because our captain, our leader, Harrison (Smith), said the things he needed to say before the game and got everybody going and got me going and really helped me to focus even more.”
As the Irish (5-3) prepare for Saturday night’s road test at Wake Forest (5-3), the ankle is feeling better too, after Te’o had to miss multiple practices over the past few weeks.
“I’ve been trying to fight through it,” he said. “I’ve been getting treatment and doing whatever I can physically out on the practice field.
“It’s definitely hard for me, because I look at it as, you know, ‘No. 5 is not practicing, but he’s also playing.’ And I look at it from the eyes of my teammates, and I wouldn’t want that, for my teammates to see that.
“Basically I try to prepare myself mentally as much as I can and I try to watch a lot of film, with Harrison. Harrison watches so much film it’s crazy.”
Te’o calls the stretch since ND’s 31-17 loss to arch-rival USC on Oct. 22, “a roller coaster.” That includes the rift between Charlie Weis-recruited players and second-year Irish head coach Brian Kelly that spilled into the public eye through social media late last week.
“I’m going to be honest, I was hurt,” Te’o said. “But like everybody said, this is a family, and we deal with it as a family and we dealt with it on Friday. Everything was fine and everything is back to normal.
“We walked back in on Saturday ready to play against Navy. I think we demonstrated that no matter what happens, nothing can break apart a family.”
Te’o was one of 16 players who made the list of semifinalists for the Bednarik Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive player.
Others who made the cut were Alabama’s Mark Barron (DB), Dont’a Hightower (LB) and Courtney Upshaw (LB); Kansas State’s Arthur Brown (LB); Arizona State’s Vontaze Burfict (LB); LSU’s Morris Claiborne (DB) and Tyrann Mathieu (DB); Nebraska’s Lavonte David (LB); South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram (DL); Boston College’s Luke Kuechly (LB); Illinois’ Whitney Marcilus (DL), Miami’s Sean Spence (LB); Penn State’s Devon Still (DL); Stanford’s Chase Thomas (LB) and Michigan State’s Jerel Worth (DL).
Te’o is also one of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award (top linebacker), one of 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award (top offensive lineman/defensive lineman/linebacker) and one of 20 quarterfinalists for the Lott Trophy (top defensive player, factoring in academics and community service).