“Saturday should be a celebration of the work you did that week”, that was Manti Te’o’s advice to Mexico’s college football players in 2011. You might think he’s not one of the best, you probably don’t care who’s this guy, Manti who?
The former Fighting Irish warrior is now part of the Chicago Bears practice squad. The veteran linebacker was selected by the Chargers in the second round of the 2013 draft after painfully losing to Alabama in the National Championship game. After that, various experts didn’t give him a chance for the NFL and they all got it wrong. Since he was a freshman I knew that he was going to play on Sundays and he did. Manti Te’o is still a golden soldier ready to play on Sundays in 2020.
In our first four years covering Notre Dame, my colleague Ricardo Ramírez and I witnessed the great Manti Te’o addressing the rituals of the game and bringing ferocity to a team. It was part of a sacred rite at Notre Dame that begins in the cave next to the lake where the candles rest with the spirit lit before and after the games, and that unfolds through the wonderful Gothic-style campus in an aesthetic delight. The great number 5 brought euphoria as his soul tackled in front of a crowd that roared every time he took down an enemy on the field of Notre Dame Stadium. Manti’s eyes, under the transparent eye shield of his helmet that reflected the rays of light as he was reading the backfield, took a step to the side so he could then fill the gaps and stop running backs solidly. Manti Te’o recorded 437 tackles, 7 interceptions and 8.5 sacks while playing for the Irish.
He will begin humbly with the Bears, awaiting his place in a powerful group of linebackers led by Roquan Smith, who made 12 tackles last week against the Panthers. Then we have Khalil Mack who sacked Teddy Bridgewater once and Danny Trevathan who had 10 tackles against North Carolina. When the time comes, Manti will help these gladiators, more than as a linebacker as a mentor. What he did in college is for the records, but the intensity and presence in a group is what makes him a special warrior.
Te’o will take the spot on the practice team from kicker Kai Forbath, who was signed by the Los Angeles Rams. In seven NFL seasons, Te’o has started 48 of his 62 games with the Chargers (2013-16) and Saints (2017-19), he has recorded 307 tackles with a career-high 83 in 2015. He also had 2 interceptions and 1.5 sacks.
Manti played as a rookie at Soldier Field, in his senior year at Notre Dame he won two awards named after Bears legends Bronko Nagurski and Dick Butkus for the best defender and linebacker in the country, so it was only a matter of time to have Chicago as his destination. As he prepares to compete with back up linebackers Joel Iyiegbuniwe and Josh Woods, he will be there pumping energy, communicating the wisdom of someone who has lived through adversity.
The Bears’ Notre Dame alumni will definitely appreciate having him on the team, especially rookie tight end TE Cole Kmet after he scored his first touchdown last Sunday. Manti Te’o will return to play with courage, for him adversity enriches his spirit, true to his devotion this warrior soul faces one of the greatest challenges of his career. Eleven years later, I still guarantee you he will play if his body can take the pain. It is the story of Manti. Instants of passion and courage are found in glory when proven wrong to those who don’t believe he will contribute with experience to one of the best defenses in the NFL.