Saturday is the last time that Manti Te’o will lead the Irish onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium. Manti’s story started with his surprising commitment in 2009 when he chose the Irish over rival USC. His faith and courage is that which most of us could only hope to maintain at the level he has. His visit was a disaster, showing up in shorts in the middle of November; then witnessing a loss to a terrible Syracuse team. He was being wooed by a USC program that was just named the “Team of the Decade” by CBS Sports in 2009 and was transforming 5 star recruits to NFL draft picks like the program was an assembly line. He chose an Irish program that had worn out its welcome as a relevant FBS program and talks of whether or not the Irish ever could get back to national dominance were becoming louder and more frequent. He didn’t really have a good reason to commit to Notre Dame other than something telling him that South Bend was where he was supposed to be.
The statistical data is there to prove that Manti is one of the best Irish players in the programs history; however, his impact goes beyond the numbers and into the hearts and minds of Irish fans across the country. As loyal as Irish fans are to him and his team, he is just as loyal to us. Manti remained loyal to Notre Dame when he made the decision to forgo his mission trip, and that loyalty continued when he stuck with the Irish when there was uncertainty surrounding the coaching situation. Te’o added to his legacy in early 2012 when he decided Senior Day with his parents and fellow Sr.’s was more important than the NFL Draft. He has led a culture change through the traits engrained in his Hawaiian heritage of humility and family, “…He is delighted that his teammates now refer to each other as uce—Samoan slang for bro—and relish the meaning of the word.” Manti will be forever remembered as the catalyst that changed Notre Dame football. Jack Swarbrick stated in the SI article profiling Te’o, “Someday, when we are there holding up that crystal ball, I want Manti to be here with us because the role he has played in leading us from where we were to where we are going has been indispensable.”
As soon as Manti decided to stay for his Sr. year he was a preseason consensus All-American and he didn’t waste any time proving he deserved to be there. From dominant performances after losing his grandmother and longtime girlfriend, to becoming a Heisman front runner and leading the nation’s top scoring defense, this season has solidified Manti’s status in Irish lore. Whether you will be in South Bend this weekend or watching from home, enjoy every second of watching Te’o fill gaps and punish opposing offenses. This is the final home game of an Irish legend that may be the most important player in Notre Dame History. The story of Manti Te’o will be told forever.