Pope: Manti Te’o ready to start new chapter in San Diego
By LaMond Pope firstname.lastname@example.org/@lamondpope April 26, 2013 8:50PM
FILE - In this March 26, 2013, file photo, linebacker Manti Te'o eases up after running the 40-yard dash during Notre Dame's pro day for NFL football scouts in South Bend, Ind. Combine the good, bad and bizarre, and when Te'o gets selected might be the most intriguing part of the NFL draft that starts Thursday, March 25, in New York. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Read about East Chicago native Kawann Short being selected by the Panthers on page 30.
Updated: May 29, 2013 7:57AM
Roughly 30 minutes after the second round of the NFL draft started, one of the most intriguing names came off the board.
With the 38th overall pick, the San Diego Chargers selected Manti Te’o.
The wait was over for Te’o. Now the next stage begins.
“Oh definitely,” Te’o said in an interview with Chargers.com when he was asked if slipping to the second round will motivate him. “It’s great motivation for me to go out there and just get better, and that’s what I intend to do.”
Most draft projections had Te’o as a late first-round pick. Some thought he was headed to Minnesota. The Vikings had three picks in the first round, but passed.
So everyone had to wait one more day. But San Diego couldn’t wait to get a shot at Te’o.
“He’s a player we think fits what we want to do on defense,” San Diego general manager Tom Telesco in an interview posted on the Chargers’ website. “He’s a natural football player, the most instinctive and productive linebacker in the draft. We think he’ll fit in excellent in our 3-4, how we’re going to play our linebackers. And we just felt if we really wanted him, we’re going to have to go get him, so that’s what we did.”
The Chargers moved up from the No. 45 spot to land the Heisman Trophy runner-up. The pundits on NFL Network thought it was a good fit. So did his college coach.
“Manti Te’o is a once-in-a-generation type kid,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “I’ve not been associated with a better player, leader and man in my tenure as a college football coach. He possesses all the instincts and talents necessary to be a top-flight NFL linebacker and the San Diego Chargers are fortunate to add his services.”
After a spectacular regular season, Te’o struggled — along with the rest of the Irish — in the BCS national title game loss to Alabama. Did that hurt his stock? It didn’t help. Neither did the off-season soap opera that followed.
“Dealing with adversity, it can hurt you or make you stronger, and it definitely made me stronger,” Te’o said. “That’s how I feel right now.”
Te’o’s selection capped a captivating couple of days for key contributors to the 2012 Irish.
Tight end Tyler Eifert went in the first round on Thursday, No. 21 overall, to the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I’ve been told all along there’s no way to know where you’re going to go or who you’re going to go to,” Eifert told reporters in a question-and-answer segment released by Notre Dame on Friday. “I was just staying positive through the entire thing and trying to enjoy it. I’m happy to be a part of the organization and for the opportunity.”
Eifert became the first tight end selected in the first round of the NFL draft since Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham went No. 21 overall to the Bengals in 2010. And Eifert is the first Notre Dame tight end selected in the first round since Irv Smith went to New Orleans in 1993.
“This is such an exciting time for Tyler and his family,” Kelly said in a statement. “He was faced with a difficult decision following his junior season whether or not to return to school. Tyler returned for his senior season and that decision was rewarded (Thursday).
“He proved to be the best tight end in college football, solidified himself as a first-round draft pick and, most importantly, earned his degree from the University of Notre Dame.”
And it’s another sign of progress for the program.
Eifert became the third Notre Dame football player to go in the first round in the last two years.
Te’o nearly made it a fourth. The Chargers were happy he was still around so they could make the trade with Arizona.
“He loves football,” Telesco said. “His passion for it, he just loves to play the game and he’s going to bring that. But he’s also been a highly, highly productive player at a high level. He’s going to bring that to our defense.”
Te’o gets a new challenge. And a fresh start. And a chance to follow in the footsteps of Junior Seau.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes to carry on that tradition that guys like him started,” Te’o said. “I want to make him proud. He was a dominant linebacker, and that’s what I want to be. This team has a history of great linebackers and I want to be a part of that tradition.”