This interview was originally part of Fighting Irish Media’s Irishography video series and has been edited by athletics communications student worker Daniel Richardson (’20) for clarity and flow.
Te’von Coney is a senior linebacker on the 2018 Notre Dame football team. Through the season’s first three games, Coney leads the team with 29 tackles and five quarterback hurries and is tied for the team lead with 3.5 tackles for loss. Prior to the start of the season, he earned spots on the watch lists for the Butkus, Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski awards.
Let’s talk about the end of last season, the Citrus Bowl, and how important it is ending a season on a high note. Can you just walk us through that game and what it has meant for you moving into the offseason?
Yeah, I mean the Citrus Bowl was huge… It was huge for the team and huge for me individually. Getting that 10 wins was huge for the team and going out strong and completing a great season that I put together for my junior campaign. It was just important to go out there and display the skills and all the things that I’ve learned throughout that year and to put a complete year together.
How important is spring ball for you? How do you use that to build off of the prior season?
Spring ball is very important. I mean, I think that’s kind of when you hone your craft and you have time to develop the skills that you need necessary to be able to shine on the field. I look back at my last spring and that was a huge development spring for me where I was able to work on my flexibility and do a lot of great things that put me in good position in the fall to have success. So, I’ll just say that the spring is a time for you to be able to grow and learn the things that you need to improve in so that when the fall comes, you can put it all together.
With the departure of Nyles (Morgan) and others, you’re one of the older guys in the room. What’s that like for you now?
Being the older guy in the room, I’ve just learned from those who were there before me like Jaylon Smith and just saw how those guys came in each and every day to work and always taught young guys what to do. Now that I’m going into that role I’m just doing the same thing and trying to push it to another level.
Do you enjoy being in that role now?
Yeah, I enjoy being in that role. That was something I had been looking forward to as a younger guy. Knowing that I get my chance to be the leader and do the right thing so that I can lead the guys to the right direction .
What type of player are you on the field and in (the linebackers’) room?
I think I’m the same player. Just coaching the young guys on the field and off the field in the classroom. I think it’s very important for their development. I can just look back when I had Jaylon Smith there on and off the field where it didn’t matter what type of question I had, he was there for me. So just being able to pay that back to the young guys knowing how helpful that would be for them and say the same on the field, you know, I just try to be the same guy and be always there for them.
How would you describe your play on the field?
On the film I’m a mean guy. I know it may look like I have bad intentions, but I’m not trying to hurt anyone purposely. I just pay attention to make sure I get the job done. You know, as a linebacker you’re the head honcho and you’ve got to make it happen. So that’s all been my mindset just to make it happen, to make sure we get off the field and I believe it’s my job to do so.
What’s your relationship like with former linebackers coach and current defensive coordinator Clark Lea?
Since I met Coach Lea (on) day one of last spring, he has been the same guy, you know, never changed on me. Every day, he comes and he works hard and I have to respect a guy like that. Anyone that works hard, they have my full respect. You know, he’s pushing me to new levels each and every day during the spring. He always challenged me to get better and better and better. He’s always been the same and when you have a guy like that, you have to cherish it. To have somebody like that in your corner that always has your back no matter whether it’s on the field or off the field, he’s always going to push you to get to the next level in whatever you do.
What do you think he has learned from you in your time together as you guys have come to know each other?
He just wants somebody who reciprocates. He’s always going to give you his best and he wants you to give it your best, so I do my best to always come in each and every day and work hard. I think he appreciates that I come in and listen to him and do what he coaches me to do. I think whenever someone does that, you have to respect it. For me it’s fun to display all the coaching and the things I’m learning from him. I think it makes both of us happy.
What was it like knowing that Coach Lea was going to come back this year, especially after Mike Elko left?
That played a huge role in my decision (to come back this season). Just to have him come back was huge and I knew that if he came back I’ll have someone that I can count on all the time whether it was on the field or off the field, especially on the field. He will push me to new levels. My goal was when I came back I wanted to become a complete player and get better. I know that he’s the guy to do it with, if it was anybody. I know he really pushed me to that next level so that when I am able to go to the next chapter, I’ll be ready.
What can we expect from Te’von Coney this year?
A fierce guy that’s hungry and that wants to win and do anything for his teammates. I just want to win a national championship. When I came here four years ago, that was the goal. That’s still the goal now and I’ll continue to work hard to accomplish my mission.
When did you start playing football?
I started playing football when I was about four years old – they had a Little League where they just started playing tackle football. I was turning five and I was a little bit younger at the time, but they let me play and I played running back at this time, too. I wasn’t a defensive guy, I wanted to score touchdowns and wanted to put a lot of points on the board. I enjoyed playing with friends and running around and doing my touchdown celebrations, you know, going out there and having fun. My dad was one of the coaches so just having him there all the time in my practices and my mom there too it was just fun. It was all fun and games and I enjoyed it.
Was there a specific moment when you knew you loved this game or do you feel the same way about it?
I think it’s still the same as when I was a little kid. Whenever I touch the field, you know, all my personal things in life go away. Football was where I could just play and have fun. (It’s) that brotherhood, you know, you can’t get that anywhere else. I think on the football field you have those guys. It’s coming together to complete one mission. It’s just hard to find and it’s a special feeling. Every time I step on that field I get that feeling I can put everything away and just focus on having fun and playing the game I love.
Talk about your first visit to Notre Dame. What helped you in the decision to come here?
My first visit to Notre Dame was over the summer and I had Greg Bryant here and met Nyles Morgan for the first time, as well. The visit was awesome; when I first stepped in the building I knew it was special. I took a ton of visits, but never met a group of people that care so much about someone they never met and I knew that once I felt that feeling that this had to be this place for me where you have that support no matter what you decide to do. It felt special to me.
It was a bit of a climate change for you coming in. Was that difficult for you?
When I first came in, I had never seen snow before. But having the people here that gave me support just gave me knowledge on how to survive at this place. I took it all in and learned new things each and every day and just focused on that. It made the transition easier for me, just having people here that supported me full time and any time I needed help. They were there for me. They made it easy for me honestly.
Do you think being an early enrollee helped you to adapt to the rigorous academics that are here at Notre Dame?
Coming here early was huge for me. I was huge on academics so I was able to graduate early from high school and come in early and be able to get a head start on my education here. It was awesome for me to get a head start on football as well. I liked it. I came in and the transition was hard at first, but once I was able to get settled in and knew that people here were going to have my back no matter what, it made it very easy for me.
What has Notre Dame taught you in terms of having an ND mindset/mentality? How has that helped you to balance your life right now with academics and athletics?
Just balance. When you’re playing football, just focus on football and give your all. When you’re in the classroom, give your all just like you’re doing on the football field. I think that when you put 100 percent in both areas, they come together and you’re able to reach that common goal, which is to graduate and win a national championship.
What has strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis been like for you since he has arrived?
Oh man, Coach Balis has been huge for me. He was truly a blessing. To be able to come in right away and be able to see improvements from when I came in January to March, it was awesome. I knew that he was about his business and that when I came in the weight room every day that I had to be ready to be challenged in a way that I had never been challenged before. I accept that challenge from him and respect that guy because he doesn’t change. He comes in each and every day and he’s going to push you so you have to accept the challenge and be able to rise to the occasion. That’s just something I like about him. He never changes and he’s going to push you to get to that next level.
Is it easier to push yourself when you see those results so quickly with him?
Oh, yeah. It makes it easier to trust that this person knows what they’re doing. They have your best interest, you know, so being able to see those results let me know how to just trust the process and if I did that, everything would take care of itself.
What was your mindset going into the 2017 season and why do you think you were able to turn it into such a breakout season?
Coming off sophomore year (in 2016) playing nine games, it was a very average year and I knew that I had a lot of work to do. I knew that upcoming spring I had a lot of work to do and I came back and dedicated myself to that. I was going to listen to the coaches and come in each and every day and work hard. When the season came this past year, I really wanted to have a really good year and I knew that all the hard work would pay off and I just stayed focused on listening to the coaches week in and week out and eventually everything for me paid off.
Do you know when you are going to have a good game? Does this come from any sort of specific mental or physical preparation?
I’ve never really focused on an opponent. I mean, I’m really more focused on doing my job because I know if I take care of my job everything will take care of itself. So, each and every week I just focused on what do I have to do each and every snap and just being able to reset and get my job done. I knew that if I did that, great days would happen for me.
What does it feel like to be “the guy” this year and how do you anticipate being able to handle this role?
It’s in the role that you’re coming into. But I’m still going to be the same guy where I come every day and I work hard. I’ll get pushed to new levels even by the younger guys. I’ll let them… if you see me slacking, push me to go harder. It’s just all about coming in every day and working hard just like before, nothing that’s going to change. You have to do the same preparation, need to stay focused, and listen to the coaches. If I continue to do that this year, great things will happen for me. That’s what I plan to do.
Did your family like your decision to come to Notre Dame and what has their continued support been like for you?
Yeah, my parents always told me to focus on education because it will take me a long way and no one can ever take that away from me. Having the opportunity to come to a prestigious school like this, you know, it was an opportunity my family knew we couldn’t pass up on. It was a blessing to even have the opportunity to come here. My family is very supportive. They come to the games when they have the opportunity to and I continue to work hard each and every day knowing that they’re counting on me and that my parents have raised me well to have the right values and to value education and value the things I love to do. It’s all about having standards and separating my life so I can work hard in everything that I do. I’ve done that throughout my whole life and it has always paid off for me.
What’s it like walking to the stadium on a game day?
I’m excited to see all the fans out there supporting us because without them, it wouldn’t be as much fun. To be able to see the fans and just being in that mode where I just can’t wait to play. I’m just focused and having that support is a great feeling. To know that when you go out there you can make a lot of people happy while having fun, it’s a wonderful feeling.
How do you lock in once you get into that locker room? What’s your mindset?
Each and every week when we come out, we only have one mission and that is to win. Once I get in the locker room, I know that it’s all about business and for the next two or three hours I have to focus on what I have to do specifically for us to win that game.
Finish this sentence: “Notre Dame is…”
A special place.
Why do you like being a linebacker?
Honestly, I like hitting people. I like stopping people from doing things that they want to do. As a running back, wide receiver or quarterback, you want to try to score touchdowns and I want to be the guy that stopped you from doing that. Being able to hit you hard from all across the field and just being able to be the general manager out there that’s controlling everything and making things happen is a lot of fun and I enjoy doing it.