Oct. 10, 2012
Q. Something that Coach Kelly said about Stanford yesterday is that they intimidate people. How does Stanford intimidate opponents, whether you’ve seen that in the games you’ve played or you’ve seen on tape?
Manti Te’o: Stanford doesn’t verbally intimidate teams. I think whenever you have a smash mouth mentality type of game plan and team, like Stanford, and you know what they’re going to do yet can’t seem to stop it, I think that’s intimidating in itself. I think that’s what coach referred to as intimidating. They intimidate the teams. Everybody knows what Stanford is going to do. It’s just are you going to stop them.
Q. Is preparing for Stanford almost more of an off season thing in terms of conditioning so they can’t wear you down? Is this a team you almost have to train for 12 months a year?
Manti Te’o: I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. Obviously your strength and conditioning has to be at its best going against a team like Stanford. Also, with a team like Stanford you have to focus on the basics and the fundamentals; tackling, block destruction, reading your keys and just doing your job. This is just old school, smash mouth football. It’s football at its purest. It’s going to be fun.
Q. Another thing BK said is he felt like the last couple years you guys weren’t as physically durable as you needed to be against Stanford and they were able to wear you down. What are some of the things you look at with this team that make you feel like you can bring more power to the fight than you have the last couple years?
Manti Te’o: I think we have a lot of veteran players, and we are blessed with young players that have the mentality of ‘We’re not going to back down no matter what.’ We’re going to scratch and claw and do whatever it takes to win. Whenever you have that mindset in a team it causes a lot of positive things.
Q. When you think about your three games playing against them what comes to mind? What are the things that stand out about your experience of playing against Stanford?
Manti Te’o: I love playing against Stanford. They just line up and play hard. They don’t say much. Over the past three years we obviously went up against one of the best quarterbacks to ever come out of college football. It was a pleasure to play against him and be on the same field as him because he brought a different dynamic to the game. But with Stanford, I love playing against this type of team. It’s just football, and they’re going to run and keep running, running, running until you stop ’em. Then obviously they have play action and they can spread you out and throw the ball. So it’s back to basics football.
Q. Do you consider Notre Dame and Stanford football similar?
Manti Te’o: In certain ways. In a lot of ways we’re both very different.
Q. What are some of the differences?
Manti Te’o: Obviously we’re a spread run and gun type offense. Stanford is just line up heavy formations and run. In that case, we are very different. But academically, pretty much the same.
Q. What makes it so difficult to defend their offense, specifically the way they use their tight ends?
Manti Te’o: They have dual threat tight ends and they’re big. They’re tall and they take up a lot of space. They’re a threat. They have great hands and they run great routes. It’s basically a skinnier lineman running out there that can catch and has some speed. Whenever you have that threat, it’s similar to a dual threat quarterback. You have to understand what you’re going up against and their tendencies and their strengths. Obviously their tight ends are really good.
Q. Coach Kelly has talked about rerouting. I know that’s something that you guys have emphasized. Could you explain why rerouting in this game is so important?
Manti Te’o: It goes back to everybody doing their job. Everybody has to do their job, whatever that is. It’s just trying to put our guys in situations where we can make a play. Rerouting is another way of making sure that everybody is doing their job. Everybody has a responsibility.
Q. You guys feel like you have anything to prove against Stanford? You haven’t beaten them in the past two years. Do you feel like you have something to prove against them?
Manti Te’o: No. Nothing at all.
Q. Talk a little bit about Stephon Tuitt, the improvement you’ve seen this year. What do you think he’s doing that’s making him a better pass rusher?
Manti Te’o: I think that’s something you have to ask Tuitt, but from my perspective, he comes to work every day with the mindset he’s going to get better, and while he’s getting better he’s going to get his teammates better. He just has that drive. That makes Stephon a special player. He has a God given ability and God given talent. You combine that with his work ethic and desire and you get Stephon. That usually creates a very special player, so we’re very lucky to have Stephon on our team.
Q. What does it mean for the defense to have three straight games without giving up a touchdown? Is that something you look at after the game, ‘Great we did it again,’ or are you aware of it as each quarter goes by? Do you talk about how long can we keep this going?
Manti Te’o: That kind of conversation never happens. For us, the main thing we want to do is dominate in whatever form. However that takes place, that’s what we’re going to do. Obviously we want to keep the points down. We never really think about one quarter is done and we didn’t let them score. We just don’t want them to score at all.
Q. Coach Kelly has mentioned the difference in you when he got here. Maybe thought you shouldn’t have played as freshman because you were figuring things out. Talk about that area of your game, where you were when Coach Kelly got here and where you are now.
Manti Te’o: Obviously, I was a young player. I was a very young player. I just needed some time to grow with every other freshman. High school and college football is a totally different game. I just needed time to grow and time to see things. We went from a 4 3 to a 3 4 defense. You just have to fully commit yourself to learning and to just trying to be the best player you can be. For me, I just needed time. I think I’ve done a good job with the help of my coaches and my family of improving every single year.
Q. What do you see out there when a play is happening that allows you to get to the ball so quickly?
Manti Te’o: Stuff I see in film study. I study film a lot. When I see certain tendencies, I look for them in a game. When I see certain formations, I know what they like to do in certain formations. Whenever you can do that it helps simplify the game; whenever the game is simple you can play fast; whenever you can play fast you usually make a lot of plays. For me, I just want to do as much as I can to help my team win. Whatever that is, whether it’s taking on blockers or making plays myself, I’m going to do it.
Q. Can you talk about this week? Obviously last week you talked about calming down and staying focused. Now the hype is bigger with GameDay and everything like that. Talk about staying focused and staying away from that hype a little bit.
Manti Te’o: Personally for me, GameDay, that doesn’t really effect the players as much as the student body and stuff like that. So it’s definitely going to be a great atmosphere, a great opportunity for our school to be on College GameDay and stuff like that. For us, I think I our team is at a point where we’re mature enough where we understand where our mindset needs to be, where our focus needs to be. That’s on Stanford. It’s going to take all hundred and something of us, players and coaches, to be focused on Stanford in order to beat ’em.
Q. You mentioned the mindset. Is that something Coach Kelly has brought out in you guys is, I guess, a culture change in a way? What has he done over the last several years that has brought you guys to this kind of mindset that you can stay focused?
Manti Te’o: I think a lot you us have it already. I think a lot us had that mindset coming in. It’s just everybody didn’t have that mindset. I think Coach Kelly and his coaching staff have done a good job in nurturing that mindset and letting the other guys know, ‘Hey, that’s how it should be.’ That’s the kind of things that you got to do in order to win. That’s what champions are made of. That’s the mindset you have to be in in order to be successful. So a lot us have had this mindset already. It’s just it wasn’t cultivated and nurtured in here. Now that it’s something that’s pushed to the forefront, I think our team is benefiting from that.
Q. You mentioned earlier that your parents are coming in for this game; is that true?
Manti Te’o: Yeah. They actually just landed about half hour ago.
Q. Are they coming in for Senior Day, too?
Manti Te’o: Yes.
Q. What does it mean to play in front of them at this point here in the year?
Manti Te’o: It’s special. I’ve been playing in front of them ever since I was eight years old. That feeling never leaves. It never gets old. It’s always a special feeling when you know that the two people that sacrificed the most for you to be here are in the stands. They’re watching you and they’re watching someone who they’ve given everything they have to live his dream. My dream is to help them in their dream, too. So, it’s always exciting. It’s going to be a special occasion to see them in the stands.
Q. What was the first time like when you played in front of them here at Notre Dame?
Manti Te’o: That was when I knew all this hard work and all the sacrifice, the distance, the travel and all that, was worth it. That all started on that walk. My mom was crying, my dad was crying. My mom was actually in the back of a crowd. I know all of you, everybody has mothers obviously, but when you hear your mom’s voice it stands out. So amidst all the hundreds of people out there I heard my mom’s voice all the way in the back. The Notre Dame community brought her up. They made way so I could give her a hug, and it was a very special moment for me.
Q. That same feeling, how do you almost balance that with game preparation and staying focused?
Manti Te’o: I think for me it just enhances it to know that I’m playing this game that I love in front of my parents. They can actually see me live. Same feeling I had these past couple weeks. My girlfriend and grandma was watching me live. Enhances that feeling of people watching you.
Q. Coach Kelly mentioned yesterday that he thought against Miami that might have been your best game here; do you agree?
Manti Te’o: Man, I can’t say that because I’m always just trying to get better. I don’t look at all the plays I made. I look at all the plays I should have made. For me, it was a pretty good game. I played a pretty good game. I’m happy that we came up with the win and we played a pretty good game against a really good team. For me personally, I think I did okay. I could have done more. I wish I could have had a pick or something to really change the momentum of the game. I have a lot work to do. To know that my head coach thinks that brings me a lot confidence.
Q. What are some of the things you work on every week trying to improve?
Manti Te’o: Sometimes I’ll take a false step here or there. It’s just eliminating the small things, false stepping, keep my pad level low, just little things that can help me get from point A to B a little faster, a little, you know, less restrictive going through lineman. Just looking at different angles. Just stuff I can do with my eyes.
Q. There has been talk leading up to this game about the academic prowess of these two schools. Do football players really pay attention to things like APR graduations rates? So you take a source of pride out of that?
Manti Te’o: I think so. I think whenever you go to a school like Stanford or Notre Dame you took that into consideration before you came here. You want to get the best educational experience, and what better place to do that at than Notre Dame and Stanford?
Q. Were you surprised when you came in as freshman about how difficult it was, or was it what you expected?
Manti Te’o: Well, it was difficult, but our academic services with Adam Sargent and Colleen Ingelsby, they’ve done a tremendous job in helping us athletes with that transition and with the academic burden that we have here at Notre Dame. They alleviate a lot of that pressure with tutors and study hall and all those times where we can just focus on academics. They’ve been a tremendous help for all of us. I don’t think our academic success could be what it is without those two.
Q. Couple of questions: Did Stanford recruit you?
Manti Te’o: Yes, yes they did.
Q. What were your thoughts about that at that point, and why did you decide on Notre Dame instead?
Manti Te’o: I really enjoyed Stanford. I was really close to Coach Harbaugh and Coach Andy Buh, who was the linebacker coach at that time. It was a really, really fun visit for me to be there and to be on the West Coast and near a lot of family. But, you know, everybody feels a certain way. I prayed about it, and that led me here to Notre Dame. That’s not saying anything about Stanford, because Stanford is a great school. But I prayed about it and everything pointed to Notre Dame.
Q. I doubt you spend much time thinking about the Heisman Trophy, but what do you think of the fact that only one player who played defense full time I think it was Charles Woodson in 1997 has won the Heisman?
Manti Te’o: I think that’s a tremendous honor. Whenever a defensive player is recognized in that kind of light with Charles Woodson, you know, I’m definitely humbled by that. I’m going to continue to do what I got to do in order to first help my team win. If that keeps me in this whole Heisman talk, that’s also good, too. What I’m focusing on is helping my team win.
Q. I guess what I was wondering is if you think it’s fair to defensive players, the fact only one of them has won the Heisman?
Manti Te’o: That’s something I think I don’t have any I can’t really say much about because I’m not really familiar with all the post season accolades stuff like that.
Q. My last question is when you look at Stefan Taylor on film, what are the things you see that make him such a fine runner?
Manti Te’o: He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s a powerful runner, and he keeps his legs moving, which makes it hard for opponents to bring him down. I played against him my sophomore year, and the strides he’s made to improve his game have really shown. He’s doing really good.
Q. Can you just talk about the physical challenge of Stanford watching them on film and how they compare to some of the other teams you’ve seen already this year?
Manti Te’o: I think if there is any team that’s similar to Stanford it would be Michigan State with just their run first mentality. With Stanford, they execute well. They have big linemen who are very quick off the ball and very strong. Their running backs are very smart running backs. They’re patient and North and South and they’re fast. So Stanford is a really good team. They have a lot of firepower with their running backs and tight ends. That’s something that we’re preparing for and something that we’re looking forward to going up against on Saturday.
Q. Specific with the tight ends, a big challenge both literally and figuratively. Talk about them a little bit.
Manti Te’o: Yeah, the tight ends, they’re big targets. My boy Toilolo is 6’8″, I think 260, 270. The other tight end, Ertz, I think he’s the same. So obviously they pose a physical threat where they can get up and jump and go up for the ball. They have some speed and power for the running game. So everybody just has to be on their Ps and Qs and just do their job.
Q. I know you said you don’t feel like you have anything to prove against Stanford, but how much do you want to finally beat them?
Manti Te’o: Obviously we want to win. I think it’s something that we’re always looking forward to. I think we just want to be 6 0. Stanford is the next team we play and we’re going to prepare for them the way we’ve always prepared. We’re going to go to battle on Saturday. At the end of the game we’ll look at the scoreboard and we’ll see what it says.