Oct. 4, 2012
An Interview With: MANTI TE’O
Q. What’s your knowledge on the Notre Dame/Miami series? Have you heard anything about the history of the series and any of that?
MANTI TE’O: Yeah, I know there’s a pretty good rivalry between us and Miami, and it dates back to the 80s I think. So I’m very aware of that.
Q. Any motivation to draw upon that, or that’s just history and doesn’t have any impact on this game this week?
Manti Te’o: I mean, we understand history. We understand the history of this ballgame. But we also understand the importance of being ourselves, and not necessarily buying into the whole hype of a rivalry game, that’s just being ourselves. And preparing the same way, not getting anxious, not getting overly excited, just being calm and just preparing the way we have always prepared.
Q. You said Coach Kelly was talking about the process of building a winner, and you’ve been a part of this rise in the last three years, talk about eradicating some of the issues, some of the negatives. I think what he’s saying is the things that caused you to lose, what have been some of those things that have been eradicated in the last three years?
Manti Te’o: I can’t really pinpoint anything specifically other than Coach Kelly and his coaching staff came in, they first said in order for us to start winning, to stop losing. And that goes to the way we practice, approaching every day with a mind set of getting better, not being satisfied with our performance and not buying into the hype; to always have high expectations for ourselves and for our teammates and holding each other and ourselves to those expectations, and holding each other to those expectations off the field. I think our team has done a tremendous job in following through with the expectations that we hold for ourselves and that Coach Kelly has for us. I think that is a definite direct correlation to our success thus far in the season.
Q. You played with a lot of emotion what have you seen from Bennett (Jackson) this year that’s really enabled him to be a front line, reliable guy? Curious on defense how much does playing with emotion help?
Manti Te’o: I think as far as addressing Bennett Jackson, he’s definitely one who plays with a lot of emotion and he’s not afraid to display that emotion. I think Bennett’s strength is that Bennett hates to lose. He hates to lose, and he especially hates to be the reason why we lost. Now he’s never been the reason why we’ve lost, but he has always tried to work his hardest to make sure that he’s not a liability out there. And not only himself, but the other DBs and so, you know, as far as game experience, he’s considered a young guy. But if you look at it as maturity, he seems just he seems like a mature player, and he is a mature player the way he’s responded, day in and day out, the way he’s worked, the minutes and the hours that he’s put in extra to really try to improve his craft. So I think addressing your other question about playing with emotion, every player plays a different way. Every player has his own style of playing. For myself, I like to play with a lot of emotion. But yet, try to be humble at the same time. I think on the defensive side, it’s just a different mentality. It’s a physical game as you know. Football is a very physical game, and you just have got to approach this game from a different set of eyes and you have to do a lot of hitting. So I think when you play with emotion, it helps to get yourself in that mind set.
Q. Kind of curious, when you came in here, you were an aggressive player right away, a lot was put on you. When Everett (Golson) was red shirted very early last year, did you talk to him about these are what expectations are like and here is how you deal with it; do you give him any advice to keep him on a good track?
Manti Te’o: Actually, right before I came in here, I was talking with Everett, I was standing with him talking with him. The thing about Everett is he’s always looking to get better. I’m not the one that pulls him on the side. He’s the one that actually comes up to me and asks me, what am I doing; what can I do better; what does the offense look like from your point of view. You know, our conversation, I just told him, I have always been a believer that a player’s best friend is his confidence; if a player doesn’t have confidence, he’s not going to be very good. And if you’re here at Notre Dame, you are here for a reason; you’re here because you can play football. You’re here because of a lot of reasons. But if you don’t have that confidence that you had, you’re not going to be successful. With every young player, the hardest thing to do is not necessarily learn the playbook, but just have the confidence that you can make plays, and it’s just like riding a bike; once it happens, it will be easy. And so with Everett, I think that’s something that he’s trying to fight through every day.
Q. As a captain, is it something that you guys talk about, tuning out the noise and all that, is that easy to do and how important is that, actually?
Manti Te’o: Oh, I think that’s the most important thing. I was talking to Kap (Kapron Lewis-Moore) just recently, and I was just telling him, this is the most critical part of our season. You know, we have never been 4 0. We have never been 4 0. I have never been 4 0 here. So it’s very crucial for us to really settle down, we are getting a lot of plays and getting a lot of pats on our back, and that’s nice. That’s always nice to feel that, that kind of support. But we have to really just avoid all that stuff and really know who we are and remember most importantly, you know, what got us to this point, and that’s hard work; that’s just getting after it in practice, and I think our guys have done a great job this week and our coaches have really emphasized just getting to work every day in practice, and then that will help with keeping ourselves focused. So we have done a great job.
Q. Have you had any experiences in the last week where you overheard a conversation between a couple players – that made you worry about guys listening too much to the hype? Manti Te’o: No, to be honest I haven’t heard any of that kind of stuff from any of my teammates. Q. What is it about Coach Diaco that makes him a successful coach?
Manti Te’o: I think Coach Diaco is not only win of the best coaches in the country, but one of the best coaches in life. When you have a team that not only plays for themselves and each other, but plays for their coach, and makes that team very, very strong, and very, very special, and I think that a lot of people credit the change of our defense to the personnel that we have; the front seven or, our DBs, how fast they are, how the speed – they’re the same guys two years ago people were saying that they are slow, their defense is slow. The only thing I can tell you that has been the greatest change is our coach, Coach Diaco. He’s really cultivated that feeling of a family, that I can call Coach Diaco if I ever need anything; it could be three in the morning and I’ll call him and he’ll pick his phone up and he’ll come help me. So our relationship with Coach Diaco extends far beyond the football field. He’s our mentor, he’s our second dad. When you have that connection with a coach, you’ll do whatever for him and do anything for him. I think our defense has really paid tribute to him and the sacrifices that he and our other coaches on the defensive side will have made to make us the successful defense that we are thus far.
Q. Going back to the 4-0 start, how important was it for the program to have the successful start to the season you’ve had?
Manti Te’o: I think with our team, coming in we didn’t really think of having a fast start. We thought of it as the importance of being 1 0, the importance of beating Navy. And after Navy, it was the importance of beating Purdue. And after Purdue, it was the importance of beating Michigan State, and then Michigan and now we have Miami. So we take it day by day, week by week, game by game, and I think when we look back at the end of the season, we will see how we’ve done. But so far we have done pretty good at just taking it game by game.
Q. With Miami, it seems like they are a much different offense, what makes them different?
Manti Te’o: They have a lot of speed. The best group of skill players, the best unit that we have seen thus far. They do a lot of things well. They have a great coach that has changed the mentality at the University of Miami, and they have a quarterback that has seen some success so far and has done pretty good. As a defense, we have to do what we do and come out and play hard for four quarters, as an offense, we have to keep just like I said, being us and getting after it for four quarters and we’ll see what the scores are.
Q. The thing about Danny Spond, over a month ago he was in a hospital bed and now two weeks ago he was setting the edge against Denard Robinson and helping you guys win the football game. What did you learn about Danny since he went through this health ordeal and how is he impacting the defense right now?
Manti Te’o: Danny Spond is one of the most mentally tough guys that I’ve ever met. You know, for him, he came in as a quarterback, and now he’s an outside linebacker taking on 300 pound linemen. That’s a big change, and you have to be mentally strong before you can be physically strong so you can make that mental jump from, okay, I’m going to drop back and throw the ball to now I’m going to step to the edge on a 300 pound lineman. So he had to be mentally strong for that. Now he gets into a little situation where he got hurt and for him to come back as fast as he did we weren’t even sure if Danny Spond was even going to be able to play football again. I remember that night, that day he got hurt and Dan Fox and I went to go visit him in the hospital. It didn’t look too good. We were expecting the worst. Two or three weeks later he was back on the field in full pads practicing and then he was on the field against Michigan and helping us win. That just goes to show his commitment to this team and the sacrifices he’s made to be on this team and the sacrifices he will continue to make to play a key role on the team and help us to win.
Q. Can you talk about your time away and how much that helped you?
Manti Te’o: My time away, that was really nice, it was really nice to see my grandma. It was real nice to just be with my family again. You know, I think the worst thing about it was there’s so much food that I ate a lot of food, man, and luckily for me, I had a little bit more discipline this time. So I didn’t take too far of a step back, but it was just an amazing experience for me to be home and have some closure and say good bye to my grandma and see my family, make sure everybody was okay and make sure that my mom was okay. My mom is a strong woman; she was actually worried about me. But it was nice to be with them. I see my parents in a week, so it should be nice to see them soon.
Q. How hard was it being focused on football but knowing that there is a bigger picture
Manti Te’o: Yeah, it was definitely hard. That has to be the hardest thing that I’ve had to do so far; to be able to operate, and to be able to try to continue with my daily routine, but knowing that I just lost two women that I truly loved. That was the hardest thing. And the other hardest thing was my girlfriend’s service was the day of Michigan’s game. And I remember when I found out I knew when they were going to close the casket and all that stuff, and it was during walk thru. And I remember I asked Coach Diaco, “Coach, what time is it?” And he said, “It’s 12:01.” And that would be 9:00, 9:01, California time and 9:00 is when they closed the casket for my girlfriend, so I had a moment then. But I’ve never felt so strong; especially strong, and I never I could never thank the student body and the fans around the world for their all love and all their prayers and support. I truly felt all of that and it’s helped me to get through these past three weeks and I’m truly grateful and I’m truly humbled, and I said I can’t thank them enough.
Q. When you looked up there and saw the lei’s in the student section what were the emotions that were flooding through you?
Manti Te’o: I can’t describe how I was feeling. I felt a sense of peace knowing that so many people cared about Manti instead of No. 5. And I had that feeling that I know people are starting to understand what life is truly about. Football is just a game, and then there’s the game of life, and people are starting to realize that. I’m just happy that I was able to be a part of that and experience that on Saturday and see all that support for myself and my family and those who have lost loved ones. My brother, TJ Jones, I told him, this is just as much for you as it is for me. This is for your dad. I’m not the only one that lost a loved one, this is for Stephon’s (Tuitt) and for everybody that’s lost a loved one and shows that families are forever. That was possibly the greatest experience that I’ve had so far here at Notre Dame.
Q. Have you seen some of Heisman Trophy talk and that you’re a part of the discussion?
Manti Te’o: I’ve seen some of it. It’s definitely very exciting and it was very humbling at the same time. I’m very grateful for all of the support, like I said, my family and my girlfriend’s family have received from so many people.
Q. I’m sure it’s almost like a living tribute to play hard for them; that you’re carrying something inside, does that help you?
Manti Te’o: Something my girlfriend always stressed to me was always being humble and if anything, I think this experience has truly humbled me and strengthened my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I’ve always said that if I’m on God’s team, then I can’t be beat. If I’m on God’s team, there’s nobody that can stand against me. So losing my girlfriend and losing my grandma has really strengthened my relationship with my Heavenly Father, and I felt His presence in my life and I hope that’s shown by the way I’ve played and by the way I’ve conducted myself on and off the field, and I hope to continue that as I continue down this season.
Q. A lot of turnovers for you guys this year and you’ve been in the middle of a lot of them, whether creating them or creating pressure; do you have a specific focus this year on being more of a playmaker?
Manti Te’o: I think for me I’ve focused on just having fun and going back to the basics of having fun and really cherishing every single down, every single down, I really try to take advantage of. As a defense, you sometimes rush to third down; just get to third down, just get to third down, just get a three-and-out, let’s just get to third down. But this year, I just try to take every down, okay, that’s first down; let’s try to make a big play on first down. Okay, if we didn’t make a play on first down, let’s try to make it the second down. So I just try do anything and every I can to help our team win. When I came back, everybody asked, what’s your goal for this season and I just said, to win. One goal is just win. I’m just glad that for four weeks so far, I’ve had the opportunity to do just that, along with my teammates, do whatever it takes to win.
Q. Do you have a chance to have fun with all of the stuff going on around you off the field, the Heisman stuff, Sports Illustrated cover?
Manti Te’o: Yeah, for me, that’s great, I’m very thankful. I mean, it’s kind of surreal that I’m on that Heisman list. I used to make myself as a running back on video games and win the Heisman as a fictional character; but to be actually, you know, a candidate for that, and in real life, is really is a real surprise for me. All that does for me is it shows me that I’m heading in the right direction. I’m doing what I need to do and I’ve just got to continue to do what I’ve got to do.
Q. What does a defensive player need to do to win the Heisman?
Manti Te’o: First, I’ve got to keep winning. That’s the main thing, you’ve just got to keep winning. To be honest with you, if I don’t keep winning and I win the Heisman, I’ll still be happy. I just want to win, just to be honest with you. And if my play during those games of winning helps me win the Heisman, so be it, but I just want to win.
Q. The game this weekend, the fact that it’s in Chicago, pro stadium, is there extra excitement just for that?
Manti Te’o: I don’t think so, at least for myself. I think one of the best things about coming to Notre Dame is every year you play in a nice stadium. We played in Yankee Stadium, Giants Stadium, we played at Redskins Stadium. We play in some nice venues. This is going to be another venue that we get to play in that none of us have been in. So I don’t think it’s anything different. The field is still 120 yards long, football is still the same shape, touchdown is still worth six points. At the end of the game, whoever has the most points wins.
Q. Any of the young guys that’s really impressed you more than others so far this season?
Manti Te’o: KeiVarae Russell has really impressed me. Just his not necessarily his athleticism but his approach to the game. He always wants to get better, always. It’s kind of ridiculous how bad he wants to get better. Actually after the Navy game where you felt that he cost us a touchdown, he texted me and said, “Bro, I’m going to do whatever it takes to not let our defense down again.” He called Robert Blanton and talked to Robert Blanton for hours just to see what he could do to be the best DB he possibly can. Like I said it’s not necessarily his athleticism and courage he’s displayed to be out there in a Division I college team against guys who are also on scholarships and do well, but just his daily approach to the game.
Q. Coach said yesterday that the staff came in, his first evaluation of you was you didn’t know how to play the position. What makes the difference in how you’re playing now?
Manti Te’o: I think the biggest difference for me is that I’ve learned that when Coach says that I have to go from Point A to Point B, it doesn’t mean that I have to do is necessarily the way he tells me to do it. I can get to Point A to Point B the way I want to do is it, as long as I he can get to Point B, you understand. Like I’ll do it the way I want to do it; I’ll do it the way I feel I’m better at doing it, and I think that’s worked to my advantage. Now, I have matured and I’ve gained the confidence and coach has given me the leeway and the confidence to feel comfortable to play within myself and within the scheme. So I think that’s the biggest thing for me is learning that I can get from Point A to Point B the way I want to, and just being a veteran player, knowing tendencies, seeing things all the time, and so I think the slows down game a lot.
Q. Also you mentioned after the Purdue game, it didn’t look like you were happy with how you played, what did you see and what caused you to maybe do something different?
Manti Te’o: I just saw a very frustrated player, a guy who was very frustrated. Just that was a very frustrating game for me personally, and it was a performance that, you know, back to the expectation, was not up to the expectations of myself and it was something that I needed to change and something I needed to be very careful of. I don’t know what it was, maybe the first game of my senior season, I don’t know. But I was very frustrated. I committed a penalty that was a very foolish penalty and that’s something that’s not me. So I have had to just come back to square one and just be myself.
Q. Some of the players talk about a sense of brotherhood with the team. You’re the leader of the defense, how did this happen?
Manti Te’o: For me I had the great opportunity when I started playing football, I started playing with my dad as a head coach and my uncle as assistant coaches, and my cousins playing alongside of me. That wasn’t necessarily a team; it was a family: I played with my cousins; I played with my dad. And whenever something happened to my cousin or whenever an opposing coach says something to my dad, I take it personal. I felt that whenever a team is like that, where you do anything for the guy beside you, that’s when you have a special team. And I think our defense and our offense, our team in general, just has really, you know, grown that whole family feel; that if anything happens to you, I’ll be there. I’ll do whatever it takes for you. I’ll do whatever it takes to help this team win. You’ll hear that conversation in this locker room a lot more often.
Q. What you’ve been through the past week, will that help you grow a little more?
Manti Te’o: I think it was enough experience for our team to grow. I wasn’t expecting it to happen the way it did, but that just shows the types of players that we have in this locker room. They came around and they helped lift me up. They came around to help support me. They didn’t have to, but like I said, that family feel with this team is something that’s very special and I think, you know, like I said, when you’re playing for somebody else besides yourself, you can do something special.
Q. I’m sure you are aware a lot of fans and reporters follow your Twitter feed now, I think you have a quote from the Count of Monte Cristo, what does that put up after this all happened?
Manti Te’o: No, that’s actually been up since I made my account. One day you’ll be everything will be good, everything will be great, and then one day you’ll be in the middle of a storm. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. So we are going to have our ups and our downs and we are going to have our good days and our bad days. For me, I’ve learned that when that storm does come, you know, what foundation do I have; what am I going to lean on and I’ve learned that I’m going to lean on my Heavenly Father, I’m going to lean on my family and I’m going to lean on my teammates. I’ve always learned that when life gets hard walking, try walking on your knees. Like I said, my relationship with my Heavenly Father has never been so strong, and I think that has a definite connection with how I’ve been doing on the football field.
Q. When you were being recruited, did you always have the feeling that Notre Dame I know it was a tough choice, but did you always have the feeling that Notre Dame wanted you the most?
Manti Te’o: I wouldn’t say the most, but between Stanford, USC and Notre Dame, I received the most attention from them.
Q. What did you know about Notre Dame really when they were recruiting you? You knew where it was, but did you know about the school, the tradition and the climate?
Manti Te’o: To be honest with you, I didn’t know. I didn’t really knowing anything about Notre Dame. I didn’t know where it was. My first game actually, Notre Dame game that I actually watched was in 2005 when the Bush Push happened and coincidentally, I was cheering for the other team but I didn’t really know anything about Notre Dame. But my parents knew a lot about Notre Dame, not a lot, but just Notre Dame was held to a different standard. When I received the official letter from Notre Dame, it was kind of just a wow kind of thing. So I didn’t know much but I knew that much that when I received that letter that my parents kind of had to take a step back a little.
Q. And did the Bush push game, even though you were rooting for USC change you or get Notre Dame into your mind?
Manti Te’o: Not really. Back then I was a very faithful fan to the Trojans. It was a really good game. That’s about it. I just remember that.
Q. Didn’t you show up on campus with flip flops and shorts and a long shirt, wasn’t that the case?
Manti Te’o: Yeah, I had some slippers in my bag, showed up with jeans shorts and a long sleeved tee shirt. I think it was the coldest recorded game in Notre Dame history. (Laughter).
Q. What went into that decision not to take a mission?
Manti Te’o: It’s the same process that I went through to make my decision to come here. I just got on my knees and I prayed and I fasted and I really asked Heavenly Father, what am I supposed to do, what do you want me to do; is a two year mission my mission, or can I stay here at Notre Dame and make my life my mission and the things I do here at Notre Dame and on; could that be my mission, could I do missionary work through that, and I just felt that I could. I just hope that, you know, what I’ve done so far has equaled to that.
Q. No one would question how any person grieves, but what went into your decision or did you think at all about going back for your girlfriend’s service? I understand you had a game that day but what was the decision there?
Manti Te’o: You know, I really wanted to see her. I really wanted to see her. But I knew that she made me promise, you know one day she made me promise that, she said, “Babe, if anything happens to me, you promise that you’ll still stay over there and that you’ll play and that you’ll honor me through the way you play, and know that I would rather have you there.” And just make sure that all she wanted was some white roses. White is her favorite color. So she just wanted some white roses and that’s all she asked for. So I sent her roses and sent her two picks (interceptions) along with that, so that was good.
Q. Just curious about what you know about Duke Johnson, what have you seen from him on tape and just your comments on what it’s going to be like to face an electric freshman running back like that?
Manti Te’o: Duke Johnson is a very explosive running back. He’s a very dynamic player who he will make plays catching the ball, running the ball and on special teams. So for us, we have just got to everybody’s got to get to the ball, especially with Duke. He’ll jump cut and he’ll split defenders, so everyone has to get to the ball and everybody has to do their best and play within our scheme; realizing that Duke has the chance to break it at any time.
Q. Stephen Morris has had some incredible games and got a little overshadowed but he did throw for 556 last week; what are your thoughts on him and matching against a quarterback with a big arm that can throw the ball around?
Manti Te’o: He has really improved his game and has done a real good job in leading his team. He has a lot of weapons around him, and he knows how to throw the ball around. He’s seen some success so far, and I’m sure he’ll continue to see success throughout his season. For us, we have just got to be ourselves. We have to get after him when we pressure and when we don’t, we’ve really got to stay in our zones and stay in man, whatever the call is. You know, as always, respect your opponent, know what they can do, know your opponent, know the terrain, and you should be fine.
Q. Just wondering what it’s like for you to go against no huddle offenses and how do things change for the defense when you face one?
Manti Te’o: I think if there’s any defense that knows how to go against a no huddle offense, it would be us. Our offense doesn’t go into a no huddle, doesn’t have a huddle and it’s pretty up tempo. So it’s something that’s not new for us. It’s obviously a different aspect to the game but it’s nothing new for us.
Q. The other thing, the temperature, you’ll probably think it’s kind of funny, but for the kids in South Florida, I know you were in the Sun Bowl game and it was 34 degrees, which was a lot of the kids from Miami had never seen snow before. I think it’s going to be kind of chilly possibly in Chicago. I know that obviously the heat is a major factor for opponents when they play in South Florida; do you think the cold has any effect on the way people play if they are not used to it, how it affects you?
Manti Te’o: I think I really don’t know.
Q. You probably don’t think the high 30s is very cool, right?
Manti Te’o: You know, I’m from Hawaii, so we don’t really get 30 degree weather. So I would say, you know, as long as you know what, when you get into the swing of things and the game kicks off and things are going, at the end of the day it’s football. Obviously you’re going to feel the bite of the cold sometimes. And when you’re in the heat, you’re obviously going to feel the scorch of the sun. But at the end of the day, it’s football.
Q. I don’t know if anybody asked you this before, but I think you might have hurt your knee after that game not sure. But what was that like for you, and again, this team was going the Miami team was going through a lot, they had an interim coach and they had just lost their coach, and it was kind of a stressful time for them. How does this whole thing feel different this year?
Manti Te’o: As far as?
Q. Just the whole aura of the game and that team, do they seem a lot different from the other team you got ready for.
Manti Te’o: Obviously they have a new coach, and their coach is a real good coach and he’s done a great job in changing the mind set of that team. And so we understand who they are and who they are now, and their strengths. We just have got to be ourselves and understand who we are and understand who they are and get ready for Saturday. Just play Notre Dame football.
Q. Can you say anything about Mike James?.
Manti Te’o: Mike James is their leader. Obviously they have Duke Johnson, he’s a dynamic player, I think you know that. Mike James, he’s a real good player. He’s a try hard guy who always drives his legs through contact and that poses something that defenses could have some trouble with that. But you know, definitely he’s somebody that is a weapon for them and somebody that we have to look out for.
Q. What did you think of the Sports Illustrated cover?
Manti Te’o: It was nice. I haven’t had the chance to actually hold the magazine yet. But hopefully my parents got theirs. The main thing was that I could show my mom and dad; that was the main thing, the main excitement I got out of it; that is was one of those experiences that I can show my parents.
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