His impact was felt from his very first play. Manti Te'o has become a defensive coordinator's dream, and not just as a player.
"As high a character of a young man, as compassionate, passionate and understanding and patient, he's got a nice combination of aggressiveness and machismo," said Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. "He's a rare young man."
As unique of a student-athlete Notre Dame's had in a long time. A man as connected to his fate as they come. A Mormon from Hawaii, Te'o turned down the lure of the NFL, the guaranteed money for something he felt was worth a whole lot more.
"Not being all spiritual and everything,” said Te’o. “But one day, we're not all going to be here. One day we are all going to pass on. I'm not going to be able take a Cadilac, I'm not going to be able to take a big mansion and all those stuff. The only thing I'm going to have are the memories I have here at Notre Dame with my family back at home. Millions of dollars can't buy those."
Manti said he wanted to experience his own senior day.
He did experience plenty of emotion in between. The week of the Michigan State game, Manti's grandmother and girlfriend both passed away.
He played anyway…and played arguably one of his best games of the season.
"It was definitely hard,” said Te’o. “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."
A week later, he returned to Notre Dame Stadium. On the day the Irish were to face Michigan, Manti's girlfriend Lenai was laid to rest. Again, he played - for her. Two interceptions and the Notre Dame Nation rallied around him.
"Four years ago, when I decided to come here, I didn't know why,” said Te’o. “It's starting to unveil itself as to why. I felt that I was told to come. I can't thank my team enough. I can't thank the students, just the fan base around the world - Notre Dame and non-Notre Dame, they have been really great. It's very humbling for me."
Te'o played with heart and passion the rest of the season. On November 17th, senior day arrived. This is why Manti Te'o returned for his senior Season.
"I was emotional, but I held it in and managed to hold it in, but I shed a few tears when I embraced my parents," said Te’o.
"You know, I would start rewinding the clock if I could,” said Manti’s father, Brian Te’o. “If we could spend, just spend another game here. I felt I left a couple things on the field that I wanted to do like a big hocka when he was coming out. This was an incredible experience for us and now I know why he wanted to experience this place."
Te'o is the most decorated college football player of all-time. He was the runner up for the Heisman. But he isn't in it for awards. He's about the national title. And most importantly about being a loyal son of du lac.
"I love Notre Dame. I love this place,” said Te’o. “This place is definitely special. This place is not a school. It's not a school. It's a family. It's a place that you will always be connected to and welcome to for the rest of your life. I will definitely miss this place and I'm definitely glad I came here. This has been the best four years of my life."