Football, at its root, is only a game. For players like Notre Dame MLB Manti Te’o, it can be so much more — a way to unite, a way to inspire and a way to heal.
In a week when the nation’s top inside linebacker lost his grandmother to old age and his girlfriend to a lengthy battle with leukemia, the heavy-hearted, spiritual senior played one of his best games, leading the Irish to a 20-3 victory over Michigan State in what head coach Brian Kelly described as a “signature win” for the program, knocking off an opponent ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 2005.
Te’o, who was given the option of not playing after losing two of the most important women in his life within the span of 48 hours, chose to play with what he called “his football family” and seemed to be everywhere at once, helping hold the Spartans to their lowest home-game point total since 1991.
Teammates, who were moved by Te’o’s words and actions, showed up in a strong way, dominating the line of scrimmage and giving Spartans power back Le’Veon Bell little room to run.
Te’o, who mirrored Bell’s every move, has developed a reputation for bringing great intensity to the middle of the field. He was especially dialed in against the Spartans, recording 12 tackles, including a tackle for loss, and grabbing a Bell fumble late in the fourth quarter to seal the game.
He showed a knack for being in the right place at the right time and grades out extremely highly for his football-playing instincts, toughness, physicality, effort and competitiveness.
“He starts for us yesterday,” said one evaluator passing through the program several weeks ago. “He could start at ‘Sam,’ ‘Will’ or ‘Mike.’ He’s a violent hitter. I love the way he plays.”
Even more impressive to NFL scouts is Te’o’s work ethic.
“He loves football. He does not miss anything — practice or games. He plays through pain and injuries. He’s a guy you know is going to live in the building. He’s a top-15 talent.”
Te’o, who pointed to the sky after the victory, might return home for part of the week and said after the game that football has been a great escape.
“Football allowed me to be in a little realm,” Te’o said, “a little world where I know I can honor (my grandmother and my girlfriend) by the way I play.”
• Senior C Khaled Holmes was sorely missed in USC’s 21-14 loss to Stanford, as the Cardinal front, led by senior OLB Chase Thomas and redshirt junior OLB Trent Murphy, brought an aggressive array of stunting inside and outside pressure that kept Matt Barkley out of rhythm most of the night and dropped the senior’s career record against the Cardinal to 0-4. Trojans fans chanted “Holmes for MVP” while he was standing on the sideline, out with a right ankle injury suffered in last week’s win over Syracuse.
• As Arkansas fans hope Louisville head coach Charlie Strong, an Arkansas native, could be hired to bolster a struggling program that parted ways with head coach Bobby Petrino in the summer, senior QB Tyler Wilson lashed out at his team following a demoralizing 52-0 loss to Alabama. “Obviously, that wasn’t pretty to watch,” said a red-faced, visibly upset Wilson addressing the media after the game. “Sucks I couldn’t be out there to do something about it. Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there? Yeah, absolutely.” The leadership of Wilson, who sat out with concussion symptoms after being knocked out in a loss to Louisiana-Monroe the week before, will be sorely needed to lift a Razorbacks squad that was ranked in the top 10 two weeks ago.
• Florida State senior DE Brandon Jenkins broke a bone in his left foot in the season opener against Murray State and, with pins needed to stabilize the injury, will miss the rest of the season. His ability to trim the corner could allow him to excel as a pin-the-ears-back, wide-nine rusher, but his inability to defeat blocks and hold the point could relegate him to a situational, pass-rush role in the pros — a job typically reserved for third-rounders.
• A year after suffering two broken vertebrae against Wake Forest and appearing that his football career might be over, Florida State senior RB Chris Thompson made a statement against the Demon Deacons, rushing for 197 yards on nine carries, including runs of 74 and 80 yards where much of the way was paved with excellent downfield blocking. His lack of size and concerns about his durability still remain issues for NFL scouts, but if he clears medically, he has the type of burst and acceleration to make a living as a dynamic space player in the pros.
• After playing in the season opener, Oregon senior FS John Boyett will miss the rest of the season because of nagging knee injuries that he said he played through all of last year. He said five different specialists from around the country reviewed his MRIs and surgery is needed. Sources say Boyett knee tendinitis has affected his ability to train in the offseason and could affect his draft standing. He’s an extremely competitive film junkie who will find a way to earn an NFL role.