Notre Dame Fighting Irish star middle linebacker Manti Te’o will play this Saturday versus the Michigan State Spartans. Now, normally that wouldn’t be news. Unfortunately, the circumstances aren’t normal.
Te’o has had about as devastating a week as you can have. Te’o lost both his longtime girlfriend and his grandmother within a day of each other. His girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, lost a lengthy battle with leukemia, not even 24 hours after his grandmother had passed. Both were in their home state of Hawai’i, where Te’o hails from as well.
Te’o, from the Punahou School (where Barack Hussein Obama went to school) in Honolulu, was one of the best players in the country coming out of high school. He was also the highest ranked defensive prospect the Irish have ever signed in the modern recruiting era. He chose the Irish over Southern Cal and BYU (he is a devout Mormon).
He has been every bit as good as advertised for the Irish, being named not only AP All American last year, but also Academic All American. He was eighth all time in tackles for arguably the most illustrious football program in the country, and that was before the season began. He could finish number one on all time tackles list by the time his senior season ends.
So needless to say, Te’o is essential to the Irish defense. He is the heart and soul. He is their leader, their captain, their rock. And to overcome the losses that he has had to endure this week, only someone as strong as Te’o could come back and lead his defense on the road at MSU.
This has to remind some people of Brett Favre playing less than a day after his father had passed. Favre played the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football, and had not only the best performance of his career, but one of the best games ever played by a quarterback. It would be too much to ask of Te’o to respond similarly, as you just can’t imagine what could be going through his head.
As a long time football player myself, I know that one of the beautiful aspects of the sport is the ability to escape. No matter what is going on in your life, it all seems to disappear once that ball is snapped. But I certainly never had to play in a game under the circumstances that Te’o is about to. I simply can’t imagine it.
But this is why he is the captain, the leader, the rock. He’s not just another guy in the locker room, because that guy wouldn’t be able to play in a game after suffering those losses. But Te’o isn’t just another guy.
Regardless of how well Te’o plays, which I still believe will be at his usual All American level, you can’t help but admire his strength and fortitude. I will absolutely be cheering for him this Satuday.