UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 14, 2012Richmond High School
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. (Question regarding last home game of his career.)
MANTI TE'O: It's going to be emotional. We understand that. For all of us, all the seniors and our families. But we understand that we still have to play the game.
You know, although it's going to be emotional, we got to rise together and make sure we take care of business at the end of the day.
I've experienced Senior Days where the team's lost, and it doesn't feel so special after that.
Q. This was sort of the day, or at least one of the days, that you basically came back for. Can you reflect back on what you saw last year and discuss kind of again what drove being here for this day meant to you.
MANTI TE'O: I was just talking about it. I think it was yesterday when I was watching film with coach Tim McDonnell, just how fast it's come up. I remember it felt like it was last week that I was talking to Michael Floyd and asking him to remember how it felt on his senior game.
I was going to ask him something, and I remember him telling me, There is nothing like it. Seems like just last week he was telling me that. Now in a few days I'll be experiencing my own Senior Day.
So it comes fast. I couldn't have pictured it any better than to run out of that tunnel for one last time.
Q. You've kind of been a focal point of this class, your senior class. Talk about who you've seen improvement from in your classmates on both sides of the ball?
MANTI TE'O: I think as a whole we've all improved. Each one of my classmates have grown not only on the football field but off the football field. We're kind of the same people that we were when we came in, but totally different at the same time.
We grew up, and the bond we share with each other and with our teammates is very strong. I was watching a video before I came in here about the seniors for this year, and it just brought back a lot of memories of our first summer in the dorms and didn't know each another and was kind of shy.
Now there is nothing I don't know about Cierre, there is nothing I don't know about Theo, Eifert, Zack, Robby, all my teammates, especially the seniors.
We've come a long way.
Q. We talked a little bit in August about how your class had some individual accomplishments, a collection of them between you and Tyler, Zack, Cierre, and Tyler. The payoff wasn't there yet in wins and losses. How gratifying is it obviously now going into the final Senior Day you're playing for a lot more than just Senior Day?
MANTI TE'O: Yeah, I think if you ask any of us what's more important: Personal accomplishments or experiencing the success as a team that we're experiencing now, each and every one of us would say the same thing.
We're glad that we're playing the senior game to hopefully be 11?0 and not try to play it to be Bowl eligible.
You know, it's a different feel. It's just something that makes it that much more special and that much more important for all of us. Our teammates feel the same way. Our coaches told us in the beginning of the week, We're going to give you everything we got to make sure that your last game and 11th game is always one to remember.
Q. Coach Kelly said that your legacy is far from being written. But when all is said and done, what kind of imprint do you hope to leave behind?
MANTI TE'O: Just one of the best to not only play but to attend this great university. There have been great athletes that have come through here. Just to be mentioned amongst them is what I'm trying to be.
If you don't do things to be the best at it, why are you doing it? So I'm just trying to be the best. Once I leave here, I hope that the impact I've made not only on the football field but in people's lives will forever be remembered.
Q. And of course it's going to be an emotional day. You'll be focused on the day. But are you going to be able to take a moment to be in that moment with your family?
MANTI TE'O: Yeah. I think when I run out of the tunnel for the last time and I'm greeted by my parents, I think that's when it's really going to hit me. I've never been through it before, never experienced it, so it's just something that I got to prepare for, but at the same time enjoy and embrace and make sure that when mom and dad leave the field that it's time for business.
Q. And lastly from me, being able to do all this with your best friend Robby Toma by your side and both of you guys wrapping up your careers and everything on the same day ? career here anyway ? how special is that?
MANTI TE'O: It's going to be definitely special. It adds a different dimension to the whole day where your best friend that you've been best friends with since you were five and we experienced a Senior Day in high school together and now you're going to experience a Senior Day in college.
I don't think any story can duplicate that. I'm going to be excited for him and be just as proud to see him run out for his last time. Definitely going to be a day that we'll all cherish and remember.
Q. I believe your official visit here on a Senior Day didn't turn out so well.
MANTI TE'O: Yeah.
Q. I wondered what your recollections were of that day, positive and negative.
MANTI TE'O: Positive, just the spirit and the feel. I think regardless of whether you win or lose, you can't miss the spirit that's around campus on a Senior Day here in Notre Dame. So I really felt that.
I also felt just how sad it was. Not necessarily to lose the game, but to lose the game on what happened to be the last game for some of the players on that team.
For that to be their last experience in that stadium, you know, I could really feel that. So amongst the cold and the snow and all that, I think the worst part of that was to see the pain in the players' eyes as they were crying leaving the stadium, not because they lost, but because that was their last experience playing under the dome.
Q. Obviously you came back to campus, but in those moments, did you think, This is probably the last time I'll be here or were you always kind of open?
MANTI TE'O: I was always kind of open. I just was taking it a little bit at a time. Obviously it was really cold. I wasn't really used to it.
But, you know, for somebody to base a decision off of weather, that's not a good thing to base a lifelong decision off of.
I'm just glad that I didn't make that mistake, because I wouldn't have able to experience what I'm about to experience and what I've experienced so far since I've been here at Notre Dame.
Q. I think you talked about last year at the awards show seeing the video where the parents were talking about their kids and so forth. Talk about that impact on you. Did that surprise you how hard that hit you?
MANTI TE'O: Yeah, I think that was the tipping point for me on whether or not I was going to enter into the draft or not. To see that, that was that moment where I said, Yeah, I know what I'm going to do. To see that video and see just the joy in their parents' eyes and see the joy in my teammates eyes.
Because I had some teammates that ran out in full gear about to play and some that came out on crutches. Each of them had the same expression on their face: just joy.
That's something that money can't buy. Money can't buy that experience. I've realized that. Like I said before, I'm really excited. I'm very grateful that I'll be able to experience that with my family.
Q. When you came here either when you were being recruited or when you got here, did you ever have it in your mind you wanted to be? I don't want to say the guy that brought Notre Dame back? but the face of the movement that brought Notre Dame back? Did that ever cross your mind, especially on a team that when you got here was offensively loaded and defensively weak.
MANTI TE'O: Yeah, I think to say it was one guy that is responsible for everything, that's far from the truth. The guys that are going to run out with me for the last time and the guys that are going to run out for the last season game here at Notre Dame, and hopefully more to come, that's who has changed this program. It's not just me.
If it was just one player it would be a one?man sport. There are 11 people on the field, and we're just blessed to have a great head coach. His staff just do a tremendous job in preparing us both physically and mentally and emotionally each game.
It's just been a combined effort. I wouldn't say that I'm ?? I've just been lucky enough to be held as the face of everything, but I think for me I'm just glad to be part of this team and just be part of bringing Notre Dame where it should be.
Q. Last one from me: I won't mention names specifically because I'm not sure what the NCAA rules are, but a lot of recruits talk about you and your reach into their class, the guys that are linebackers and other positions in the class being put together. What's your message to them?
MANTI TE'O: I always told them that I love this school so I'm always going to be biased towards Notre Dame.
I tell them, Hey, when you're a champion at other school you're a champion. When you're a champion at Notre Dame, you become a legend.
For me, it wasn't hard for me to decide. We weren't doing so well, and yet still there were talks about legendary status. Just imagine if you've experienced a successful season what that would look like.
So the people here, it's a family. It's not a school, it's a family. I've experienced that. I've met people that I used to watch as a little kid, and just being able to shake their hand and to know that they wore the same uniform and helmet and played for the same standards that I play for today is definitely something that you don't experience everywhere else.
Q. Coach mentioned yesterday that if someone were to ask about your legacy, he said it's too soon because there are more chapters need to be written. What do you feel like you have to do the last few weeks?
MANTI TE'O: I don't know. I think as far as football, it's to win. We have two more season games left and a Bowl game. Just hope we're playing sometime in January. That's our goal. That's the legacy that I'm looking at right now.
Whatever is written while that's happening, so be it. But I'm just trying to do whatever it takes to make sure that my team is playing in January.
Q. He also mentioned I think it was your sophomore year you said he came to you and said you have to take a bigger role as far as holding your teammates accountable. At first you were resistant and didn't feel like you should be telling others what to do. When did you feel comfortable taking that step and what was the process like?
MANTI TE'O: More just understanding who I am, how I work, and just going back to my roots of being a leader. I try to be vocal. I tried to be that Rah, Rah guy. That wasn't working for me because that's not who I am.
I'm just one to speak when I feel I need to speak. Other than that, I show my love and commitment to my teammates by how I work and practice every day, just always being there for them on and off the field.
I think my teammates know that it doesn't matter what time of day it is, they can always call me and I will be there. That's the feel amongst our whole team. Not only myself, the young guys know that the seniors and the leaders of this team, we want to take care of them. We don't want them to feel that they're alone.
That's created a camaraderie about our team that's very strong, very special, and has a direct connection to our success thus far this season.
Q. I heard you say several times that you weren't sure at the time why you chose Notre Dame. Did you ever realize, This is why I chose it, or has that it always just been, you know, it just came to you?
MANTI TE'O: It shows itself every day. I think as time starts to run out, you start to realize what really matters and the impact this place and the people here have had on my life.
You know, through the things that I've experienced through my career here and things that I've experienced in my personal life, the loss and also the triumph, Notre Dame has always been there, always been there to support.
It's definitely a blessing to be part of this family and to be part of the Notre Dame brand. I think every day, and this coming Saturday will be another experience for me saying, This is why I came here.
Q. How many family members will be at the game?
MANTI TE'O: Approximately 40 people coming.
Q. How many siblings do you have?
MANTI TE'O: I have six.
Q. What's the division?
MANTI TE'O: Pardon? Oh, four boys, two girls.
Q. You've been through highs and lows here with your career. Has there been any season more special than this one to you?
MANTI TE'O: No. I think a senior season is always going to be special regardless of whether they're winning or losing. I think for us, we're just fortunate to be winning. Makes it that much more special.
Definitely there is no other season more special than my senior year. Just thankful that part of that senior season includes a 10?0 record. It makes it that much more special.
Q. You touched on legacy, and your name right now is being thrown around in the Heisman consideration. Does that cross your mind at this point?
MANTI TE'O: No. I think when my name is being tossed around as a national champion, that's what I'm looking for. You ask any Heisman winner that wasn't a national champion what they would rather be, and I think they would rather be the latter, a national champion.
So that's what I want. I rather be holding a crystal ball than a bronze statue. That's just me.
Q. Has your Notre Dame career been what you expected it to be so far?
MANTI TE'O: No. It's been more than what I expected, it's been more than what I hoped for, and that's what's going to make this Saturday that much more of a special experience for me and my family.
Q. Regarding Kapron Lewis?Moore, what kind of energy and leadership has he brought, and how valuable has that been to the team?
MANTI TE'O: He has great energy, a positive energy. Kap is always positive and working hard. Old man Kap, he's beaten down sometimes, but he always seems it smile and try to uplift our team. Our team is better because Kap is the captain.
I'm grateful that I have him by my side as the defensive captain. It makes my job easier, and hopefully I make his job a lot easier too.
But to have Kap on the D?line and really be that anchor and such a powerful force definitely has made our defense better and has made my job a lot easier.
Q. I'm sure you guys get used to the celebrity status and everything that being a Notre Dame football player brings with it, but I run into people that talk about you the way that I don't know that I've heard them talk about players before. Are you aware of the impact you have on people, a lot of people you have never even met and what you mean to people? How does that resonate or how do you carry that with you?
MANTI TE'O: I don't know to what extreme I've had an impact on people, but I just try to have as positive an impact on as many people as I can. That's what I try to do.
What I've learned is that people may not necessarily know your name or remember where you're from, but they'll definitely know how you made them feel. If I can make somebody feel important, make somebody feel included, I've always been like that since I was young. Make people feel that they're a part of something instead of excluded.
I really don't know. I think I try to stay in my own little world and stay grounded and levelheaded as much as I can and focus on my team and my family and trying to finish my career off strong.
But I think at the end of the day when I leave here, you know, I think I will realize the kind of impact I've had at this place.
Q. Going off that a little bit, you said you would know you made the right decision to come back when you see the stands on Senior Day. Many would argue you could already see the impact through the Michigan game or any other home game here. What more could you possibly expect this weekend from the crowd turnout?
MANTI TE'O: Just a great experience throughout the game. I already know what to expect. I don't know how it's going to be. I think for me, my senior game, I'm just going to take a moment to embrace everything and go and play the game and sit back after the game is over? hopefully after a great game? and embrace everything after.
I really don't know. I don't really?? I just don't know.
Q. Does it seem like it's been four years? Has it been a lot faster? What's the feeling like?
MANTI TE'O: I think you ask anybody who is a student athlete, especially here at Notre Dame, throughout the process it seems like if lasts forever. But as you come to the end, you know, everything seems like it was just a blur.
So definitely seemed like it has gone fast. For me, a little bit too fast.
Q. How has the experience changed you?
MANTI TE'O: It's definitely changed my life in different ways from the people I've met through the team, my teammates, classmates, to school. Just a great experience.
Everything here at Notre Dame is just so positive. I'm just, like I said before, grateful to be part of this family and a part of this Notre Dame brand.
It's something that when you leave here, you will forever be a part of this place. To see former players come back, people welcome them with open arms. You don't see that at other places.
Q. When you look back on the days when you first got there and you were maybe a little homesick, did you ever think about it ending like this, a senior season with all the accolades and a chance to have a national championship?
MANTI TE'O: I think, no, as a freshman you're just trying to get acclimated and used to everything. You miss home. Every freshman goes through growing pains.
For me, I couldn't have pictured a senior year like this and a career here at Notre Dame like mine. I've experienced just a lot of different things, and I'm just definitely grateful for this experience and opportunity to be here at Notre Dame.
Q. What got you through the growing pains and what let you know that you could last there and make it?
MANTI TE'O: Just my family. My family sacrificed a lot for me to be here, and for me to give up and to quit, it just wasn't in me. I understood the time and the money and just the countless hours that my family sacrificed so that I could be here standing in front of this microphone.
So for me to give up, it just wasn't in the equation.
Q. I know you obviously get a lot of Heisman questions and all that stuff, but especially being a defensive player, a linebacker, could even being mentioned for the Heisman, was it even a blip on your radar when you were coming here four years ago?
MANTI TE'O: No. I think the only time I was ever mentioned with the Heisman was my video game, my little road to glory I used to play. But never in my life would I have thought that it would become a reality where I would even be mentioned with the name Heisman.
Q. Is it kind of surreal now that you are?
MANTI TE'O: Yeah. I hear it a lot more than I think of it. People tell me. I'm just trying to take care of business on the field and trying to do my best to make sure that at the end of the day my team is successful.
Q. I'm sure you played your share of sandlot football growing up. Did you ever strike a Heisman pose in the backyard or playground?
MANTI TE'O: No, not really. I think it was just all for fun. Back in the days it was all for fun and all out of love.