We typically don’t do post-spring projections for incoming freshmen, mainly because outside of early admission, the newbies aren’t even on campus in the spring.
But in the case of Manti Te'o, the immediate impact he is expected to make is enough to warrant some speculation on where he will end up, and how productive he will be.
Te’o will come to Notre Dame as only the fourth USA Today Defensive Player of the Year for the Irish since the publication launched its award in 1982. The others were John Foley (1986), Oliver Gibson (1990) and Kory Minor (1995). In addition, Te’o was named by The Sporting News the 2008 High School Athlete of the Year.
This is the crown jewel of the incoming recruiting class, and Te’o is expected to earn significant and immediate playing time, similarly to Jimmy Clausen in 2007 and Michael Floyd last season.
“This is a linebacker that’s going to make an instant impact for us. He’s every bit of that 6-2, 225 – that might not be doing him justice, having seen him in person multiple times,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “There’s a reason why you’re rated as the best linebacker in the country and the best defensive player in the country. You don’t get that by default.”
Te’o even got high praise from his crotchety position coach, John Tenuta, who called his new student the best freshman prospect he’s been around since linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer at Ohio State in 1996.
This was a great get for Notre Dame…boy, there’s some breaking news.
“I wanted to make a difference, and Notre Dame is on the way up,” Te’o told the Honolulu Advertiser after his commitment. “I want to help build a dynasty, instead of just joining one. That was a big pull for me. ?I’ve always been one to blaze my own trail. My dream is to be part of a program that’s building itself back to greatness,”
All the praise and promise have been great, but with it comes big expectations. Will Te’o do enough during fall camp to start against Nevada? Is he better suited as a backup, at least to start the season? Where exactly will he play?
It appears Te’o will align at the inside Will linebacker position in the 4-3 because it’s a position devoid of experience now that Maurice Crum and Steve Quinn have graduated. That position battle will likely develop between Te’o and sophomore Steve Filer, though sophomores David Posluszny and Anthony McDonald are also in the mix.
It’s important to remember that not unlike Te’o, Filer arrived with tremendous fanfare as well and was a “must have” recruit last year. We anticipate both Filer and Te’o will see their share of action this season if they stay healthy.
The biggest uncertainty surrounding Te’o doesn’t have anything to do with talent or tackles. It’s more about his longer-term future with the program.
At the age of 19, many Mormons embark on a church mission for one or two years, and Te’o said he plans on following his faith and performing his mission after his freshman year. ??That would mean his football career would be suspended after one year.
My colleague John Haynsworth made a good point this spring in talking about Te’o’s future. As a linebacker, moving away from football for a year or more would certainly take its toll physically, and potentially have a negative impact on future NFL plans. Perhaps performing his mission work during the summer – similar to Tim Tebow at Florida – would keep him from missing any live time and be the best option.