"There are guys that people gravitate towards. There are guys that set a standard for the way they play. And right now it's (Manti) Te'o on defense and (Michael) Floyd on offense," Kelly said at the season opening presser.
Te'o, an inside linebacker, is one of those all-worldly college football recruits that earn the highest ratings possible from every recruiting service imaginable. His recruiting process was highly publicized, and his final two choices were the Irish and USC. Given the current direction of the two programs, it's pretty obvious he made the right choice.
Te'o discussed his status as the face of the 2010 ND defense despite being just a sophomore.
"At the fall camp last year when I was a freshman David Grimes told me something that has stuck. I was telling him my struggles about being away from home and he told me that the biggest thing about football is whether it be high school, college or the NFL, the bottom line is that it's still football. It doesn't matter how big the guys make it or how fast they get We just have to play the way we know how to play and things will fall into place. I went with that counsel and it's helped me," he said.
And leadership is a trait present in the LB's high school as well. The Laie, Hawaii native attended Punahou high school, alma mater of current POTUS Barack Obama. His senior year of high school coincided with Obama's historic election victory.
"It was pretty intense, everyone was cheering, and then a couple weeks later we won the first football state championship in our school's history. And being able to capitalize on one of our alumni being elected as the president, it was a good time for our high school," Te'o said at Media Day.
Last year, the 6-2, 245lb LB posted the third-most tackles ever by an Irish rookie; and ranked fourth on ND with 63 stops in 2009.
His defensive coordinator Bob Diaco described him thusly:
"He's definitely in the top cut of maturity. He's just a mature person with a big heart. Always in service, in service to the student body, his teammates, his coaches, helping out his buddies. So when you factor that with his tangible skill set on the field, that's really a special blend."
As the Irish transition back to the 3-4 as their base defense, Te'o (a projected first-rounder in the 2012 NFL Draft) is on the watch lists for the Nagurski, Lombardi, Bednarik, and Butkus Awards.
I asked Te'o about which linebackers he looks up to in the NFL.
"Patrick Willis, Ray Lewis, Dick Butkus- just trying to to learn how they move, what they see. How I can try make the moves that they make. To be the best you need to be a student of the game," he responded.
Written by Paul M. Banks, president and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest-focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune's blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network and Fox Sports.com