MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – As Manti Te’o entered the Notre Dame locker room following a disappointing 42-14 loss to Alabama, the hugs began. One after another, Te’o hugged his teammates until he finally made it back to his locker.
There he stood for a second, reached for his phone -- completely oblivious of the media horde that had followed him in -- and finally turned around with tears welling in his eyes.
This was not the way he envisioned the end of his Notre Dame career.
“This definitely sucks,” Te’o said. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t trade this team for anything. I wouldn’t do anything differently. Obviously, we wish that the night could have ended in a different way, but the season, the year, my career here, I’ve been really blessed to be at Notre Dame and I’ll forever be proud to say that I’m a Notre Dame Fighting Irish.”
[Related: Alabama routs Notre Dame for yet another BCS title | Photos]
Te’o had a dream season. He finished the year with 113 tackles and seven interceptions. He was the heart and soul of a team that went from 8-5 a year ago to an improbable undefeated regular season. He won the Maxwell Award for the nation’s most outstanding player. He also won the Walter Camp (player of the year), Bednarik (defensive player of the year), Lombardi (best lineman) and Nagurski awards. he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
But that dream season turned into a nightmare Monday when it seemed like everything he did was wrong. Even though he finished with 10 total tackles, there were several he missed. During the first drive, Alabama running back Eddie Lacy made Te’o look foolish on more than one occasion and when Te’o was asked about his personal effort, all he could do was sigh.
“I’m obviously disappointed, but I learned from [Baltimore Ravens linebacker] Ray Lewis, there are worse things out there,” Te’o said. “I just played a game and a very big game, a game that I wish that I could have won, but life goes on and you learn from it.
“I had a lot of opportunities to make plays and I didn’t. I think the greatest thing is I walked off the field with no regrets. I played as hard as I could. Definitely, there were a couple of plays that I could have done better on, but I walked off the field knowing that I gave it my all.”
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Te’o’s all might not be good enough for the NFL. Te’o didn’t want to talk about his draft stock or its possible decline, but he started the day as a possible first-round draft pick and by the end of the night – especially the first half where he was manhandled by the Alabama offensive line – Te’o’s status as one of the league’s top picks was in serious jeopardy. It was the first time Te’o had played a line with the size, speed and skill of Alabama’s and it showed he wasn’t ready.
Still, in grand Te’o fashion, he tried to see the bright side of a mediocre day.
“I just use it as fuel, I just use it as fuel to be better,” Te’o said. “That’s all you can use it for. Like I said, life goes on. What are you going to take from this? Are you just going to sulk and just sit back and feel sorry for yourself? Or are you going to get up and do something about it? I have an opportunity to do something about it. And one day it’s going to make me better.”
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