At that time, I was a USC fan, I wanted to go to USC. The answer I felt to come here (Notre Dame) wasn't the answer I anticipated, and wasn't the one I wanted. —Manti Te'o
Before he stopped counting, Manti Te'o had 29 college football scholarship offers. A parade of coaches and recruiters racked up thousands of frequent-flyer miles with numerous flights to Hawaii to see him play and pitch their school. He made visits to some of the top programs around the country, including BYU.
In the end, Manti Te'o's said his decision to play football at Notre Dame came down to a matter of prayer.
"I prayed about it and everything pointed towards Notre Dame," the all-American linebacker from Hawaii said during a press conference Wednesday. "Notre Dame is where I came because I felt that I was directed here."
During his final years at Punahou High, Te'o told recruiters up front he was considering a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If that didn't fit into their plans, he would consider other options. Few, if any, flinched. He eventually narrowed the field down to USC, Notre Dame, Stanford and BYU. He decided later not to serve a mission.
Ultimately, Te'o called BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall to decline the Cougars' offer.
Kale Ane, Te'o's football coach at Punahou, said turning down BYU was tough for Te'o.
"He is LDS. It weighed heavy on him and his family," Ane said. "They prayed a lot, he had a great visit. It's one of those things where you never know until a few years later if you made the right decision."
Before the Fighting Irish played Stanford on Oct. 13, Notre Dame's senior defensive captain was asked why he didn't sign with the Cardinal.
"I really enjoyed Stanford. I was really close to (then head) coach (Jim) Harbaugh and coach Andy Buh, who was the linebacker coach at that time. It was a really, really fun visit for me to be there and to be on the West Coast and near a lot of family. But ... I prayed about it. That's not saying anything about Stanford, because Stanford is a great school. But I prayed about it and everything pointed to Notre Dame."
Growing up, Te'o was a die-hard USC Trojan fan. He didn't really know anything about Notre Dame until he saw what became known as the "Bush Push," an intense 2005 USC-Notre Dame contest in which the game ended with Reggie Bush pushing quarterback Matt Leinart into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
"My parents knew (Notre Dame) was held to a different standard," Te'o said. "When I received an official letter from them, it was like, 'Wow,' my parents took a step back."
Then head Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis really wanted Te'o in South Bend, but it seemed to be a long shot. He sent his assistant, Brian Polian, to Hawaii 11 times over a period of 15 months, according to Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. The coaching staff worried he wouldn't come because his visit was "a train wreck." The Irish were coming off seasons of 3-9 and 7-6. Then an early snow storm hit the area after Te'o showed up in shorts and flip-flops.
But when it came time to sign, Te'o surprised many by choosing Notre Dame. He explained what happened in a radio interview with Jim Rome Wednesday.
"My dad always told me, the hardest thing when asking the Lord for advice is not necessarily getting on your knees and praying, but having the courage to follow through with the answer that you receive. At that time, I was a USC fan, I wanted to go to USC. The answer I felt to come here (Notre Dame) wasn’t the answer I anticipated, and wasn’t the one I wanted," Te'o said. "But from the things that have happened, not related to football, the support and love I’ve gotten here, especially with the adversity that hit recently, from teammates, fans, both Notre Dame and non Notre Dame fans, have given my family, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else."
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