By stacy kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
Seventeen with rock-star-like status.
Such is the life of Punahou School senior Manti Te'o. An Advertiser all-state linebacker last season, he is a preseason all-American by national outlets that rank college football prospects this season. He is the fifth-ranked prospect by www.Rivals.com and sixth by ESPNU's top 150. He is the top-ranked linebacker by both.
The La'ie family's mailbox, as well as Punahou's athletic department's, is deluged with recruiting letters from top 25 schools and others.
He has highlights documented on YouTube, the Internet video Web site.
The New York Times has asked that he do a weekly journal.
"Honestly, this is overwhelming for us," said Brian Te'o, Manti's father. "We planned to work hard to get him to be somewhat marketable so hopefully he could land a scholarship somewhere. We didn't know it would blow up into what it is today. I really think it's because he has been blessed."
As of yesterday, there were 31 or 32 offers. It's to the point where Manti has lost count. Brigham Young and Southern California were the first two to offer him. And that was when he was a sophomore. But he can just about name his school. Also offering are Notre Dame, Stanford, Colorado, Tennessee, UCLA and Hawai'i, to name just a few.
"My parents and I thought it would be what the other Kahuku (area) kids get, BYU and UH," Manti said. "I'm not saying that's bad or anything, but that's all we knew was BYU and UH. Suddenly, all these other colleges started coming in."
A hint of what was to come came during the summer between his eighth- and ninth-grade years. He attended the All-Poly football camp in Utah. It's common for players, including a number from Hawai'i, to hone their skills and market themselves to college coaches who work the camp.
The camp was split into JV and varsity players. Manti did drills with the JV players, but when scrimmages began, one of the camp coaches had him with the varsity, much to the surprise of Brian Te'o. But it was the coach who was surprised the most when the father said his son was going to be a freshman.
"He said, 'What?' " Brian Te'o said.
"That's how it all started."
Manti said being thrown in with the older players was a blessing.
"It showed how strong they were and how weak I was and how slow I was and how fast I needed to be," he said. "It really woke me up."
But the family's marketing plan to get him to college took a detour. After attending Punahou from seventh to eight grade, Manti wanted to return to Kahuku, claiming homesickness. He played on the Red Raiders' junior varsity as freshman. But soon he realized where he belonged.
"I had to make a decision," Manti said. "This was my future."
He returned to Punahou for his sophomore year and started on the varsity. He hasn't looked back since.
"It was the first time in his young life that he made a decision of something important," Brian Te'o said.
And while Manti's athletic achievements have been well-documented, he has been carrying himself proudly off it. He is maintaining a 3.2 grade point average and will be under review this fall to become an Eagle Scout.
He said his mother Ottilia and his younger sisters — BrieAnne and Tiare, who will be a junior and freshman, respectively, at Punahou — keep him on his toes academically. Manti said his two sisters do well in the classroom.
The big question, of course, is where will Manti pick for college. He and his father have agreed to narrow the choices to five — he can take up to five expense-paid recruiting trips — about the time classes begin at Punahou in a couple of weeks. He doesn't want to keep other schools waiting for his decision when they could be using his offer for another player. Plus, he wants to keep phone calls to a more manageable level.
Manti is Mormon, so the school he picks must be sensitive to a two-year mission he plans to take after his freshman year.