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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Manti Te'o was shaped by his family and Laie neighborhood

By Paul Honda

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 01, 2008

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There is a line etched into the heart of Laie Point, on quiet little Naupaka Street. On one side of the line, if you travel just a bit, is a slice of heaven. Awaiting are the 35-foot cliffs of the Point, where bold teenagers and loopy middle-agers dive into the aqua blue depths - normally when the tide is high and safe.

Fast facts: Manti Te’o

» Last name has an apostrophe, not an okina, between the e and the o

» First of five children to Brian and Ottilia, who met at Kahuku High School (class of 1989). He played football; she played volleyball

» Had 29 scholarship offers before he lost count

» Highest nationally rated linebacker in Hawaii history

» Also plays running back; had a 99-yard touchdown run last season

» Favorite food: dad's prime rib and mom's crab

» Cousin Shiloah Te'o plays at BYU

» The original Manti was a city in the Book of Mormon

» Plans to go on a two-year Mormon mission

» Final five: BYU, Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA and USC

» Before Manti was born, dad Brian was a pre-med major

» Monthly gasoline bill for Laie-Punahou commute: $600

Venture to the other side of that line, and the path leads to a wall at the end of the street. The wall is solid and unyielding, one that represents both goal and a bit of hell on earth for one particularly devout athlete. Eight-year-old Manti Te'o trained on the pavement while most kids reset their video-game consoles or were sound asleep.

Brian Te'o, a former Kahuku fullback, started his first-born child with sprints and plyometrics in the big front yard of their home. Manti, often playing sports with kids two to three years older, was in love with football. Today, the Punahou senior, at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, is the highest-rated high school linebacker in the nation.

The same neighborhood kids who occasionally joined Te'o and best friend Robby Toma for training were more likely to hit the pavement when the portable basketball rims were rolled out. They'd play hoops or football 'til 2 in the morning.

"We used to hear their laughter," said Ipolani Thompson, one of the neighborhood aunties. "It would touch our hearts."

These weren't your average kids. Toma, who lives just four houses away, carpools with Manti on the long journey from the Point to Punahou, where the football team is ranked fourth in the state.

Aulola Tonga, now a Kahuku safety, and his sister Malia, a volleyball player, are three houses away. Next to them are the Tafunas. Siu, a defensive back, graduated from Punahou in June and is now at the Naval Academy prep school. His brother, George, is a linebacker at New Mexico State. Their sister, Lei, plays volleyball at Wright State.

Next door to the Te'o home is the Kaululaau ohana. Howard, the former Kahuku boys volleyball coach, is now at Word of Life. His children, Hapaki and Shanlie, play volleyball in college.

Manti never tired of trying to talk the neighborhood kids into joining in, whether it was running or lifting next door at an uncle's house. The more he "recruited," the longer the rest between reps.

"You know how they say misery loves company," he said.

When they started back in 1999, the training consisted only of a speed ladder.

"At first, they laughed," Brian recalled. "The next thing you know, everyone and their dog has a ladder."

They added the sprints on Naupaka Street with that etched line in front of the Te'o house as the starting block.

"Ten times from the line to the wall is one mile. From Siu's mailbox to Robby's house is a 40-yard dash," Manti said.

Running the other way to the Point and back was another course.

Then came the snake, introduced by Brian's brother, Ephraim. A series of hops, left to right, right to left, through a zig-zag course. With time, the bar to hop over moved to the next level, then the next, until you leap the top height of 5 feet. Ephraim's son, Malosi, lived with the family during his senior year.

"Malosi was a machine," Brian said. "He would clear the highest one with ease."

Toma, who has a 36-inch vertical leap, is one of the top wide receivers in the state and received his first scholarship offer last week from Army. Te'o is the Star-Bulletin's returning defensive player of the year. Last week, he whittled down dozens of offers to a final five: BYU, Notre Dame, UCLA, USC and Stanford.

The two endured 6 a.m. (or sometimes 5 p.m.) workouts - to avoid the heat, taskmaster Brian says -and never backed out. Not once. Shanlie, Lei, even Nile Te'o - another cousin who stars for Kahuku now - joined in sometimes.

"It wasn't until the beginning of his sophomore year that Manti started working out on his own," Brian said. "It's great now to see that what we said back then came true. We'd always said it'll pay off."

The best part, though, was when everyone was together.

"We have 'hobo' dinners on the pit," Manti said of the makeshift barbecue in the yard. "Steak. Lobster. On 'game nights,' we played Gestures (a party-style game), parents against us. That was so funny."

For the dads, it was also about Halo tournaments against the boys.

"We're getting slaughtered every time," Brian said. "All you hear is us yelling, 'You guys cheat!' "

THE WHIRLWIND of recruiting never knocked over Manti. His dad was a steady filter between the colleges and his oldest child. There were a few moments that had both scratching their heads.

Coach Joe Paterno told Manti, 'If you come to Penn State, you'd win the Bednarik Award."

Brian thought he said, "Bo Derek award."

For Brian and Ottilia (Santiago) Te'o, an intermediate school counselor at Punahou, enrolling the children there was a natural progression. With Brian's job at Kuhio Park Terrace as a PACT director, the daily commute is just a fact of life.

Carpooling with Siu Tafuna and Toma brought the Punahou boys from Laie Point closer.

By next fall, a new chapter opens. Wherever Manti ends up, there really is no place like home.

"That's the thing about Laie. Everything in the fridge, the pantry, is yours. My house, Robby's house, Siu's house," Manti said. "What I love about here, it's separate from school and work. There's no other place where you can lay in the middle of the road and nothing happens to you. Everybody knows everybody. You feel safe. Family, to me, is a big thing. Without family, there's nothing. I think that's what pulls the whole community together.

"Laie is the best place to raise kids."

There is a line etched into the heart of Laie Point, on quiet little Naupaka Street. On one side of the line, if you travel just a bit, is a slice of heaven. Awaiting are the 35-foot cliffs of the Point, where bold teenagers and loopy middle-agers dive into the aqua blue depths - normally when the tide is high and safe.

Fast facts: Manti Te’o

» Last name has an apostrophe, not an okina, between the e and the o

» First of five children to Brian and Ottilia, who met at Kahuku High School (class of 1989). He played football; she played volleyball

» Had 29 scholarship offers before he lost count

» Highest nationally rated linebacker in Hawaii history

» Also plays running back; had a 99-yard touchdown run last season

» Favorite food: dad's prime rib and mom's crab

» Cousin Shiloah Te'o plays at BYU

» The original Manti was a city in the Book of Mormon

» Plans to go on a two-year Mormon mission

» Final five: BYU, Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA and USC

» Before Manti was born, dad Brian was a pre-med major

» Monthly gasoline bill for Laie-Punahou commute: $600

Venture to the other side of that line, and the path leads to a wall at the end of the street. The wall is solid and unyielding, one that represents both goal and a bit of hell on earth for one particularly devout athlete. Eight-year-old Manti Te'o trained on the pavement while most kids reset their video-game consoles or were sound asleep.

Brian Te'o, a former Kahuku fullback, started his first-born child with sprints and plyometrics in the big front yard of their home. Manti, often playing sports with kids two to three years older, was in love with football. Today, the Punahou senior, at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, is the highest-rated high school linebacker in the nation.

The same neighborhood kids who occasionally joined Te'o and best friend Robby Toma for training were more likely to hit the pavement when the portable basketball rims were rolled out. They'd play hoops or football 'til 2 in the morning.

"We used to hear their laughter," said Ipolani Thompson, one of the neighborhood aunties. "It would touch our hearts."

These weren't your average kids. Toma, who lives just four houses away, carpools with Manti on the long journey from the Point to Punahou, where the football team is ranked fourth in the state.

Aulola Tonga, now a Kahuku safety, and his sister Malia, a volleyball player, are three houses away. Next to them are the Tafunas. Siu, a defensive back, graduated from Punahou in June and is now at the Naval Academy prep school. His brother, George, is a linebacker at New Mexico State. Their sister, Lei, plays volleyball at Wright State.

Next door to the Te'o home is the Kaululaau ohana. Howard, the former Kahuku boys volleyball coach, is now at Word of Life. His children, Hapaki and Shanlie, play volleyball in college.

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