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Friday, December 19, 2008

Punahou's Te'o gets national honor

Sporting News names football, basketball star its prep athlete of year

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

Punahou School senior Manti Te'o's latest national honor is one in a million.

Actually, make that one in 7.4 million.

The Sporting News — America's oldest national weekly sports magazine — yesterday announced Te'o would be featured as its High School Athlete of the Year in this week's issue.

Te'o was chosen among the 7.4 million high school athletes playing at more than 38,000 high schools across the country.

"I'm just thankful," Te'o told The Advertiser yesterday afternoon. "I'm thankful to all of Hawai'i."

Te'o is a 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker/running back in football and power forward in basketball. He helped Punahou win state championships in both sports in 2008, a year in which the school was recognized by Sports Illustrated as having the No. 1-ranked athletic program in the nation.

On Dec. 5, Te'o was named the state's Gatorade Football Player of the Year, making him eligible for its national player of the year award. The next day, NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus announced in a ceremony at Punahou's Hemmeter Fieldhouse that Te'o would be the first high school player to receive a Butkus Award recognizing the country's best linebacker.

Though Sports Illustrated is widely recognized as the nation's leading sports weekly, The Sporting News actually predates SI by about 65 years and remains among the leading national sports publications.

"The only thing I knew about Sporting News was the magazine; I didn't know about the award," said Te'o, who was notified after Sporting News officials informed his father, Brian, last week. "I'm kind of oblivious to all this right now."

It certainly has been a whirlwind for Te'o the past five weeks.

He earned his Eagle Scout badge on Nov. 11, made an official campus visit to the University of Notre Dame the following week, played host to head coaches from Notre Dame, Brigham Young and Stanford the week of Dec. 1, met Butkus as he was announced as the Butkus Award winner on Dec. 5, then helped the Buffanblu defeat Leilehua, 38-7, for the school's first football state championship that night.

Te'o played in the inaugural Hawai'i/Polynesia-Mainland Bowl on Dec. 12 against a team of top college prospects, then hosted Southern California linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. at his home Monday night.

He is on Punahou's basketball team, which opened play in the Punahou Holiday Classic last night, but did not play. Te'o said he probably will not play basketball before the New Year.

Te'o has narrowed his college choices to five: BYU, Notre Dame, USC, UCLA and Stanford. He visited UCLA in September and has scheduled visits to BYU the weekend of Jan. 9, Stanford on Jan. 16 and USC on Jan. 23.

He said he does not plan to make a verbal commitment until completing all of the visits.

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