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Monday, April 26, 2010

More confident Te'o a plus for Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- You would never peg Manti Te'o as a guy who lacks confidence.

Whether it's his chiseled 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame that allowed him to become one of the top prep defensive players in the country or his decision to shock everyone and leave Hawaii for Notre Dame or the way he calmly talks before a gaggle of reporters, Te'o usually seems at ease.

But in his freshman season for the Irish, Te'o might as well have been the nerd in the corner at the school dance.

"I'm not the type to get nervous, but honestly I can say last year that I was nervous," he said. "I was scared because I didn't want to make a mistake."

The numbers say Te'o had a solid freshman season, registering 63 tackles despite not moving into the starting lineup until halfway through the year. He made some plays that showed off his unlimited potential. But Te'o says that he "remembers the mistakes a lot more than the plays."

First-year Irish coach Brian Kelly, perhaps prodding through the media for motivation, said earlier this spring that Te'o "wasn't very good" as a freshman. These days, though, it's hard to find anyone who doesn't believe Te'o is primed for a huge sophomore campaign.

He's moving into a new role on the defense, taking over at middle linebacker after spending his first year on the outside in space. That's a comfortable spot for Te'o who played that position in a 3-4 defense in high school. He'll be making defensive calls for the first time but said that responsibility "feels familiar" to him.

While defensive coordinator Bob Diaco wants to be careful not to place too much on Te'o's platter, he calls him a "sponge" who has picked up the system well so far. That's one big, fast sponge.

"When he gets a hold of you and runs and slams into you, there's an impact there that's a little different than the rest," Diaco said.

Te'o has a playful, energetic personality that has quickly endeared him to the rest of the team, and he's not afraid to take charge both on the field and in social settings. As for that nervousness he experienced last year?

"I've got all that behind me now, " he said "I just know what I've got to do."

Kelly isn't offering much criticism of his star linebacker now. There's nothing but confidence emanating from and toward Manti Te'o.

"He's really matured in the past three months," Kelly said. "He will be a leader and he will be a premier player in college football."

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