Manti Te'o: Mormon Athlete

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Manti Te'o Mormon football hero

Manti Te'o is the only Mormon on the Catholic University Notre Dame's football team, which went undefeated during 2012 season. Finishing the regular season, Te'o had 113 tackles and seven interceptions, in large part thrusting Notre Dame into championship bowl competition. Narrowly missing the Heisman Trophy, Te'o won the Lombardi Award as college football's best linebacker or defensive lineman. Referring to the upcoming bowl game against Alabama, Te'o said,

It's the big dance. It is something that you dream about when you are little and for me to be in that game and playing against a real good Alabama team, it will be a perfect end to this chapter in my life.[1]
When you look at the company I am with — Jarvis, JC, Barrett — all guys that have proven themselves many, many times. For me to walk away with it, I am just very, very grateful. All of those guys are deserving of the trophy as well, so it is just a great experience and great opportunity for me.

Te'o also won the Dick Butkus Award as the best linebacker, and the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player. He was up against Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Kansas State's Collin Klein, both quarterbacks (a defensive player never wins) for the Heisman. He was in New York for the final decision, which went to Manziel. Many in sports were rooting for Te'o, and the press commented on how gracious he was leading up to the decision. [2]

FoxSports.com said the following:

Te’o is the most important, best player on the most important, best (for now) team. Notre Dame wasn’t even expected to do much this year because it doesn’t have a quarterback. Now, a defensive front seven has led a team to the national championship game....Notre Dame went undefeated by stopping offenses, allowing just 10.33 points a game.
Te’o was an Eagle scout. He graduated early from Notre Dame. He is selfless: Shortly after his grandmother died, Te’o was told of a family in Michigan whose young daughter was dying. He selflessly surprised them by writing a touching letter about knowing their pain.
Maybe those things don’t exactly translate into a great football player, but they do make him stand out as someone who is selfless and cares about education. He has plenty of flaws; everyone does. And when he goes on to an NFL career, we’ll find out about them.
But for now, he represents something college football truly needs. [3]

The press often comments on Te'o's shining character. These are the standards he was raised with as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often mistakenly called the Mormon Church. In high school, Te'o had a 3.5 grade-point average and did volunteer work with the Shriners Hospital, Head Start preschool program, Hawai'i Food Bank and Special Olympics.

Manti Te'o is of Samoan descent. He was born on January 26, 1991, and grew up on the island of Oahu in Hawai'i. He was one of the most decorated high school athletes in Hawaii's history. In 2008, Te'o won the inaugural high school Butkus Award, while also being named Sporting News High School Athlete of the Year. [4] He is 6'2" and 255 lbs. Manti is one of six children born to Brian and Ottilia Te'o.

Te'o made to a number of national top ten recruiting lists before the start of the season. Te'o received offers from over 30 college programs. He is regarded as one of the most highly recruited athletes, both in football and for any sport, in the history of the state of Hawaii. Te'o is the first USA Today Defensive Player of the Year to commit to the Irish since Kory Minor in 1995.

Notre Dame met Alabama for the BCS Championship in 2013, and Notre Dame was crushed, its first loss of the season. Going into the game, the Philadelphia Inquirer had this to say:

Fact is, there has never been anyone like Te'o, who forged a path from Oahu to Notre Dame; a Mormon among Catholics; a Samoan among Hoosiers; and, here at the golden end of his Irish career, a linebacker among Heisman Trophy finalists.
Alabama would never go looking for a guy like this, a talent so far outside the usual SEC recruiting trails and norms that he might as well be from Mars, but Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron surely will be searching for Te'o prior to every snap in Monday night's BCS championship game. [5]

The Girlfriend Hoax

When Te'o's grandmother died, the press widely reported that Manti Te'o's girlfriend had died of leukemia around the same time. According to Fox Sports reports in mid-January of 2013, Te'o had, with perfect trust typical of his guile-less personality, developed a deeply affectionate and compelling relationship with a Stanford student online. He learned she had cancer and then was informed of her death, receiving the news as a great tragedy, but deciding to play on according to her deathbed request. This was exposed as a cruel hoax perpetrated on Manti. The athletic director at Notre Dame, Jack Swarbrick, spoke to the press about the situation with much sympathy and fatherly love for Manti. He said the following:

"The grief was real. The affection was real. That's the nature of this sad, cruel game. This was a very elaborate, sophisticated hoax. In many ways, Manti was the perfect victim of a hoax."
”He was not a person who had a second thought in offering his assistance,” Swarbrick said. ”Nothing about what I learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te’o one iota.”
"There is a lot of sorrow, a lot of tragedy here. The single-most trusting human being I’ve ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again. That’s an incredible tragedy.”

Swarbrick added that at this time there is no way to determine the number of people involved in the hoax. He also stated that, in the era of social media, this should serve as a "cautionary tale for young people," [6]

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