Manti's reasons for returning will inevitably be used as an Irish recruiting pitch for years to come. He told students at a pep rally at Dillon Hall, "You're the reason I'm coming back."
Te'o also wanted something else: to experience Senior Day with his parents. At the end of his junior season, he watched as Steve Filer, a five-star linebacker who never panned out and tore his ACL as a senior, took the field for the last time. "I saw Steve crutch out there and the joy that his parents had in their eyes," he says. "That's when I realized, 'Mom and Dad, it doesn't matter. I want to share that with you.'"
Te'o will graduate in December with a 3.3 GPA and could be a star in his major, design, if he chose, according to one of his professors, Robert Sedlack. Maybe someday, but Te'o's first stop is the NFL, where he projects as a top 15 pick. One scout compared him with the Patriots' Jerod Mayo. "He's the type of linebacker people are looking for nowadays," says an NFL general manager. "He can play three downs and on special teams."
When he finishes with football, Te'o plans to return to Hawaii and start a foundation to provide athletic opportunities for kids. Like Tebow, he wants to use football to improve the lives of others. But wherever his career takes him, Te'o says, he'll never forget the gesture Notre Dame fans made last Saturday night, following the Michigan game. After midnight had passed and the tailgaters had left, the faithful piled the leis on the statues of Dan Devine, Lou Holtz and Knute Rockne outside the stadium. On a cold autumn night in South Bend, with Notre Dame's football fortunes finally revived, the leis were a tangible sign that Te'o had linked the program's glorious past with a promising future.