Manti Malietau Louis Teʻo (/ /, MAN-tie-TAY-oh; born January 26, 1991) is an American football inside linebacker for the San Diego Chargers of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Notre Dame, where he was recognized as a consensus All-American, received eight national awards, and became one of the most decorated college football players of all time. He was drafted by the Chargers in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
One of the enduring stories of Notre Dame's 2012 season was Te'o's strong play following the death of his grandmother and girlfriend, as well as his emergence as a Heisman Trophy candidate. In January 2013, the sports blog Deadspin revealed that the existence and death of his girlfriend had been faked. An acquaintance of Te'o claimed sole responsibility for orchestrating a hoax, assuming fault for luring Te'o into an online relationship with a nonexistent woman.
High school career
Te'o played for Punahou School, a private co-ed institution in Manoa, Honolulu, where he had also attended middle school. Te'o began his varsity career in 2006 with stellar play that won him selection to the second-team all-state roster as a sophomore.
As a junior in 2007, Te'o was named the state defensive player of the year by the Honolulu Advertiser and the Gatorade state player of the year. He received first-team all-state honors while totaling 90 tackles and five sacks on defense and 400 rushing yards and ten touchdowns as a running back. Te'o drew considerable attention from colleges and recruiters in the process.
Te'o came into his senior year as one of the most celebrated players and recruits both on the state and national levels, landing on a number of national top ten recruiting lists before the start of the season. He received offers from over 30 college programs. During his senior year, Te'o helped lead Punahou to its first-ever state championship in football during the 2008 season. He amassed 129 tackles, including 11 sacks, forced three fumbles, tipped four passes and totaled 19 quarterback hurries. On offense at running back, Te'o rushed for 176 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and four touchdowns and had three receptions, two for touchdowns. He also had three interceptions, returning one 49 yards for a touchdown. He also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.
He received his second straight Gatorade state player of the year award for his play during the season and was named first-team all-state and the state defensive player of the year for the second straight season. Te'o was such a force that The Honolulu Advertiser considered just naming him the overall state player of the year. 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.
In 2008, Te'o won the inaugural Butkus Award at the high school level, awarded to the best prep linebacker in the United States. He was also named the 2008 Sporting News High School Athlete of the Year, becoming the first person from the state of Hawaii and the first athlete of Polynesian descent to receive the award. USA Today named Te'o the national Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American. He is only the third high school player from Hawaii to be named to the USA Today All-American team, after Pat Kesi in 1990 and Jason Ching in 1995 (Ching, too, is a Punahou and Notre Dame alumnus). Te'o was also named to the 2009 Parade All-American team as well. On January 10, 2010, Te'o was named the Hawaii State Defensive Player of the Decade (2000–2009) by the Honolulu Advertiser.
College recruitment and rankings
Te'o was consensually regarded as one of the elite prospects of the class of 2009. Major recruiting service Rivals.com listed him as a five-star recruit—the first from Hawaii since Jonathan Mapu in 2002—and ranked him second among inside linebackers only behind Vontaze Burfict. Also listed as five-star recruit, Te'o was ranked as the No. 1 strongside linebacker in his class by Scout.com.
|Name||Hometown||High school / college||Height||Weight||40‡||Commit date|
|Honolulu, HI||Punahou||6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)||225 lb (102 kg)||4.6||Feb 4, 2009|
|Scout: Rivals: 247Sports: N/A ESPN grade: 93|
On National Signing Day of 2009, Te'o committed to the University of Notre Dame. He chose the Fighting Irish, then coached by Charlie Weis, over Brigham Young and Southern California. Te'o was the first USA Today Defensive Player of the Year to commit to the Irish since Kory Minor in 1995.
Te'o entered his first college game at the start of the second defensive series early in the second quarter versus Nevada on September 5, 2009. On his third snap Te'o tackled Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick after an 11-yard gain on third and 15 for his first collegiate tackle. After playing, but not starting, his first three games, Te'o made his first collegiate start in the Irish's game versus Purdue. He played in all 12 games of his freshman season and finished the season with 63 tackles, the third-most tackles ever by a Notre Dame freshman behind Bob Golic (82 in 1975) and Ross Browner (68 in 1973). Te'o also recorded 5.5 tackles for loss and 1 sack.
Te'o moved from outside to inside linebacker in 2010 as Notre Dame switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. On April 30, 2010, Te'o was named to the 2010 Lombardi Award & Nagurski Award watch lists.
Te'o led the Fighting Irish in tackles with 133, and was second in tackles for loss with 9.5. Against Stanford on September 25, Te'o finished with 21 total tackles. This total represents a career-high for Te'o and is also the most tackles in a game by an individual for Notre Dame since 2006.
Te'o was named one of 16 semifinalists for both the Butkus Award (Best Collegiate Linebacker) and the Bednarik Award for top College defensive player. He was also named a Second Team All-American by CNNSI.
Te'o led the Fighting Irish in tackles for the second straight season in 2011 with 128. He also led the team in tackles for loss with 13.5 and finished second in sacks with 5.0.
Te'o was named a second team All-American by the Associated Press, Walter Camp Football Foundation, Rivals.com, Phil Steele and CNNSI. He was also named to the Capital One Academic All-American second team.
Te’o announced on December 11, 2011 that he would return to Notre Dame for his senior season. Te'o entered his final season as one of 10 players in Notre Dame history to record over 300 career tackles and started the season eighth on the career tackles list for the Fighting Irish. During the season, Te’o was the leading tackler and leader in interceptions for a 12-0 Notre Dame team which had the second-ranked scoring defense (10.33 points per game) in the country. He had 103 tackles in the regular season (52 solo, 51 assisted, 8.58 per game), including 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks (one for 13 yards of Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones.) Te’o also led the team, as well as all FBS linebackers in the nation, in interceptions. Te’o’s 7 interceptions during the 2012 season are the most by any FBS linebacker since 2001. He ranked third in the nation at 0.58 interceptions per game, and overall only Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas has more, with 8 interceptions this season. Te'o's season-high per game was 2 interceptions for 28 yards against Michigan.
In the 2012 season, Notre Dame ranked second in the nation in scoring defense (10.33 points per game) and ranked in the top 19 nationally in four other defensive categories: fifth in rushing defense (92.42 yards per game), sixth in total defense (287.25 yards per game), 12th in pass efficiency defense (105.58) and 19th in sacks (2.75 per game). Te'o's 8.58 tackles per game is three and a half more per game than the squad's next-most prolific tackler, Zeke Motta (5.09 per game).
Te'o is one of the most decorated defensive players in college football history. He won the 2012 Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year Lott Trophy, as well as the Maxwell Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award, and the Walter Camp Award. In addition, he was named a national scholar-athlete by the National Football Foundation. One of three finalists for the Heisman Trophy, Te'o eventually finished second in the voting to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
In the BCS National Championship Game, Te'o recorded 10 tackles in a 42-14 loss to a 12-1 Alabama team which won its third national championship in four years. Alabama took control from the start and led 14-0 after the first quarter and extended its lead to a 28-0 score by halftime. Te'o finished with 1 assists and 0 solo tackles.
College career statistics
Te'o has 437 total tackles in his four-year career at Notre Dame. He ranks third all-time in school history behind Bob Crable (521, 1978–81) and Bob Golic (479, 1975–78). He has started the past 47 games, beginning with the fourth game of his freshman season, at Purdue. This is the longest streak of any linebacker in the country. He joins Crable as the second player in Notre Dame history to record 100+ tackles in three consecutive seasons.
All statistics from Notre Dame Official Athletic Site,
|Solo||Ast||Total||TFL – Yds||No – Yds||Int – Yds||BU||PD||Qbh||Rcv – Yds||FF||Kick||Saf|
|2009||Notre Dame||12||29||34||63||5.5 – 25||1.0 – 12||0 – 0||1||1||1||0 – 0||0||0||0|
|2010||Notre Dame||13||66||67||133||9.5 – 34||1.0 – 7||0 – 0||3||3||3||0 – 0||1||0||0|
|2011||Notre Dame||13||62||66||128||13.5 – 36||5.0 – 23||0 – 0||2||2||4||0 – 0||1||0||0|
|2012||Notre Dame||13||55||58||113||5.5 – 19||1.5 – 13||7 – 35||4||11||4||2 – 8||0||0||0|
|Career||51||212||225||437||34.0 – 114||8.5 – 55||7 – 35||10||17||12||2 – 8||2||0||0|
Forgoing the chance of a professional career in 2012, Te'o decided to return to Notre Dame after the 2011 season, despite being projected a late first-round pick for the 2012 NFL Draft as early as mid-season of 2011. In preseason mock drafts from May 2012, Te'o was listed as a late first-rounder for the 2013 NFL Draft as well. By mid-season, he had moved up to the mid-first round. Notre Dame has not seen one of their linebackers selected in the first round since Bob Crable in 1982.
|Ht||Wt||Arm length||Hand size||40-yd dash||10-yd split||20-yd split||20-ss||3-cone||Vert||Broad||BP|
|6 ft 1¼ in||241 lb||32½ in||9½ in||4.82 s||1.87 s||2.98 s||4.27 s||7.13 s||33 in||9 ft 5 in||21 reps|
|All values from NFL combine, except bench press (from Notre Dame Pro Day)|
Te'o attended the NFL Combine under a lot of scrutiny by NFL teams. He disappointed with a comparably slow 40-yard dash, but promised to "do a lot better" at his Notre Dame pro day. After the combine, Sports Illustrated projected Te'o to fall out of the first round. In March 2013, Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com, too, projected Te'o would not be selected in the first round. At Notre Dame Pro Day on March 26, Te'o ran faster according to ESPN's Todd McShay (hand-timed 4.75 and 4.71). Subsequently, he was re-listed in first round mock drafts, projected No. 28 overall by ESPN's Todd McShay, and No. 25 overall by Don Banks of Sports Illustrated. Only days before the draft, consensus among draft pundits emerged of Te'o being selected by the Chicago Bears at 20 or the Minnesota Vikings at 23 (or 25). However, Te'o was not selected by any team in the first round, partly because of his off-field issues.
He was selected in the second round, 38th overall by the San Diego Chargers, as the second inside linebacker in the draft behind Alec Ogletree. "It's a perfect scenario. My parents can come and watch, I can go home, it's San Diego," said Te'o on draft day. He is the highest selected Notre Dame linebacker since Demetrius DuBose in 1993.
On May 10, 2013, Te'o signed a four-year contract with the Chargers. The deal includes a $2,141,768 dollar signing bonus and will be worth just over $5 million with over $3.1 million in guaranteed money. He is the second linebacker of Polynesian descent to play for the Chargers after Junior Seau.
Te'o injured his right foot in the Chargers' preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks on August 8, which caused him to miss the remainder of preseason as well as the regular season opener against the Houston Texans. Te'o made his NFL debut in a week 4 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. Te'o finished the game with three tackles as the Chargers won.
Te'o ended the season with 61 tackles and 4 passes defended in 13 games started.
Te'o looked to improve from 2013; however, on September 23, 2014, Te'o suffered a fractured foot. He returned in the middle of the season against the Oakland Raiders. Against the New England Patriots, Te'o intercepted Tom Brady in the red zone, while covering Rob Gronkowski, for his first NFL interception. A few weeks later, in the Chargers comeback victory against the San Francisco 49ers, Te'o earned his first NFL sack by sacking Colin Kaepernick--coincidentally, the first player Te'o tackled in his collegiate career--on a 4th down play. Manti finished the season with 61 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, and 3 pass deflections.
In 2015, Te'o had 63 tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble. He missed four games in mid-season due to an ankle injury.
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. Te'o also became an Eagle Scout in November 2008. Te'o is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
Te'o told many media outlets that both his grandmother and his girlfriend had died on September 11, 2012. Te'o said that his girlfriend, Stanford University student Lennay Kekua, had died after a car accident and subsequently battling leukemia. Te'o did not miss any football games for Notre Dame, saying that he had promised Kekua that he would play even if something had happened to her. Many sports media outlets reported on these tragedies during Te'o's strong 2012 season and emergence as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
After receiving an anonymous email tip in January 2013, reporters Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey of the sports blog Deadspin conducted an investigation into Kekua's identity. On January 16, they published an article alleging that Kekua did not exist and pointed to a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo as involved in the hoax of a relationship with Te'o. Tuiasosopo has been described as a family friend or acquaintance of Te'o. Pictures of Kekua that had been published in the media were actually of Diane O'Meara, a former high school classmate of Tuiasosopo.
On the same day the Deadspin article was published, Notre Dame issued a statement that "Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia." In a press conference, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick confirmed the university had hired private investigators to uncover the source of the hoax, and he clarified that Te'o's relationship with Kekua was "exclusively an online relationship". This conflicted with previous accounts from Te'o and his family that the couple had first met after a football game and that she visited him in Hawaii. Swarbrick said that Te'o informed Notre Dame of the hoax on December 26 after receiving a phone call on December 6 from the woman he knew as Kekua, claiming she was still alive. Te'o mentioned Kekua's death in at least four separate interviews in the days following the phone call.
In response to the growing suspicions that he was involved in the hoax, Te'o agreed to a January 18 interview with sports journalist Jeremy Schaap in which he maintained his innocence. Te'o explained that he had lied to his father and others about meeting her in person because he thought he would be seen as "crazy" for having a serious relationship with a woman he had never met. Te'o said he was angered and confused by the December 6 phone call and had continued to speak of Kekua because the situation was unclear to him. He explained that Tuiasosopo represented himself as the cousin of Lennay Kekua and that the two men had communicated online over the last several years and met once in person at the 2012 Notre Dame/USC game. Te'o said that Tuiasosopo confessed to him on January 16 that he was behind the hoax.
In a January 24 interview on Katie with Katie Couric, Te'o played three voicemails left by Kekua and said the voice "sounds like a girl", an assessment with which many agreed. In an appearance on Dr. Phil on January 31 and February 1, Tuiasosopo confessed to the hoax; he admitted to falling in love with Te'o and using the Kekua identity as an escape. He also recreated the female voice behind a privacy screen. Relatives of Tuiasosopo, however, told the New York Post that Kekua's voice belonged to Tuiasosopo's female cousin. Despite the revelation that Kekua did not exist, former NFL player Reagan Maui'a said that he twice met someone claiming to be Kekua, and that they had been introduced by Tuiasosopo, whom he believed to be Kekua's cousin.