CHESTNUT HILL — Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is a Heisman Trophy candidate and an NFL prospect who is playing for the No. 3 college football team in the country. So when he came here to play against Boston College over the weekend, you would’ve thought he was sitting on top of the world.
But Te’o hasn’t been living the dream in his senior year with the Fighting Irish, who boosted their record to 10-0 with a methodical 21-6 triumph over BC on Saturday night.
The football part of his life couldn’t be any better; it’s the other 20 hours a day that Te’o often struggles with. It’s been that way since the early September day when his grandmother and his girlfriend died of leukemia within six hours of each other.
There is no statute of limitations on grief. Te’o continues to lean on family and teammates for support. And Te’o revealed after the BC game that when he really hit rock bottom in the hours after the death of two loved ones, he received extraordinary compassion from his head coach, Brian Kelly, the St. John’s Prep alum who is in his third season at Notre Dame.
“When I had my personal tragedy, he was the first one there for me,” Te’o said of Kelly. “He was there by my side, making sure I had all the help that I needed.
“To me, that’s the measure of the character of a man,” Te’o added. “He was a family member to me when it all happened. Coach Kelly was there for me in every way. He’s an incredible coach and an incredible man to me.”
A 21-year-old senior, Te’o wasn’t one of Kelly’s recruits coming out of Punahou High School in Hawaii; former Patriots assistant Charlie Weis was the Notre Dame head coach at the time, and he was battling 28 other schools to sign Te’o, who appeared to be ticketed for Southern Cal. Te’o changed his mind when he was in South Bend, Ind., on a day when the Irish were upset by Syracuse and Weis and the players were pelted with snowballs.