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Te'o, the Football Player

Posted Feb 23, 2013

Teams at the NFL Scouting Combine want to talk football with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, not just an online hoax.

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's been more than a month since the world found out that Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o had fallen victim to an online hoax.

But the story still has plenty of life, and made him the most-anticipated interview of the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, both for the media and teams.

“I just want to talk to him," Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said. "Personally, I don’t get caught up in everything that is swirling around him. I’m looking forward to sitting down and talking to him."

Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis, the media at the combine got that chance. And it seemed no one in the room wanted to miss the opportunity -- virtually everyone in the media room gathered around for Te'o's standing-room-only availability.

The linebacker answered plenty of questions about the hoax, but ultimately the NFL Scouting Combine is about football. And that's what Te'o has been glad to find out teams want to discuss the most.

"They’ve wanted to hear it from me, what the truth was," Te'o said. "They haven’t really said anything about it affecting (my draft status). Some guys just talk briefly for 30 seconds and the next 14 minutes is all plays and getting down to business. That’s how I prefer it to be."

As of Saturday afternoon, Te'o said he had met with the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers, with 18 other formal interviews scheduled.

There's yet to be confirmation that the Broncos will be one of those teams, but when Elway said he wanted to sit down with Te'o, he also noted that he's looking past the controversy when assessing the All-American.

"I know him as a football player," Elway said.

And Te'o the football player produced. For his Notre Dame career, he amassed 437 tackles, 17 passes defensed, 8.5 sacks, seven interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

During his senior year, he led an Irish defense that finished sixth in the nation in total defense and second in scoring defense.

He was a Heisman Trophy finalist after the season, and even though he didn't take home college football's most prestigious award, he earned plenty of hardware.

Te'o was given the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy and the Butkus, Lombardi, Walter Camp, Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski and Maxwell Awards. He was also honored as a national scholar-athlete by the National Football Foundation.

All that hardware made Te'o the most decorated defensive player in college football history.

But the linebacker's performance in the BCS National Championship, a 42-14 loss to Alabama that closed his college career, has drawn plenty of attention as well.

"That's all on me," Te'o said of his lack of impact in the game, noting that the "catfish" situation had no effect. "I played hard and so did my team, but Alabama had a great game plan and so did we. They executed better than we did."

Though Te'o notched 10 tackles, the second-most of any defender in the game, Alabama running back Eddie Lacy essentially ran over him for a 20-yard touchdown less than three minutes into the contest, and Te'o didn't have much of an effect on the game's outcome.

"I really didn’t see him that much," Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker recalled. "He had to go against Chance Warmack."

Many predict that Warmack could be a top-10 pick in this year's draft, which led some to wonder whether Te'o would fade against similarly talented NFL players.

But Elway said he believes Te'o has what it takes.

"He’s a very good football player," he said. "He’s going to have a successful career in the NFL."

That's exactly what Te'o is hoping to prove this week at the combine. Linebackers will lift on Sunday and run through on-field drills on Monday. In the meantime, he'll go through the interview process.

He said he wants to let teams know that he will bring heart, energy and hard work to the next level. Most importantly, he wants to win. And he won't let himself get overwhelmed as he works his way toward his dream of playing in the NFL.

"What I have to do as a player is I have to remember why I’m playing this game," Te'o said. "It’s the same game I played when I was a little kid on the streets.

"Obviously people are going to be professionals -- this is where the best play. But a long as I don’t stray too far from who I am and what I believe in, I think the journey will be worth it."