Not that recruiting rankings are the "end all, be all" in athletics, but I can't stop myself from congratulating the ND family for perhaps the biggest surprise on National Signing Day this past Wednesday: Manti T'eo, the highly touted "five-star" linebacker out of Punahou high school in Hawaii, officially committed to the Fighting Irish.
Safe money would have put him in a USC cap when he announced his decision live on ESPNU (video linked below) as part of their National Signing Day coverage, but even safe money provides no guaranteed return.
The link between Notre Dame - a Catholic institution - and Te'o - a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - may seem like an odd fit to outsiders. After all, Te'o only considered programs who would permit him to go on a two-year mission during his collegiate career.
"I basically told them, 'This is me,'" said Te'o, from Laie, Hawaii. "I'm LDS. I'm thinking of serving a mission, and I want that to be available to me. If that's not in the cards for your university, I have to respect that, but I have to consider others."
But the Notre Dame coaching staff was openly supportive and understanding of Manti's religious beliefs and commitment to his faith. In his interview below Manti explains just how supportive the ND community has been in accepting his faith.
An article written Ben Ford of The Elkhart Truth Newspaper reveals the great lengths taken by Irish Special Teams coach Brian Polian to welcome and bring Manti into the ND family.
"I'd like to take this chance to thank the crew of United flight 81," Polian said with a smile. "I got to know them well, because I took the same flight every Wednesday from LAX to Honolulu."Polian, Notre Dame's special teams coordinator and lead West Coast recruiter, made that journey 10 times in the last 14 months -- including three trips in December and three more in January -- just to visit linebacker Manti Te'o, one of the highest-rated prospects in the country.
The people who have seen Hawaii as much as Coach Polian are typically locals who live there. In the end, the hard work of Polian and the rest of the coaching staff paid great dividends for both Te'o and the Irish.
Congratulations to Manti and his family!