SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Before Manti Te'o announced he would return to Notre Dame for his senior season, the linebacker had issued a challenge of his own to his defensive coordinator.
"Coach, if I come back next year, I want you to coach me as the worst linebacker," Te'o recalled telling Bob Diaco. "I want you to coach me as a freshman. I don't want you to coach me as a Butkus finalists. I don't want you to coach me as a Lott finalist. I want you to coach me as the worst linebacker."
Not long after Te'o's Dec. 11 announcement that he would return, the linebacker received a text message from Diaco:
"I'm gonna have to remind you that you told me to coach you as the worst linebacker and that's how it's gonna be."
"We're just getting started," Diaco quipped Monday. "But I'm not sure he completely wants that. Watch what you ask for, you just might get it. It's a nice soundbite."
Te'o has not yet received his evaluation for the draft, and he doesn't want to. It wouldn't matter, anyway. He said he likely would have gotten the feedback in early January, and, had he jumped to the NFL, he would have begun training for it by then.
The junior has not had any second-thoughts about his decision to return to the Irish, despite hearing about all of the money he's giving up.
"I came back for more than dollar bills," Te'o said. "I understand that I could've left and made all this money and money that I've never ever seen before. Money that growing up I never would've thought that I would've made, you know what I mean? And I would've made it in what, four months? That's something that has never crossed my mind because I've always known it's the relationships you build with people. It's the connections you make. It's the memories you build that's gonna last a lifetime, you know what I mean?
"And I've always known that one day we all gonna pass on, one day we all gonna move on to the next life, and I ain't gonna be able to take my Ferrari, my Mercedes. I'm not gonna be able to take that big mansion and all those nice things. The only thing I'm gonna take with me is my family, my friends, my teammates, the connections I make with people. And that's what's gonna last me."
Te'o said his father would always tell him to finish what he started. He doesn't necessarily think leaving school after three seasons would be dishonoring that motto, but he knows there is still work left to be done at Notre Dame.
He called a video tribute from the parents of Irish seniors at the team's awards banquet Dec. 9 the icing on the cake in making his final decision, which he actually didn't plan on announcing until closer to the Champs Sports Bowl. But when Te'o was asked about his future at the Lott IMPACT Trophy ceremony, he saw his parents nod from the crowd.
"And sometimes I think, maybe I shouldn't have said it that early," Te'o laughed.
No one's complaining.
"It's a person of that caliber, you know what I mean?" Diaco said of what Te'o brings to Notre Dame. "It's a person of that caliber. His add to the program is as much through production as it is to the overall chemistry of what he adds to the whole university. It's a huge asset for the student-body. A huge asset for the team. Just who he is. And a huge asset for the defense as it relates to production. I was very, very excited to have another chance to be with him for another year. That's the main thing."