- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Manti Te'o has always thought of himself as a regular Notre Dame student. During finals week, he discovered he was sadly mistaken.
"I went to the dining hall for the first time this semester, and it felt like I was somewhere else because all my classmates were coming up asking for pictures," Te'o said. "And it's like, 'Guys, I'm one of you guys. I'm nothing. Can I just eat my food?' But it's been great. It's a good problem to have."
The good problems extend from the cafeteria to the bedroom, where, after his nearly 10,000-mile tour of the national awards circuit two weeks ago, Te'o often forgets where is.
"I'm slowly still catching up," he said. "I wake up at 3 in the morning, 4 in the morning just wide awake. Just like, 'OK, where am I? Am I in California? Am I in Houston? Am in South Bend or am I in Florida? Where am I at?'
"It's just nice. I just really wanted to be around my guys. I really wanted to be around my team. I wanted to be around my classmates, and now that my classmates are gone I got my team, so that's what I missed the most."
Te'o missed Notre Dame's first two bowl practices during his tour.
Brian Kelly admired the way the linebacker handled each night as important as the next, never blowing off a signing or a dinner.
"Now, I also saw him probably as tired as I've ever seen him before, because that takes a lot of your energy, a lot of your time," the Irish coach said. "I would tell you that when he got back here last week, he was excited about staying up late to work on exams. He was excited about being a college student. He was excited about getting back to practice."
The jetlag will eventually give way to the realization that, yes, Te'o has just one more game left in an Irish uniform, this one the biggest of all, against the defending national champions in less than three weeks.
For now, he's just happy to be back at the place he calls his fortress.
"I'm not there yet," Te'o said of the Jan. 7 title game against Alabama. "I don't know if it's the same with everybody else. For me there's a time and place for everything. The game is still a long ways away, so I'm not going to burn energy getting -- obviously there are points, there are a lot of moments where I'm like, 'Man, I can't wait to play this game.' But it's not like, 'Oh my gosh, what if they line up? Where are they going to be?' At least not yet.
"I've watched film and just gotten my eyes familiar to what they do. It's not hard to know what Alabama does, because you know what they're going to do, and they're going to still do it; it's all about stopping. So it's going to be exciting."
22hDavid M. Hale