- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Manti Te'o's goal for his senior year is simple.
"I wanna win," the linebacker said. "I wanna win and win and win and win, that's the bottom line."
All but assured of being selected in the first round of next month's NFL draft had he declared for it, Te'o instead announced his return to Notre Dame in December, making him the de facto quarterback of a front seven looking to take yet another step after a strong finish to 2010 and a stout 2011 campaign.
"Just being the best, just making sure that we play four quarters of Notre Dame football," Te'o said of the defense's next step. "We've been great at times, we've been great in some games, we've been great for three quarters, we've been great for 3 1/2 quarters but half a quarter we didn't play great and it cost us. So just playing four quarters of Notre Dame football I think is what we have to focus on, and we're getting there. I think we're there, it's just a little mental hump we just gotta get over."
Te'o had team bests last season of 128 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss, and trailed only Aaron Lynch for the lead in sacks, with five.
Before he announced that he was coming back to school, Te'o challenged defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to coach him as the worst linebacker or as a freshman so that he could improve.
"He hasn't treated me bad, but he's been great," Te'o laughed after the Irish's first spring practice Wednesday. "He's corrected me and all my little mistakes, making sure that I can identify them and when I make a mistake I know what I did and know where it started from so I don't make as many mistakes as I did.
"Just be technical, so that my game is as perfect as can be."
On what he called his last first day of spring, Te'o said it will be hard to avoid getting emotional at times during his upcoming senior season. But as he has done so many times before, he stressed that the return to school was about more than just the gridiron, as the camaraderie of those in his dorm, win or lose, along with on-campus events like pep rallies are experiences he was not yet ready to give up despite the temptations of the next level.
"Moments like these where I'm with my guys, you can't beat this," Te'o said. "Being here at Notre Dame, knowing that I'm gonna graduate, knowing that I'm gonna go on a senior walk, just knowing all those things that I made the right decision for me. Everybody has their own beliefs and I believe that this is why I came here, is to graduate, to build relationships and to make my family proud, and I think I've done that."